Administration ignores rules

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September 7, 2007

4:38 AM

__Philosophy dept. stifled by Arts & Sci. Dean__

Documents obtained by The Flat Hat reveal that an external review team of professors across the nation highly criticized the College’s philosophy department for numerous debilitating problems, including hostile environments for junior and women faculty members, large course loads, a lack of direction and the inability to retain new hires.

p. Of the department’s environment, the team concluded, “The atmosphere is poisoned.” The documents also reveal that members of the administration may have consciously bypassed or ignored the established procedures for handling the external review, including disenfranchising the department.

p. The external review, which was part of a regular review process, was conducted by four outside professors. The philosophy department was one of three departments up for review this year, along with religious studies and classical studies. The team consisted of two religious studies professors, Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Benjamin Wright of Lehigh University; one classical studies professor, Christopher Faraone of the University of Chicago; and one philosophy professor, Nicholas White of the University of California at Irvine.

p. The other two departments received positive reviews, but when it came to philosophy, the board had a litany of criticisms.
The report begins by praising the academic quality of the department, noting the respected senior faculty and promising junior faculty and citing the department’s “great potential.”

p. However, the report then states that the department is divided among seniority lines in which “senior faculty seem to have formed an alliance or bloc that pushes their agenda.” According to the report, this has created a number of administrative problems related to hiring, evaluation, promotion and retention.

p. “The department’s attitude is particularly hostile to women, and some faculty observed that women seem to be mistreated,” the report states. It adds that of the 12 faculty members, only two are women, and one is leaving at the end of this year for personal reasons.

p. The report also accuses ex-department chair Noah Lemos of personally making decisions that used to be handled by committees, such as matters concerning curriculum.
The review team decided that extreme measures were needed to counter what they considered a dire situation.

p. “Under these circumstances, the members of the review team agree that there is no choice but to recommend that the department [be] placed in [receivership],” the report concludes. “The new chair should be an external appointment at the rank of Full Professor. The review team recommends that the Philosophy Department remain in receivership until it is functioning normally and the hostile atmosphere (especially for junior faculty and women) has been eliminated.”

p. “The most serious problem facing the department lies in the fact that serious and open discussion of central matters of program and personnel seem not to be going on at all, and conditions favorable to it seem not to exist,” White wrote in an opinion separate from the official report.

p. White also commented on the seriousness of receivership.

p. “This kind of intervention should be undertaken only with the greatest hesitation, when all else has failed,” he said. “But it may well be called for in this instance, since it may well be that adequate departmental deliberations cannot be brought about in any other way.”

p. Carl Strikwerda, the dean of Arts and Sciences and the administrator in administration may have consciously bypassed or ignored the established procedures for handling the external review, including disenfranchising the department.

p. The external review, which was part of a regular review process, was conducted by four outside professors. The philosophy department was one of three departments up for review this year, along with religious studies and classical studies. The team consisted of two religious studies professors, Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill and Benjamin Wright of Lehigh University; one classical studies professor, Christopher Faraone of the University of Chicago; and one philosophy professor, Nicholas White of the University of California — Irvine.

p. The other two departments received positive reviews, but when it came to philosophy, the board had a litany of criticisms.
The report begins by praising the academic quality of the department, noting the respected senior faculty and promising junior faculty and citing the department’s “great potential.” However, the report then states that the department is divided among seniority lines in which “senior faculty seem to have formed an alliance or bloc that pushes their agenda.” According to the report, this has created a number of administrative problems related to hiring, evaluation, promotion and retention.

p. “The department’s attitude is particularly hostile to women, and some faculty observed that women seem to be mistreated,” the report states. It adds that of the 12 faculty members, only two are women, and one is leaving at the end of this year for personal reasons.

p. The report also accuses ex-department chair Noah Lemos of personally making decisions that used to be handled by committees, such as matters concerning curriculum.

