Reconsider your decision to deny the English Department's vote for chair
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Dear President Call,
This is an open letter written on behalf of the 22 fulltime English Professors who voted for a change in leadership of our department and the many other faculty members, full and part-time, who support our decision. We and the undersigned are dismayed at your decision to reject our near three-fourths majority vote and appoint a temporary chair while a new chair is recruited in a national search. That you announced your decision to disregard our vote on Election Day would be amusing if the current situation were not so troubling.
We demand that you honor our vote and immediately approve our recommendation of Professor David Humphries as Chair of the English department.
You spoke of the need for healing and neutrality when you announced your decision to our department, and yet your decision has only increased the sense of consternation at the college and within our department that has exhausted and distressed the English faculty for the past two months. Honoring our vote is the only way the healing process can begin and our department can move forward with its educational mission.
At the beginning of the fall semester, our department was asked to vote to change our core writing and literature courses (En 101 and 102) from 4 hour to 3 hour courses. Without outside influence or coordination amongst ourselves we rejected this proposed change. Our decision was not made lightly, but out of a commitment to the existing courses and the learning outcomes they have produced for our students. We believe that less class time with our students means they will be less prepared to read and write successfully in their future college courses and chosen careers.
In response to our exercising our right to vote on curricular matters at the college, Vice-President Karen Steele issued a series of threats aimed at our department, which included cancelling the vast majority of English courses, and terminating the employment of nearly all fulltime and part-time English faculty. The public outcry over these threats led to an apology (but not a retraction) and a new offer to retain a fourth hour of instruction in the first semester of our two semester English core series.
We were and are open to discussing the merits of these and other alternatives to our current course offerings. But after we voted down the courses our former chair brought before us, many of us rightly felt that our current department leadership no longer adequately represented the pedagogical views of the vast majority of the fulltime faculty or the educational needs of our students. Thus before we entered into negotiations with you and your administration, we made the logical decision to change our leadership through the petition process allowed for under the college’s bylaws.
Our decision to recall Professor Linda Reesman was not made lightly. Indeed, many of us had to overlook long friendships with Linda to make the principled, professional decision to select a more representative chair.
Professor David Humphries, who serves as deputy chair of the department and demonstrated leadership in meetings with the administration prior to our fateful vote, was the obvious, even natural, choice to replace Professor Reesman as chair. It is unrealistic to expect that any recall of a chair would not encounter some resistance among faculty. But given the realities of the naturally contentious situation of a recall, it speaks to our unity that Professor Humphries received the votes of 22 of the 30 fulltime faculty eligible to vote.
While it is disconcerting that you would ignore a clear choice resulting from a democratic process, what is even more disheartening is the vague rationale you gave for your decision. You asked for us to meet with you on Tuesday November 6th to discuss the recall and the election of David Humphries. Many of us sacrificed our valuable time to attend yet another meeting about the current state of our department only to discover that this wasn’t a consultative meeting but a scripted announcement of your decision to reject our vote.
Your reasons for ignoring our vote remain unclear. We are still awaiting clarification about what you called “outside forces” influencing us. This intentionally vague phrase raised many questions for us. All of our actions have rigorously followed the college bylaws and our labor contract, which provide guidelines for the exercise of our academic freedom and shared governance. As you know, academic freedom and shared governance are two of the most cherished values of institutions of higher education, and your apparent disregard for both calls into question your understanding of the mission of the college and of public higher education.
In conclusion, the actions of you and your administration in response to our exercising of our democratic rights to determine curricular and administrative matters in our department have undermined the mission of the college, the university, and the spirit of public higher education. We ask again that you immediately reconsider your decision and approve the department’s election of David Humphries as chair of the English department so that we can begin to rebuild the trust between the faculty and the administration and move forward in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation.
Queensborough English Faculty
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