Town hall discusses survey amid reaction over tenure decisions

by Samantha Stern | 5/11/16 5:54pm

Around 250 students, faculty, staff and community members attended a town hall yesterday where executive vice president of the College Rick Mills, chief financial officer Mike Wagner, vice provost for academic affairs Denise Anthony and Provost Carolyn Dever spoke about the results of the Dartmouth Community Study and fielded audience questions on diversity, inclusivity and transparency in the tenure process.

On social media, students have been using the hashtags #fight4facultyofcolor and #dontdodartmouth in response to the College’s decision to deny English professor Aimee Bahng’s application for tenure.

“As far as faculty governance, we feel we have less say than ever. Tenure is increasingly becoming less of a system that we have control over,” history professor Annelise Orleck said. “I’ve been here 25 years. It’s worse now than it was many years ago when I got here.”

Another student then expounded on Orleck’s concern, explaining that the Committee Advisory to the President, which acts on matters of reappointment, tenure and promotion “is a color-blind system, which equates it to a racist system.” Because one of the qualifications for being on the committee is being a tenured professor, a rank that few faculty members of color attain, she said, there is not adequate minority representation on the CAP.

There’s a problem when a process cuts out a whole population of people, she said.

“So don’t sit here and say that you have a commitment to diversity, to people of color on this campus, if you all sitting on that stage can’t acknowledge that the tenure process, across academia, and on this campus is racist,” the student said.

Anthony said that although institutional privileging of the status quo is a reality that “needs to be rigorously questioned and attended to,” all forms of decision making are subject to bias.

Anthony also said she was worried and uncomfortable with questioning the structure of tenure, which is the professional way of reviewing peers in academia. She added that replacing the tenure process with mechanisms that operate in other non-higher education institutions, like voting or hierarchy, are also subject to bias.

A student then read aloud a statement from a non-Dartmouth academic describing the College as a racist and sexist institution. He asked the administrators both whether they were proud of this reputation and when the administration would begin caring about diversity and inclusivity, garnering applause from the audience.

Anthony and Dever both said that no one in the administration is proud or satisfied with the results of the community survey. The questioner followed-up asking why students of color do not feel like people at the College, and Dever responded that identifying the root causes of alienation was precisely the intent of the survey.

The community survey, which was conducted by Rankin & Associates — an educational consulting firm that specializes in assessing campus climate in higher education — was meant to address campus climate and is a key component of College President Phil Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative. The survey was released to all students, faculty and staff in fall 2015, and compiled results were made available last Tuesday. The survey asked students to evaluate the living, learning and working environments within the College. Among other topics, the questionnaire addressed the community’s treatment of members of the queer community, veterans, non-U.S. citizens, men and women. A total of 2,753 people responded to the survey, for an overall response rate of 26 percent.

During the question and answer session, an audience member from Dartmouth campus services noted that staff are not mentioned within the College’s explicit mission statement and inquired as to whether the administration has given thought to the exclusion. Mills said that the survey calls issues like these to light, while Dever added that the College developed working groups for staff as well as faculty and students. Inclusiveness means valuing everyone, Dever said.

Wagner began the town hall with a overview of the 2016-2017 operating budget, before passing the microphone to Anthony who presented the reasoning behind and initial findings of the community survey.

Three more community forums will be hosted by administrators this term to address the results of the survey and issues of diversity and inclusivity. The next one, co-sponsored by the Palaeopitus Senior Society, is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 17 in Rocky 002.

At the start of the town hall while attendees entered Spaulding Auditorium, a Thomas Edisonquotation was projected above the stage: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Mills noted at the start of the event that many in Dartmouth community have questioned what differentiates this effort to look at campus climate from others. After recognizing this, Mills added that the community must follow Edison’s advice and keep trying.

Correction appended (May 13, 2016):

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the community forum on May 17 began at 7 p.m. In fact, it begins at 6 p.m.