p. The review team decided that extreme measures were needed to counter what they considered a dire situation.

p. “Under these circumstances, the members of the review team agree that there is no choice but to recommend that the department [be] placed in [receivership],” the report concludes. “The new chair should be an external appointment at the rank of full professor. The review team recommends that the philosophy department remain in receivership until it is functioning normally and the hostile atmosphere (especially for junior faculty and women) has been eliminated.”

p. “The most serious problem facing the department lies in the fact that serious and open discussion of central matters of program and personnel seem not to be going on at all, and conditions favorable to it seem not to exist,” White wrote in an opinion separate from the official report.

p. White also commented on the seriousness of receivership.
“This kind of intervention should be undertaken only with the greatest hesitation, when all else has failed,” he said. “But it may well be called for in this instance, since it may well be that adequate departmental deliberations cannot be brought about in any other way.”

p. Carl Strikwerda, the dean of arts and sciences and the administrator in charge of the review process and departments, decided that the report was serious enough to warrant bypassing the established College protocol for this situation. In June, he removed Lemos as chair and brought in Terry Meyers, an English professor, to handle the administrative duties of the department. Lemos has remained in his teaching role.

p. College President Gene Nichol knew of the situation but was not involved.

p. “The provost, Geoff Feiss, informed me that Dean Strikwerda was changing the leadership in the philosophy department.” Nichol told The Flat Hat in an e-mail. “So I was informed of it, but not involved in the decision.”

p. Feiss confirmed that he had briefed Nichol and that Nichol responded, “Well, you’re the provost.” He added that Nichol was not involved in the decision.

p. In a letter to the Board of Visitors, philosophy professors Paul Davies and George Harris asked for “emergency relief from a process poisoned by its prejudice and pernicious in its continuing effects on the reputations of distinguished faculty members.” They also noted that they were appealing the decision to the BOV because they could not get “timely redress” within College channels.

p. As reported in last Friday’s Flat Hat, Davies and Harris were cited by the review team as a problem for the department because of their refusal to participate in the search for new hires. They feel that junior faculty should no longer vote on hiring matters, claiming that the change would protect the junior faculty and raise the standard of excellence.

p. What the professors are most upset about is that the report was released before the department or anyone in it was informed of its existence or given a chance to respond. This is in direct violation of the established College rules, which state that the entire review packet, including a response from the department, must be released together.

p. “By callously releasing a report with unsubstantiated charges without prior opportunity for rebuttal by those accused, the administration, particularly the dean of Arts and Sciences and the Provost, have not only put in jeopardy the careers and reputations of several distinguished faculty but also the honorable reputation of this College,” Davies and Harris said in their letter to the BOV.
Letters of protest from Lemos and another philosophy professor, James Harris, were unanswered by the administration. They posited that receivership was unwarranted given the lack of opportunity for a response from the department and demanded that the proper process be followed.

p. However, a letter from Strikwerda to Meyers dated Aug. 20 reveals that the administration was not going to allow any departmental response whatsoever.

p. “I believe that the first priority for you as the chair and for the department as a whole is to address the issues of governance and mentoring,” Strikwerda said. “Consequently, with the approval of the provost, I am suspending the department’s requirement to respond to the external reviewers’ reports.”

p. The future of the department and its position are unclear. Some fear that receivership may further break apart the already fragile department and drive away any new hires. Others are worried about the negative impact on students. Still others fear that this is merely some sort of retaliation, possibly because of the alleged mistreatment of faculty. Anti-Nichol activists have pointed out that Meyers was one of the coauthors of a Faculty Assembly petition last fall calling for generic support of Nichol, and that Lemos was one of two faculty members to vote against it.
Feiss noted that the problems facing the department may take time to fix.

p. “The likelihood is Professor Meyers is likely to be there for a year or two to help with transition,” he said, adding that a long-term replacement would then be chosen.

p. Strickwerda could not be reached for comment at press time.

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