Campus Controversies

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August 24, 2012 by WAR

As you might imagine, no college campus—perhaps no organized body anywhere—is without its share of controversies. Provided below are brief summaries of several notable issues from the past few years.  If you wish to learn more about any of these issues, I recommend you talk to any upperclassman, your ASWC representatives, or faculty members. We’ve also linked previous Pioneer articles on the subjects in question.

Professor Galindo’s tenure denial.
Whitman has three criteria for awarding a tenured professorship:  First and foremost, a commitment to quality teaching; second, high-quality published academic writing (or other scholarly work); third, commitment to the college community. After seven years of teaching, a professor may be eligible for tenure, at which point a panel of faculty from various departments evaluate the professor’s work and make a decision.

From time to time, professors are denied tenure after their seven years, however Professor Alberto Galindo’s case caused a great deal of uproar in the spring of 2012.  A Spanish professor, Galindo was a phenomenal professor, loved and respected by his students and fellow Spanish faculty. He also dedicated large amounts of time to the campus community.

After the denial, a professor has the chance to appeal the decision based on errors in the deliberation. Galindo was able to appeal, and also given the opportunity to add evidence to his case.  In the meantime, a large group of students organized to publicly protest the decision.  They held a rally outside of President Bridges’ office, collected signatures on a petition which was signed by more than half of the student body, wrote an op-ed for Whitman’s newspaper The Pioneer, and wore pro-Galindo buttons on their robes at graduation.

In addition to their desire to see Galindo stay on campus, students were frustrated by the lack of student input in the deliberation process.  Student evaluations, filled out at the end of each semester, can be used in the tenure case, but Galindo’s students felt that these short and often hastily-done evaluations were insufficient.  Unlike at many other colleges, students at Whitman cannot write letters of recommendation to support a professor’s tenure case; evaluations are the only avenue for student input.

Following the established procedure, the same committee who denied Galindo tenure reviewed his case for errors in the deliberation. They denied him a second time. Galindo appealed the case again, this time to President Bridges. President Bridges found no errors in the tenure-review process. The only criteria for overturning an original denial is errors in process, not the merits of the professor, so Galindo’s denial remained in place.

The tenure committee’s reasoning is entirely secret, so one can only speculate. Rumor has it that the committee found that Galindo’s output of published academic writing was insufficient, and this seems to be the case since he clearly had no shortcomings in the other two categories. While Galindo had the option of teaching for another year, he recently made the choice not to remain at Whitman.

 

Switch to a 3-2 teaching schedule.

Prior to the fall 2010 semester, Whitman was on a 3-3 teaching schedule, meaning that professors taught three courses per semester. However , the faculty decided in 2009 to switch to a 3-2 teaching schedule beginning in fall 2010,  in order to make teaching jobs more competitive. This means that in any given academic year, a professor will teach 3 courses one semester and 2 the next (or vice-versa).

There are many good reasons for such a switch.  Lowering demands on professors makes it easier to lure high-caliber professors to Walla Walla, since many comparable colleges have a 3-2 schedule.  Fewer classes means more time to work with students on independent study projects or other out-of-the-classroom experiences.  The switch coincided with a change in how registration worked, preventing students from overloading (registering for more than 18 credits) during pre-registration, thus leaving more seats available.

Yet at the time, there was a high degree of frustration among students.  Prior to the change, students were in no way asked for input or even informed that the decision was coming down the pipe.  Although the administration changed the registration process, students still found it very difficult to get desired classes and classes needed to graduate.  Many students felt that in the short term they were not benefiting from the switch, and as such were receiving a compromised experience for the long-term good of the college.  It did not help that the switch came at a time when Whitman was feeling the effects of the financial crisis.

ASWC has worked intensively with the administration on this issue for the past two years.  Their primary focus was increasing communication between the student body/ASWC and the administration. While the switch may have been in the long-term benefit of the college, the complete absence of student input in the decisionmaking process was entirely inappropriate and demonstrative of the need for greater student participation in college decision-making.

