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New College trustees to vote on controversial issues, without discussion

Written by on Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Tenure denial, Corcoran bonus are on the consent agenda of tomorrow’s meeting.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Apr. 10, 2024

Host: At its meeting tomorrow, the New College Board of Trustees put two items on the consent agenda that seem all but consensual. One is approval for a package of tenure applications by seven professors. The recommendations submitted by college President Richard Corcoran include denial of long-term employment for one history professor. The other item on the consent agenda that has raised concern is approval to pay Corcoran a $200,000 bonus for his work, pushing his pay in the first year beyond the million-dollar mark. The WSLR News team talked to the faculty trustee and the union president about their concerns.

Johannes Werner: Public colleges pay university professors less than comparable private-sector employers, but there’s one perk: It’s called tenure. Tenure means predictability and long-term commitment, by way of automatic renewal of employment, unless the professor falls behind expectations or otherwise violates the contract. To get to tenure is a well-structured process. But that process has not been transparent in the case of history professor Hugo Viera, suggests the New College faculty union president. Katie Walstrom says the first time Viera and his colleagues got a clear signal that not all is OK was at a trustees’ committee meeting early this week.

Katie Walstrom: At that committee meeting, the six people who had been recommended by the president to grant tenure were considered as a group, and the committee agreed with that recommendation and passed it forward to the Board of Trustees. So those six are in a group together. And then they discussed the seventh case separately. And the faculty and the student trustees made very good arguments about why they thought the candidate should get tenure, because the candidate had been recommended for tenure in all the previous steps of the tenure review process. But the other committee members did not agree. And so the other committee members voted to follow the president’s recommendation. Part of the letter from the president mentions a problem with the files — except the files were complete. The file issue turned out to be a problem in the administration, and it affected all of the candidates. So that’s sort of a spurious entry in the letter. But then, the president said that this candidate had small class sizes, and that was his reason why he was recommending a denial. But that hasn’t been discussed in the past, and it hadn’t been an issue for the division chairs when they reviewed the professor in the year-end evaluations. Part of the issue was that all these candidates were hired as a group, and shortly after we hired that group of faculty, the number of students at New College decreased, and so everybody had small class sizes for a while.

JW: Viera did not respond to an invitation to comment.

Recognized for his teaching and research of music history – until this week: Hugo Viera-Vargas

Faculty Trustee Amy Reid says she is concerned about the fact that Viera had received the full backing of his colleagues and bosses, which means the president’s recommendation for denial overturns all that. That’s why the tenure decisions should be fully vetted, and not be left on the consent agenda, without discussion.

Amy Reid: Of all the decisions that the Board of Trustees has to make, tenure is really the most consequential. It has long-term impacts for our students, for our colleagues, for the health and viability of the institution. Faculty work for years to prepare, to file for tenure, demonstrating their strength in research, teaching, and service, all of which are vitally important to the college’s future. For those reasons, I’m surprised that a decision was made to put tenure on the consent agenda. Even if the discussion is just to congratulate and recognize the exceptional work and talent, the achievements of our colleagues, they deserve to hear that. In this case, when the board seems to be suggesting that one of our seven highly qualified candidates does not deserve tenure, that decision really needs a full airing. I am convinced that all of the seven candidates and each of the seven candidates have shown that they have met or exceeded expectations in terms of their research, their service and their teaching. So for that reason, I think the board needs to discuss the case.

JW: The faculty union, NCUFF, has yet to figure out what steps to take. It depends, first of all, on how Viera wants to proceed, Walstrom says.

KW: We’re going to try to do something, but we don’t know exactly what, and we’re still working on it. Because we have only known about this for a couple of weeks.

JW: It will be difficult for the union to file a grievance over violation of the process or over the president’s tenure denial, Walstrom says. But Viera also happens to be the sole plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last year over process violations in the tenure applications of five professors. And that could mean his tenure denial is retaliation, the union president suggests.

KW: It looks like it could be. He’s the only one in the lawsuit, and he’s the only one that was recommended to deny tenure.

JW: NCUFF has scheduled a press conference after the trustees’ meeting tomorrow, at Sudakoff Hall on the east campus of New College.

Corcoran’s bonus

Reid also said that Richard Corcoran’s $200,000 bonus should not be on the consent agenda.

AR: Again, this is something that was put on the consent agenda, which is a little surprising to me. I think if the board is going to be awarding a bonus of that magnitude, we should have a discussion about it. I am concerned about the campus’ finances. I don’t have a really clear handle on the campus’ budgets. Significant portions of the campus still do not have budgets in hand for the fiscal year that started last July. So in that context, I’m a little concerned about the size of the bonus being recommended. And I hope that we’ll be able to have a full discussion of this at the board meeting.

JW: Corcoran’s contract reportedly sets bonus benchmarks in student enrollment and faculty hiring.

College spokesman Nathan March did not respond to a request for comment before deadline of this report.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.


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