Community forum discusses climate survey, tenure

by Joyce Lee | 5/17/16 7:30pm

Students and senior administrators discussed the results of the Rankin & Associates October campus climate survey, the sustainability of working groups and the role of the administration at a community forum sponsored by Palaeopitus senior society last night.

Dean of the College Rebecca Biron, vice provost for student affairs Inge-Lise Ameer, vice provost for academic initiatives Denise Anthony and vice president for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity Evelynn Ellis were in attendance at the forum to present and discuss the findings from the survey. Around 60 people attended the event which was held at 6 p.m. in Rockefeller 002.

The forum also discussed the three linked working groups, one each for students, faculty and staff, formed in March to study existing data and initiatives regarding diversity and inclusivity at Dartmouth. These groups made recommendations to the “Inclusive Excellence” executive committee composed of College President Phil Hanlon, Provost Carolyn Dever, executive vice president Rick Mills and Ellis.

Biron opened the forum by referencing the recent removal of a Blue Lives Matter display in the Collis Center and the tenure process, which has been criticized after English professor Aimee Bahng was denied tenure last week. She said that these events demonstrate how issues involving diversity are emotionally and ethically charged.

“In response to conflicting views on different actions, both recent actions and longstanding actions taken by administrators, faculty, staff and students, many of us are feeling primarily angry, hurt, impatient or confused,” Biron said. “Many of us are feeling all of those things at the exact same time, and that makes it very difficult to listen to each other and speak with each other instead of at each other about our differences.”

In her discussion of the campus survey, Ellis said that previous studies had been too internally driven, not objective and superficial, and that she expected the Dartmouth community would be skeptical of this study because of their experience with previous studies. Rankin & Associates, an outside consulting firm, administered the community study to address these issues. Their work established the idea that the community, not the administration, has ownership of the study, Ellis said.

After a brief review of the survey’s main results, Biron, Ameer, Anthony and Ellis opened the forum to audience questions.

One student said that Dartmouth and its administration did not push for the survey as much as student activists on campus, and that the activists’ work should not be neglected. She also asked for the results to be broken down by the respondents’ race.

Anthony specified that Rankin & Associates analyzed every answer along all demographic cleavages. Ellis said that the differences in answers from participants reflected the differences between experiences at Dartmouth that were a result of these various identities.

An audience member asked if the data showed the majority views from different groups represented on campus. In response to this, an audience member pointed out that 72.4 percent of the survey takers had identified as white, and another audience member stated that pointing out any majority seemed like a way to silence unsatisfied minorities on campus.

Anthony and Ellis said that identifying the feelings of minorities on campus is exactly the point of this study.

Another audience member who identified himself as a member of one of the working groups said that the denial of tenure for Bahng undermined three months of the group’s work. He asked what each individual member of the administration present at the forum thought about this decision.

Ellis said that hearing that Bahng did not receive tenure felt “like someone had put a knife in my gut and twisted it.”

She said that her actions would have to be as an individual and independent of any group or the executive committee.

“I am not a part of tenure review, but I see a history of something wrong, something broken, and for me it broke at a time when my hopes were highest,” Ellis said.

The same audience member asked how the members of the administration would use their offices to help reverse the tenure decision.

Ellis responded first, saying that she could influence senior administrators like Hanlon by stating how the decision made her feel.

Anthony said that she did not have a very satisfying answer, and that this was not a satisfying feeling for her to have. She said that her role as the vice provost is to pay attention to what the executive committee recommended.

In response, the audience member said Bahng’s decision had to be overturned to regain students’ trust.

Biron said that the tenure process at universities is confidential for good reasons, and that she cannot and does not know why Bahng was denied tenure. When asked if she would sign a petition to reverse the decision and grant Bahng tenure, Biron responded, “Sure.”

Ameer also said she was disappointed with the decision, but said that her office does not deal with the tenure process. When asked if she would sign the same petition, Ameer did not reply.

Other audience members asked about the administration’s problem-solving methodology, how people are chosen for working groups and why no students were involved in many of these processes.

Biron said that the administration focuses on establishing “clear structures for accountability” and ongoing channels for self-evaluation. However, she pointed out that the current initiatives — which include survey analysis and the working groups — would only bring long term change and not immediate appeasement.

Anthony said that the working groups’ members were decided through a nomination and self-nomination process. Due to an overabundance of nominations, not all nominees could be placed in working groups.

Ellis added that the executive committee needs to be kept small to streamline the decision making process. However,the decisions of an executive committee are not final, she said.

An audience member asked for comments about the fact that Hanlon had cancelled his recent office hours, which they thought implied that Hanlon did not want to hear the voices of students.

Biron replied that she could not speak for Hanlon, and Ellis responded that she could not control anything her colleagues do.

Audience questions also addressed concepts of free speech on campus.

In a recent email, Hanlon condemned the removal of the Blue Lives Matter display on the grounds of free speech. An audience member asked panelists why Hanlon sent out this email when he did not condemn the vandalization of a fall term Black Lives Matter display with similar urgency. The audience member also asked why the four panelists had not sent out their own emails about the Blue Lives Matter display.

Biron said that the College should not weigh in on something that cannot be federally defined as hate speech, and that if the university started moderating speech, it would lead to “the death of intellectual engagement and debate.” She also noted that Hanlon did send a message condemning the removal of the Black Lives Matter display in November.

One audience member asked the panelists about a “culture of intimidation” — an atmosphere that he said student activism had recently contributed to. He said many students feel that they cannot freely express their thoughts.

Another audience member later responded, saying that “radicals in the room” are not intimidating their classmates. Meanwhile, she said that student activists have been receiving death threats, and that the contact information of certain activists had been publicly shared.