Letters to the Editor (Nov. 9)
November 9, 2007
**Clarifying philosophy receivership**
p. __To the Editor:__
p. The administration’s decision to put the philosophy department in receivership has come under increased scrutiny. Receivership is a drastic step with serious consequences. It hurts department morale, the ability to recruit top candidates and it damages the reputation of the department and the College, but larger issues are involved.
p. The dean defended his decision by pointing to the report of the outside reviewers which contained a litany of allegations, some extremely serious, e.g. that the department was hostile to women and that problems in the department contributed to a drop in enrollments from 2002-’03 to 2005-’06.
p. This report was publicly released before anyone in the department was informed of the allegations or given a chance to respond. This was grossly unfair and calls into question the impartiality of the outside review process upon which the dean relies.
p. This report was filled with errors and misinterpretations of data. It was mistaken, for example, about the number of women teaching in the department. It was mistaken in attributing a decline in enrollments from 2002-’03 to problems in the department. In 2002-’03, we had exceptionally high enrollments because we were able to offer more sections due to a temporary configuration of faculty and, in response to a request from the administration, the department temporarily raised our limits on the size of classes. We did not raise the size of classes, however, for junior, tenure track faculty. Surprisingly, I, the chair of the department, was never asked about these figures by anyone on the outside review panel.
p. Once the former chair and I had the chance to respond to these charges, the dean dismissed the serious allegations about hostility to women, declining enrollments, as well as others. He wrote, “I do not see that conditions in the department are hostile to women” and “the apparent decline in student credit hours is attributable to there having been more sections offered in 2003-’03 than in later years.” That these serious allegations were found to be without any merit undermines the credibility of the outside reviewers’ report.
p. Nonetheless, the dean concluded that “excessive concern for standards, combined with a lack of mentoring or encouragement, has created an inhospitable and unsupportive climate for junior faculty.” He also reported that junior faculty in confidential conversations claim that “they were not well treated by some of the senior faculty.”
p. Much could be said in response to these charges. I will simply note that since 2000, the department has had five tenure cases. In four of the five, tenure was granted (not three in ten years as the dean reported). Since 2000, five junior faculty have left for attractive positions elsewhere. Of these five, one was unanimously and enthusiastically supported for tenure and another accepted a position elsewhere before beginning her career at the College. These facts do not support the charge of unsupportive climate or lack of mentoring.
p. As to the claims of mistreatment, we can only ask who was mistreated, in what way and by whom? What is the evidence of such mistreatment? Neither I, nor the former chair, nor the department has been told. It is impossible for anyone to respond to anonymous and unknown charges. When those accused are not given a chance to respond, it is impossible to assess fairly the truth of the accusations.
p. The College has grievance procedures designed to protect the rights of the accuser and the accused. If there were substantive cases of mistreatment, this procedure should have been followed.
What will be the climate for faculty in general when actions are taken on the basis of confidential allegations of mistreatment when those accused are not informed of the content of the allegations and given no chance to respond? In such a climate, where basic principles of procedural fairness are ignored, how can senior faculty reasonably be expected to make difficult and sometimes wrenching personnel decisions? How will they be able uphold standards?
p. Given its serious consequences, receivership is unjustified, especially when less drastic alternatives were available. The dean might have met with the chair or the department as a whole to discuss the climate for junior faculty. He might have simply replaced the chair with another member of the department. Most importantly, he could have insisted that grievance procedures be followed so that the rights of all faculty can be protected and the truth of allegations of mistreatment fairly assessed.
p. __— Noah Lemos, Leslie and Naomi Legum professor of philosophy__