 

Getting student representation on the Curriculum Committee.

The Curriculum Committee makes logistical decisions about the times in which classes are taught.  It works to ensure that classes are distributed reasonably throughout the day to encourage the broadest availability of classes for each student to choose from.

In the wake of the 3-2 switch, students felt it was very necessary that students have a voice on this committee.  Perhaps no other committee has as much of a say in our lives on campus, and students offer unique and crucial feedback about the ways classes are and aren’t working for the student body.
ASWC worked to get students on the committee, arguing that the committee couldn’t really do its job without active student input.  The college pushed back, arguing that students are temporal and historically have struggled to consider long term trends within the college.  Members of ASWC put together a report showing that almost every other member of the Panel of 14 (a group colleges similar to Whitman which the administration often uses for comparative purposes) had student representatives on their comparable committees.

The administration finally allowed the ASWC President and Vice President to sit on the committee, on the condition that they keep content of the meetings confidential.   Although this was a big victory in getting student representation on college committees, there is still a long way to go in formally making student voices heard.

 

Creation of a student grievance policy.

For many years there was no way that students could file formal complaints against a faculty member.  If students, for example, felt significantly slighted by a professor or had been sexually harassed, there was no formal policy for recourse.  Some members of ASWC found this to be unacceptable, and started pushing several years ago for such a policy.  After many years of work and deliberation with faculty members and the administration, a policy is finally in place that allows students to submit a complaint and have it formally resolved, giving students better recourse and establishing better lines of accountability within the college.

 

Undocumented student statement.

In response to a national and Washington State push to pass  the DREAM Act, the Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution stating that Whitman approves the admitting of undocumented students.  Whitman was the first liberal arts college in the country, and the second institution of higher education overall, to pass such a resolution.

The latter part of the resolution states that, “Recognizing that undocumented students make important contributions to the intellectual and social life of the campus, Whitman College admits and enrolls students regardless of citizenship. Whitman College uses non-governmental resources to support the academic efforts of such students who qualify for financial aid.”

Because undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid, few undocumented students will accept an admissions offer from a private school without a full-ride scholarship, which the admissions office can only offer in limited quantities. Despite this difficulty, the statement is a very progressive move on Whitman’s part, and something that sets a very positive example for future colleges.

 

Rape on campus.

Perhaps you were surprised by the two sessions at orientation dealing with consent and rape on campus. Perhaps you’re wondering if rape is really a big deal on the Whitman campus. While it’s always been discussed at orientation, the large focus on it this fall is at least in part the result of the stir-up that resulted from two Whitman Pioneer articles published last spring, bringing to light the insufficient prevention and mediation policies of the administration with regard to sexual assault on campus, as well as the complications of sexual encounters where alcohol is involved.

Since then, the administration has been coordinating with the Walla Walla Police Department and the YWCA to develop better support for survivors, in addition to improving the student orientation. While giving survivors better access to support is an improvement, though, further institutionalizing the response to rape can often have unintended side effects, and the police are not a perfect solution to the issue of interpersonal violence.  However, the articles also led to increased conversation on campus about the reality of sexual assault, much of which was compiled in a zine, Break Ground, released last spring. It’s a compilation of personal statements against rape and stories written by those who have experienced it, and it’s well worth a read to learn more about the issue.

 

In conclusion.

None of this is fixed. Some of it has gotten better, but that doesn’t mean these issues are in any way over.

Galindo is gone, and the tenure review process remains as lacking in meaningful student input as it was before. Students still have very little voice in administrative decisions and in other key aspects of campus and academic life. Undocumented students still lack basic legal rights, and sexual assault continues to go largely unpunished at Whitman.

Not to get you down, but we’ve got a long way to go. All of these are ongoing struggles and ongoing controversies. We’re working to make these things better, and we’d love your help—whether that’s through WAR or another group, on- or off-campus.

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