Jane Hill dismissed as Allen House professor

by Alexandra Steinberg | 4/24/17 2:30am

house center b, allen, school

Engineering professor Jane Hill will no longer serve as Allen House professor according to an email sent by Dean of the College Rebecca Biron to Allen House students on April 6. According to Hill, her dismissal was not voluntary, noting that Biron dismissed her from the position. 

Biron wrote in an email statement that she was grateful for Hill’s contributions to the development of the housing communities over the past two years.

“However, some staff turnover is to be expected in the beginning stages of any enterprise as dynamic and complex as Dartmouth’s house system,” Biron wrote. “It’s important to recognize that each h ouse is defined by all of its members working together, rather than by any one person.”

She added in a separate, later email statement that she cannot “comment on personnel matters.”

Hill said she was unhappy with Biron’s decision, and stated that she would have chosen to stay if given the choice. According to the New Hampshire Department of Labor, the state has employment-at-will laws, which stipulate that an employer can terminate an employee without giving reason or notice.

Hill was unsure why exactly she was fired from the position.

“I assume there was a difference in direction, but I’m not really sure,” she said.

Hill wrote in a separate email statement that when she asked for the reasoning behind her termination, she was told it was because she did not respond to two emails and did not attend four or five House Council meetings this past fall. Another reason was that she did not remove a word from a flyer for Allen House and also reached out to the Center for Professional Development for advice on a program after Biron instructed her not to do so.

Hill also wrote that she missed the House Council meetings due to research-related travel, absences that were “known” and “even encouraged,” and that she requested minutes for the meetings she missed. As for failing to omit the word on the flyer, she said she did not receive the request to use a different word because she was out of the office, as indicated by her email autoreply. In reference to the CPD, Hill admitted that she did speak to the organization before and after she received notice that she should direct questions related to the CPD to Biron.

She said, though, that the reasons given seemed inadequate for termination.

“I don’t understand why the reasons given equaled to being let go,” she said.

Hill said she was notified of the decision for the first time during this past spring break and must vacate the Allen House Professor’s residence by June 15. She said she was aware that some students speculated that her dismissal was due to illness, changing jobs, unethical conduct with students or any other behavior and she denied all claims.

The Allen House Leadership Council was notified of Hill’s resignation in a meeting with Biron on April 6, according to Jose Burnes Garza ’17, an external relations officer of the Allen House Leadership Council.

Burnes Garza was at the meeting and said Biron could not clearly state why Hill was leaving the position. Burnes Garza recalled that the meeting implied, among other things, that Hill was “fine.”

Allen House is currently operating without a House Professor, according to Sam Seifert ’20, an Allen House Leadership Council member.

Hill acknowledged that the College’s decision to remove her was not productive for the House system, as it is still in its infancy.

“I don’t think it helps the stability of the system,” she said.

Seifert voiced a similar sentiment.

“This will be very detrimental for the housing system because it takes away from the momentum we had from this year,” he said. “We’ll have to backtrack, get a new professor and re-establish ourselves.”

Seifert was concerned about whether Allen House would be able to find another house professor as good as Hill.

“It’s going to be hard to get another house professor, especially one of [Hill’s] quality and caliber,” Seifert said.

According to Hill, the most difficult consequence of her stepping down is its negative influence on the students.

“Emotionally, it’s tough to see the impact on students,” she said.

Seifert said he was upset that Hill was fired and that the council appreciated Hill’s efforts and that she was always willing to help.

“The council loved her,” Seifert said.

Burnes Garza said that Hill was an integral part of the housing community, and that her removal left a “vacuum,” since Allen House currently does not have a house professor.

Hill is the second House Professor to step down since the implementation of the House system this past fall. Biological sciences professor Ryan Calsbeek stepped down as North Park House Professor in September. Biron subsequently became the North Park House Professor until Native American studies professor Melanie Benson Taylor replaced her in the winter term.

Calsbeek declined to comment on Hill’s firing or his resignation. Assistant director of Allen House Lauren Oliver did not respond to request for comment on how Hill’s resignation affects Oliver's role.

Hill wanted to be a house professor because of the stimulating and engaging environment the system creates for students when the system is successfully implemented, she said. Her vision for the house system included a community, traditions, innovation and intellectual expansion, she added. According to the April 6 email to Allen House students from Biron, Hill "will continue her teaching and research at Thayer [School of Engineering]."

Hill was proud of Allen House’s progress in its first year, noting that more undergraduate advisors applied to work in Allen House for the 2017-18 school year than from any other house. 

Sam Seifert is a former writer for The Dartmouth.