The ongoing dispute between some members of the faculty and parts of the administration has taken a turn over the past few days, indicating that a resolution may soon occur.
While an exact decision is still in the works, on Thursday, Feb 19, President Russell K. Osgood rescinded the cease-and-desist he had previously issued to Ralph Savarese, English, on Jan 26. According to those close to the decisionmaking, a tentative agreement has also been reached for an external review of all administrative hirings and firings.
Osgood would not comment specifically on either an external review or the cease-and-desist, but he did state that, in general, progress had been made, and some form of resolution may soon be reached. “I have been talking with Executive Council, with [the] faculty group and I am very encouraged by the discussions,” Osgood said. “We’re going to have more discussions next week all aimed at moving [these] matters forward in a constructive way.”
The change in the dispute appears to have shifted on Wednesday, when a group of faculty met with Osgood. “We as a group tried to break it down to the big issues that we felt we could address at this meeting,” said Kelly Herold, Russian, one of the professors who attended the meeting.
According the Herold, the faculty at the meeting requested the external review and the retraction of the letter to Savarese. Also discussed were general issues about a lack of independence in faculty governance, among other topics.
From this meeting, a tentative external review of the College’s hiring and firing practices is under development. The review would examine both general College procedures as well as specific past instances, and will be open for students, faculty, and staff to raise concerns.
Marci Sortor, vice president for Institutional Planning and Associate Dean, has been discussed as the individual who will be in charge of the formation of the review and the results to be reported to her. “It was a concession the faculty asked for that Russell not run this external review,” Herold said.
When approached by the S&B, Sortor declined an interview request.
The first concrete result of the meetings has been the removal of the cease-and-desist letter. “I’ll just say I think very highly of Professor Savarese and we met today and had a great meeting and he’s a fine faculty member,” Osgood said, without commenting on the cease-and-desist letter.
Savarese said he was pleased with the shift. “The President came to my office today and retracted the cease-and-desist letter. I feel vindicated,” Savarese said. “I remain committed to free speech, especially in a whistle-blowing context, and I am deeply skeptical of the charge of harassment or incivility from those who would prefer that the truth not come out.”
Faculty members were unsure what caused the change in Osgood’s willingness to remove the cease-and-desist letter and institute the external review. “It came out of nowhere, we were not anticipating any of what we got at the meeting,” Herold said. “I walked away shocked, surprised, and hopeful.”
When asked what changes had caused the situation to progress in a positive manner, Osgood said, “I have seen changes in maturation and development in what’s being said that is a bit interesting.”
Exact details on the external review and the changes to faculty governance are still being finalized, with faculty scheduled to meet again next week. However, some form of further action appears likely to occur within the next month or two. “It’s going to be a process that is going to take at least the rest of this semester,” Herold said. “It’s looking at across the College in all administration processes.”
Throughout the dispute, tensions between Osgood and some professors had become particularly heated, but Savarese said that the most recent meeting between him and Osgood had struck a surprisingly positive tone. “I would say that prior to this incident I had a good relationship with the president and the president had supported me,” Savarese said. “The meeting today was frank and surprisingly relaxed and not very awkward. And he wanted to shake my hand at the end of it.”
While many have felt frustrated by the course of events that began with former Associate Dean and Director of Residence Life Sheree Andrews’s departure from Student Affairs in Sept 2008, there is a sense that the groups can move beyond the difficulties to a satisfying conclusion. “Colleges and universities benefit from vigorous uncomfortable debate about things that are painful sometimes,” Osgood said. “And I think talking about these things … actually produce[s] clear thinking, not always, … but I think this is one of those situations where talking about it has produced a sense looking forward what is appropriate and what we might do.”