214 faculty members sign Open Letter to President Rowe concerning distance between administration and faculty

214 faculty members sign Open Letter delivered to College President Katherine Rowe concerning disconnect between faculty and administration. JAMIE HOLT // THE FLAT HAT

Monday, Sept. 26, 214 faculty members of the College of William and Mary signed and presented an Open Letter to College President Katherine Rowe regarding concerns over a growing alienation of faculty in administrative decision making and governance. The letter contains signatures from faculty across over 40 different departments and includes representation from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, the William and Mary School of Education and the William and Mary Law School. 

“We write to you today to express our deep concern for the increasing distance between the faculty of William & Mary and your administration. We believe that our tradition of active, informed participation in the governance of the University is being eroded,” the Open Letter authors wrote.

“We write to you today to express our deep concern for the increasing distance between the faculty of William & Mary and your administration. We believe that our tradition of active, informed participation in the governance of the University is being eroded,” the Open Letter Authors wrote.

Government Department Professors John McGlennon, Christopher Howard and Susan Peterson penned the Open Letter. They have been working on drafting the letter for the past week after hearing widespread concern among faculty about the issues addressed.

“I think that the basic message is that we hope to restore faculty participation in governance to the level that it has achieved traditionally,” McGlennon said.

The Letter directly addresses the faculty’s concern over “centralized decision-making” regarding important discussions of the future of the College. Faculty members noted the exclusion of their participation and dismissal of opinion in the governance of the College (specifically regarding the revision and announcement of the final plan of Vision 2026), the process of using outside consultants to evaluate senior administrators without a faculty committee to oversee the process and the establishment of the Faculty Hiring Pilot.

Vision 2026, the strategic planning process that Rowe presented in September 2021, emphasizes its goals to expand the global reach of the College, educate for impact, “reimagine the liberal arts and professional education in the 21st century to ensure the lifelong success of our graduates” and “evolve to excel” in “environmental and financial sustainability, in diversity, equity and inclusion, and in operational excellence.” The plan lies on the tenets of data, water, democracy and careers. In the Open Letter, the faculty addressed their concerns with these tenets. 

“For example, the release of the strategic plan, Vision 2026, was publicly announced without any opportunity for the Faculty Assembly or the individual faculties to develop the final plan, to review it, or even to read it prior to announcement at Charter Day and publication in the local media. Even today, many faculty do not comprehend how ‘Data,’ ‘Water,’ ‘Careers,’ and ‘Democracy’ constitute a compelling set of guiding stars, nor how these four parts are supposed to form a coherent vision for William & Mary,” the Open Letter reads. 

The fourth paragraph of the Open Letter discusses the decisions of the administration to reform how senior administrators are evaluated and who writes the evaluation reports. 

“The apparent decision to turn the process over to outside consultants and to remove faculty representatives from a role in determining the scope of the review and the production of the report is a radical departure from previous practice,” the Open Letter reads. “As we understand it, thirty individuals will be interviewed by representatives of Korn Ferry, the outside consultant, including some faculty members. But we have no indication that a committee will be appointed to oversee the process, which is still required by university policy.”

The use of outside consultants has been a trend under the current administration, as the College has signed multiple consulting contracts within the past two years. In 2021, the College signed a contract with Ivy Planning Group for over $100,000 for a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic assessment. In spring 2022, the College signed a contract with Huron Consulting Group for $75,000 to “identify specific programmatic research focus areas where W&M can achieve significant growth and high-yield return on investment,” according to the contract. According to the Open Letter, representatives from the management consulting firm Korn Ferry will be working to evaluate senior administrators instead of having greater direct faculty involvement. 

“I think the letter really just speaks to the idea that these kinds of processes need to be significantly driven by the faculty and constituencies on campus, including students,” McGlennon said when asked about the trend towards the use of Consulting firms for administrative processes. 

The Open Letter also directly addresses recent glaring announcements of retirements in Rowe’s administrative team. These include the positions of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — held by Maria Donoghue Velleca — and the Chief Operating Officer — held by Amy Sebring

“With the departures this Spring and Summer by our Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and our Chief Human Resources Officer, along with the recency of all academic deans, we deserve to have better insight into the status of our administration,” the Open Letter reads.

At the end of the Open Letter, the faculty calls for Rowe to make three specific actions. 

“Specifically, we call on you to: 

  • Acknowledge the legitimate role that faculty through our elected representatives must play in policymaking, resource allocation, and administrative evaluation. Senior administrators and others with significant responsibility must be subject to review that includes both faculty representation (as recommended by the Faculty Assembly Executive Committee) and general opportunities for faculty comment on the performance of these administrators. 
  • Fully engage faculty in reviewing the Strategic Plan for its alignment with the best interests of William & Mary, and an accounting of the allocation and/or redirection of resources required to meet the plan’s provisions. 
  • Facilitate significant faculty involvement in discussions about the admissions goals of the university, and the faculty resources necessary to teach the increased numbers of undergraduates we have already admitted.” 

Rowe received the Open Letter Monday afternoon. Brian Whitson, chief communications officer of the College discussed the initial reaction of the president to the Letter in an email to the Flat Hat.

