Dept. feud persists
September 14, 2007
__Strikwerda denies misconduct by the administration__
Dean of Arts and Sciences Carl Strikwerda denied allegations of misconduct regarding a recent external review of the philosophy department and the administration’s reaction. He denied that he or anyone else in the administration acted wrongly regarding the situation and clarified his reasons for not currently allowing the philosophy department to respond to the report.
p. “The review was not done in response to any particular event or concern. It was part of a regularly state-mandated review,” Strikwerda said. He added that the selection of team members was not related to last year’s Wren cross controversy or College President Gene Nichol.
p. “None of the external reviewers were chosen because of the Wren cross controversy, which had not even occurred at the time the departments recommended the reviewers,” he wrote in a letter to The Flat Hat.
p. Nichol himself had no involvement in the process, and although he and the lead reviewer, Religious Studies Professor Jodi Magness, both taught at the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill at the same time, Nichol did not know her personally.
p. “I do not know Dr. Magness or any other member of the review team,” Nichol said in an e-mail. “I was informed of the decision after it was made. I was not involved in it. I have never, to my knowledge, spoken to Dr. Magness.”
p. Strikwerda said he was prompted to act quickly when the report revealed an extremely hostile atmosphere in the department and alleged mistreatment of junior and female faculty. He based his actions on both the report and meetings with a majority of the faculty. The only tenured faculty who would not meet with Strikwerda were Paul Davies and George Harris.
p. Davies and Harris caught the attention of the review team for their controversial belief that junior faculty should not vote on hiring matters. They also declined to meet with the external review team.
p. Many of the faculty members were allegedly upset when Strikwerda wouldn’t let them officially respond to the report as a department. Strikwerda responded that the department is too divided right now to properly deal with the situation.
p. “The reason for [not allowing a response] is what the concern that the report. … raised was that this was a department where there was not a healthy discussion going on, [and] people didn’t feel free to speak. So I thought it was very important for individual faculty members to be able to talk to me personally and send me any information they wanted,” he said. “I thought that not only that we would have an external chair in the department, but that it was not a good situation for the department to try to respond to the external review as a group.”
p. He added that despite some negative responses, a few faculty members agreed with his decision.
p. “I did hear a lot ¬¬¬– from a wide variety of perspectives – from the department, and some of them were very forceful in what they thought on both sides of the issue. So I think I heard quite a diversity of opinion in the department,” he said. Strikwerda was, however, vague as to who agreed with him and who did not.
p. “I don’t think I should go into who said what within that group … I don’t think I should break it down any more at the risk of breaking confidentiality as to who said what,” he said.
Strikwerda also commented on the authority of his actions to replace the department chair.
p. “Chairs serve at the discretion of the dean, and it’s not common, but it’s not unheard of at all to have a chair from another department serve as chair of a second department. It’s not a decision that you make lightly and I don’t think we [Strikwerda and Provost Geoffrey Feiss] did,” he said. “It is within the powers of the office of the dean to appoint a chair even in the middle of a term or to bring in somebody from an outside department.”
p. The dean also responded to claims, including one from former department chair Noah Lemos, that he placed the department in receivership, a term meaning that a person is appointed to manage the affairs of a group that cannot manage themselves.
“I don’t think, actually, I have put the department in receivership. The department is still operating by its own bylaws, they’re making their own internal decisions, they’ll make their own recommendations to me in terms of hiring, and so in many ways they will continue as any department does, operating its own affairs. The only difference is they have a chair from the outside,” Strikwerda said.
p. Over the next two years Meyers will be charged with sorting through the problems facing the department, including communication and mentoring issues. After two years Strikwerda said a new review will be performed, analyzing the situation at that time and making recommendations based on that.
p. “We’re hoping that we’re going to do a successful search this year and that next year there may be as many as two new people hired,” he said.
p. Strikwerda said he is hopeful regarding the department’s future.
p. “It’s a strong teaching department, a strong department in scholarship, and I have confidence that it can move on beyond this situation, and it can really move forward,” he said.