At 4:05 yesterday afternoon, many students and professors did not go their separate ways as they normally might after classes end. Instead, both students and faculty headed for JRC 101 to a SGA-sponsored discussion on the culture and values of Grinnell.
The event arose after a letter published in last week’s S&B by 16 tenured faculty members criticized the manner in which Student Affairs and the President handled former Associate Dean and Director of Residence Life Sheree Andrew’s departure from the Student Affairs office. Thursday’s discussion–which sought to include students, faculty, and administrators–was intended to foster dialogue on the standing of self-governance and the recent changes in the administration.
Topics of conversation during the event were mostly driven by student questions. But the most heated exchanges of the evening occurred between faculty and Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty. In what the moderator had initially called the last statement of the event, Dougharty responded directly to the letter’s allegations.
“As the person who has taken the personal brunt of the letter to the editor last week, I would encourage us all to be the critical thinkers that Grinnell wants us to be and not take everything at face value,” Dougharty said at the forum. “I would want you to know that not everything in that letter is true and that there is a lot not in that letter.”
After Dougharty’s comments, discussion moderator Mark Wilcox ’09 decided to extend the conversation, allowing the professors to respond. “What I just heard was deeply infuriating,” said Ralph Savarese, English, one of the signers of last week’s letter to the editor. Savarese defended the claims made in the letter, and held up what he claimed was Andrews’ personnel file as evidence. “What was done to her was outrageous. Absolutely outrageous, and I have a lot of evidence” he said to loud applause from the students in attendance.
Faculty members involved in the creation of the letter took offense at Dougharty’s characterization of account Andrews’ situation. “I expected that Mr. Doughtary would say, believe, and perhaps even rightly claim that authors of that letters did not know all of the facts surrounding the termination of S. Andrews,” wrote Johnanna Meehan, Philosophy, in an e-mail to the S&B. “What I did not expect Mr. Dougharty to do was to tell a room packed with our students (about whom we care deeply, and with many of whom we have worked for many semesters) that the letter we wrote was “untruthful” and thus should be viewed with suspicion.”
“I believe that I, like faculty across the college regularly encourage and help foster the ability to think critically that Mr. Dougherty seems to think Grinnell students need to exercise,” Meehan wrote.
The exchange between Dougharty and Savarese at the end of the event was not the only terse interaction between Dougharty and a faculty member. Responding to student discussions on whether students should approach the administration with problems individually or collectively, Victoria Brown, History, encouraged students to create structures to ensure that their voices are heard.
“Don’t be cowed into thinking that this is all about your individual problems that can be solved in individual offices, asking individual questions, for which I hate to tell you, you will sometimes not be told the truth,” Brown said. “And if you’re not told the truth individually, who can you check it out with?”
Dougharty responded at the event and defended his, and the rest of the administration’s, interactions with the student body. “It saddens me that that would be someone’s expectation and I can guarantee people that that won’t be their experience with me,” Dougharty said in an interview after the forum. “And perhaps the fact that that was said tells us or tells me about the kind of community I joined. Because I thought there was more trust and veracity here than perhaps there is.”
While most faculty attention at the forum was directed at Dougharty, College President Russell K. Osgood (who attended the beginning of the event but left early) was given the most blame for the situation by the faculty.
“Part of the problem here, everything gets determined and imposed. It’s really, really frustrating. And the President states over and over again that his judgment is better than ours,” Savarese said in an interview after the forum. “What was done to Sheree Andrews is terrible, and I really do finally hold the President responsible, because he has been here for a long time. And I told him and other people what the impact would be, and it’s a deep wound.”
Savarese said that he and other faculty members had approached Osgood early in the process after Andrews had been placed on administrative leave. When asked if he felt their complaints had been taken seriously, Savarese said, “Not at all.”
Osgood would not comment on any interactions specifically related to Andrews’ case. But when asked how he views advice given by faculty on general matters of student affairs, Osgood said, “I listen to them very closely. I would say it’s been quite rare in my 11 years but when they come I do listen closely. I hear much more from students than I do from faculty obviously about student affairs issues and again but it’s not very frequent or often, but when they come it’s very useful.”
While they have offered specific complaints about how Andrews’ situation was handled, faculty members stressed that they did not seek to discredit Dougharty or Dean of Student Travis Greene. “I want Houston and Travis to be effective, but not at the cost of doing harm to others, or being able to use the College’s enormous resources to conceal what I believe is their less than humane conduct,” Savarese said. “And clearly I’m not alone.”