“We plan to go through it deliberately and thoughtfully so we can clarify, correct and also provide missing context where necessary. President Rowe plans to request time to address the letter at the next meeting of the Faculty Assembly, which is October 11. In the meantime, President Rowe did respond immediately today to the group of faculty who sent the letter. She thanked them for reaching out in a forthright way and agreed it is the right time to deepen engagement and communication with faculty,” Whitson wrote.  

The Flat Hat reached out to multiple officers and members of the Faculty Assembly, which is the “elected faculty body that regularly advises the President and the Provos.” President of the Faculty Assembly and Government Department Professor John Gilmour refused to comment. Vice President and Raymond A. Mason Business School Professor Scott Swan responded that he did not see nor read the letter. Faculty Assembly Secretary Harmony Dalgleish and Academic Affairs Committee Chair Catherine Levesque — both who signed the Letter — have not responded to The Flat Hat’s requests for comment. 

Outspoken Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Director of the English department Suzanne Hagedorn addressed her additional concerns regarding the involvement of faculty in administrative decisions concerning the exploration of a computing and data science school. 

I would add that President Rowe and Provost Agouris did not formally consult with either the Faculty of Arts & Sciences or the Faculty Assembly before presenting the proposal to explore a School of Computer/Data Science to the Board of Visitors as well as the resolution to request $43 million from Virginia’s General Assembly to build a ‘Data Science Innovation Hub.’ I do not believe that either of these initiatives is a good use of W&M resources or taxpayer money, and I will be opposing both of them, both as a member of the William & Mary faculty and a taxpayer in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Hagedorn wrote in an email to the Flat Hat.

McGlennon took the opportunity to address what students and faculty alike can take from the Open Letter and the support it garnered. 

“I think that when important decisions are being made about the direction of the college, that they will only succeed if there is strong participation by the most affected constituencies and that we reach a consensus on the right way to move forward,” McGlennon said. 

“I think that when important decisions are being made about the direction of the college, that they will only succeed if there is strong participation by the most affected constituencies and that we reach a consensus on the right way to move forward,” McGlennon said. 

Click here to read the Open Letter.

11 COMMENTS

  1. This is absolutely hilarious. A bunch of socialist college professors angry about “centralized decision-making”. Central planning is great when you’re the one doing the planning. When you are subject to it, not so much. Oh, the irony.

    • I’m not a socialist, Mr. Teck, so please don’t make assumptions about my politics. I am a longtime faculty member at this institution and served as Secretary to the Faculty of Arts & Sciences from 2019-2022 and am Corresponding Secretary of Phi Beta Kappa. Many faculty are concerned by this administration’s continued de-funding of the arts, humanities and pure sciences (like Chemistry and Physics) in preference for Computer/Data Science. Some of us wonder whether the fact that the provost is a computer scientist who is married to the data scientist in charge of the Data Science program has anything to do with what can only be characterized as a stealth planning process. And some of us also worry that W&M’s fall in rankings from #32 on the US News National Universities list in 2018 when President Rowe took office to #41 in the most recent rankings might have something to do with the university’s apparent abandonment of its earlier goal (under Presidents Nichol and Reveley) of being the “best liberal arts university in the nation.” See the conversation that former BOV Rector Jeff Trammel had with Taylor Reveley upon his retirement.: https://advancement.wm.edu/news/2018/reveley-trammell.php

      • This is interesting to know. I’d add some major concerns about how William & Mary is now much less selective than it was a decade or so ago. For all the issues with college rankings, it is clear from admissions percentages that fewer high school students are applying to William & Mary. In I believe about 2015 William & Mary and UVA both accepted around 30-33% of applicants. Now William & Mary accepts about 42% and UVA is accepting 22%.

        UVA has left us far behind, and clearly they were not held back by any sort of national disasters or climates. Somehow they overcame challenges when our administration could not. Since W&M is accepting about as many students as we did back in 2015, the change in acceptance rate can only be because fewer people are applying. Why has William & Mary suddenly become so second-fiddle to UVA, and why aren’t as many high schoolers interested in coming here anymore? The administration seems to have no response or ideas of how to fix this.

  2. I unequivocally support this. No, this is not a matter of “socialist professors” — note that this initiative spans multiple divisions, including traditionally more conservative ones such as the business school. Rather, it’s about the necessary effort to take back control that’s been usurped by overreach and expensive self-promotion by administrators — at the expense of real education, as usual. Such overreach is a problem in colleges and universities all around the nation, and I hope others follow the W&M faculty’s example.

    Signed, an ’07 humanities alumnus, now a faculty member “in exile” in the Southwest. (It’s good to see a familiar name from my undergraduate days: I remember hearing Prof. Hagedorn’s name though I never got a chance to take one of her classes.)

  3. This is about decision-making in a PUBLIC institution which is by its very nature meant to be open and not done behind closed doors or through so-called “consultants”. These are simply hired guns for administrators to get their way and at the same time wash their hands of any fallout from the decisions that are made this way. I saw this happen in my K-12 public school system in Virginia where I worked for 27 years as the consensus-building model of slow, moderated, and open decision-making instead was replaced by a top- down model. Undoubtedly, it was more “efficient” but in fact killed the soul of the school system as many teachers felt ignored and disenfranchised. If you want me to work hard, believe in the cause, and contribute to my institution in a meaningful way, then involve me in the process!

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