Last week, the S&B reported on the circumstances surrounding the hiring of Dean of Students Travis Greene and the departure of Sheree Andrews, former Associate Dean and Director of Residence Life. Our reporting was based on claims made in a faculty-written document, which constructed a narrative detailing both cases—arguing Andrews was released in an underhanded manner and that Greene’s hiring recalled a Boss Tweed spoils system. While search committee members—students and staff alike—rejected the allegations surrounding the Dean of Students search, the S&B’s review of Andrews’ personnel file and other reporting revealed circumstances that seem suspicious at the least.
While the Andrews case may be the most visible and contentious, it is not the only instance of circumspect hiring and firing in Student Affairs. For these reasons, we believe the planned external review of administrative hiring and firing practices is insufficient. Instead of just a campus-wide review which can dilute the findings of each individual office, we demand one specifically focused on Student Affairs, the office that has raised the most questions in this area. And, just as importantly, the review should be conducted, if at all possible, before the end of the year so that its progress and results can be monitored by all campus members, students, faculty and staff alike.
Before proceeding, we want to be clear that this is not a commentary on whether any individual should or should not have been hired, fired or retained. Personnel decisions are highly nuanced and contextual; we do not pretend that we can make those decisions from an outsiders’ perspective. We are instead concerned with the process by which those decisions are made, which often seem questionable at best. Ultimately, appropriate policies are not concerned with the final decision, but rather the way in which that decision was reached.
In Andrews’ case, three points lead us to ask for external investigation. First, none of the reasons stated in either the corrective action form issued by Greene or in the termination letter by Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty seem to warrant dismissal. Missing meetings and not responding to e-mails, while problematic, can be commonplace in a hectic office and, in the light of a serious personal crisis, seem especially trivial. Second, Andrews was served her termination just one business day after the corrective action form, which is insufficient time for an employee to improve their performance. Finally, there is a clear and puzzling discrepancy in the performance reviews issued by Dougharty and those issued by Tom Crady, Andrews’ former boss.
Student Affairs administrators have offered a constant refrain about the need to “professionalize” the division and cast as wide a net as possible in hiring. Despite this rhetorical commitment to more stringent policies, the hiring process for the Assistant Director of Residence Life position occupied by Kim Hinds-Brush did not seem to adhere to these standards. Instead of conducting a rigorous national search, as was the case for every other Student Affairs opening this year, including RLCs, division higher-ups seemed to merely have placed Hinds-Brush in the newly created position without any effort at looking elsewhere. Students on this campus greatly admire Hinds-Brush and wished her to stay and she has excelled thanks to her great familiarity with the College, its culture and institutions. But, as in other instances, the process flew in the face of the division’s stated practices.
A final discrepancy is evident in the qualifications for certain jobs filled in the past year. While the job posting for the Associate Dean position required five years post-master’s experience, the Dean of Students position required only four years.
We at the S&B do not feign to know the circumstances of these hiring and firing decisions. However, the questionable nature of these decisions casts suspicion across the entire division. A rigorous external review of these policies can only help restore confidence and mend damaged relationships. If a review were to expose blatantly mendacious activities, then those responsible can be held accountable and justice served. If not, the review can serve to exonerate those accused and restore a sense of legitimacy and trust to both Student Affairs and the campus at large.