Following the unsuccessful appeal of her tenure denial, Theater and Dance professor Lara Nielsen will not be returning to Macalester this year.
Nielsen, an Assistant Professor, had her application for tenure denied by the Faculty Personnel Committee last December. Knowing that a professor being denied tenure eventually leads to their departure from the school, a group of students and community members assembled to support Nielsen. They held events and demonstrations throughout the spring to express their wishes for her to continue teaching at Macalester and advocating for additional student voice in tenure decisions.
Nielsen officially filed her appeal in late March.
According to the Faculty Handbook, appeals of tenure decisions can only be grounded in procedural violations throughout the process or a violation of the candidate’s academic freedom. When a request for an appeal is received, the chair of the Educational Policy and Governance (EPAG) Committee convenes a separate committee – the Faculty Appeals Committee – whose mission is to evaluate the appeal and recommend a decision to the President.
It is college policy not to comment on personnel issues or matters related to the tenure process, according to Acting President Kathy Murray.
“We followed our process as it is outlined, and that process has concluded, and Professor Nielsen will not be back,” Murray said.
Because the college does not officially comment on the tenure process, there was no official announcement from the college that Nielsen’s appeal had been denied. Those in the community slowly found out by word-of-mouth. The decision was made especially clear when her replacement had been added to the course schedule.
“It’s an interesting dynamic of confidentiality relations that means things like this can’t be publicized,” said Alana Horton ‘13, a Theater major who helped organize the movement in support of Nielsen. “The declaration [that] we had found someone else to bring in for the year came very recently, so I don’t think many people knew she wasn’t returning back for the year until two weeks ago.”
In the midst of the silence from the college, posts began appearing over the summer on the “Support Lara Nielsen!” Facebook group asking about any updates on her appeals process. Horton confirmed on the group that Nielsen would not be returning on August 11.
Professors that are denied tenure by the college are granted a terminal year of appointment to their position, which Murray described as a “year of grace” to allow them to find employment elsewhere. Although Nielsen will officially keep her position as an assistant professor through the end of this academic term, she has chosen to not teach classes during that time.
“They maintain their appointment at the college whether they teach or not, and after discussion we agreed that Lara would not teach this year,” Murray said.
In addition to teaching classes in the Theater and Dance department, Nielsen co-founded the Critical Theory Concentration and taught classes in Latin American Studies; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the Humanitarianism and Human Rights concentration.
Nielsen was scheduled to teach two classes this fall term: Introduction to Theater Studies and a senior seminar in Performance Theory and Practice. Those classes will now be taught by Eric Colleary, a doctoral candidate in Theater Historiography at the University of Minnesota. Colleary was hired as a Visiting Instructor for this year, leaving the Theater and Dance Department with just two full-time teaching professors for the time being.
“Everything we talked about last year, how multidisciplinary Lara’s ability to pull together students from the Critical Theory concentration [and] Latin American Studies and make them involved in aspects of performance theory — that’s gone,” Horton said. “It feels like we are much less connected to the other arts departments now.”
Those that were involved in the movement to support Nielsen’s appeal are disappointed by the process’s end result.
“Theater and Dance faculty, staff and students are disappointed by the denial of Lara Nielsen’s tenure appeal,” said Beth Cleary, Chair of the Theater and Dance Department. “Theatre and Dance offers two majors and minors, our students are eager and talented and we do have core courses covered and new courses on offer in the spring. We are all, as ever, committed to the study and practice of performance.”
“It’s very sad. I would say that I, like many people, am disappointed, but at the same time I am happy that the work we did last year was able to affirm the work Lara did herself when she was at Macalester, and in those terms alone I feel like it was a success,” Horton said.