My latest at ProfHacker: On the Importance of Process

CandlesIt’s been an interesting few months in academia, and not in a good way. Two institutions of higher education — Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland — have found themselves in turmoil.

Both stories are well known at this point.1 At Wheaton, Political Science Professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins made a statement about the relationship between Christianity and Islam; concern about the compatibility of her statement with the College’s Statement of Faith resulted in her being placed on administrative leave, “in order to give more time to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements, including but not limited to those indicating the relationship of Christianity to Islam.”2 The Provost filed a notice of recommendation to initiate termination proceedings; he later withdrew that notice and issued an apology. Nevertheless, Wheaton and Dr. Hawkins decided to part ways.

The Mount Saint Mary’s saga is still unfolding, and things have been moving fast. Apparently trouble has been brewing for quite some time, but things erupted on Monday (February 8) when President Simon Newman fired two faculty members — one of them tenured — without warning, accusing them of disloyalty in a vaguely worded letter, and telling them not to return to campus. The firings followed the dismissal of the Provost late the week before. Faculty around the country have signed a petition calling for the faculty to be reinstated and for the administration to be held accountable for violating their rights. As of late February 13, that petition has more than 8300 signatures, and the President has offered to reinstate the two professors. Neither has yet accepted the offer, and on Friday, February 12, the Mount St. Mary’s faculty voted 87-3 to ask President Newman to resign.

Both situations are troubling, but the Mount St. Mary’s case is far more frightening. Wheaton had a process in place (some of it is outlined here). Whether that process worked well is a separate question, but there was a process; Dr. Hawkins was not summarily terminated — and the Wheaton administration made an effort to be reasonably open and transparent about what was happening.

The Wheaton community is understandably grieving. As Dr. Noah Toly notes in his eloquent “Unity Begins with Grief”, there are no winners in this situation, and there’s a lot of work ahead (much of which will require the attitudes of mind and heart Dr. Toly exhibits in his post). It seems clear, though, that Wheaton is fortunate to have community members (from all sectors of the College) who, because they’re committed to the community, are ready to do the work needed to rebuild trust and to take steps to ensure that similar situations are better handled in the future. That’s reason for hope.

At this point, I’m considerably less hopeful about Mount St. Mary’s. It appears that no standard process was followed in firing the two professors, and failure to follow institutional processes in personnel matters can only sow fear and distrust in an academic community. I don’t mean to suggest that the situation is hopeless, but Mount St. Mary’s may well have a longer road to travel than Wheaton.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user onnola]

  1. For more background on the Wheaton situation, see these stories at the Chronicle of Higher Education and these at Inside Higher Ed. Wheaton has also published several statements on the matter. More information about the situation at Mount St. Mary’s is likewise available at Inside Higher Ed, where Scott Jaschik has been tirelessly covering the story, and at the Chronicle. As of the time of this writing (Saturday evening, February 13), neither the front page of the Mount’s website nor the “News and Events” page made mention of the controversy.?
  2. See Wheaton’s December 22, 2015 “Statement Regarding Dr. Larycia Hawkins’ Review and Resolution Process”.?

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

One Response to “My latest at ProfHacker: On the Importance of Process

  • I think they all need to get out of the academia bubble more often to visit the real world…maybe learn a trade firmly based in reality, like engineering, or brick-laying, see what the job markets for such are like in fly-over USA.

    Such feverish, overblown kerfuffles in academia have a very long history.

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