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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Morgensen, Brown file intents to appeal tenure decisions

By Amy Lieberman

Two weeks after the Faculty Personnel Committee denied tenure to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies professor Scott Morgensen and French professor Diane Brown in mid-December, Morgensen and Brown filed intents to appeal their tenure decisions. This year, of the seven professors that were up for tenure, only Morgensen and Brown were denied.
“I was dismayed,” Morgensen said of his reaction to the decision.
And Morgensen was not the only one.
“It was an absolute shock,” Alex Douglas ’08 said. After hearing of Morgensen’s rejection, Douglas and other students created a Facebook group titled, “Scott Morgensen Lovers,” which has since been used as a forum to organize students and alumni. By press time on Wednesday, 209 students had joined the group.
Douglas said that 60 students have also sent letters to five different administrators, in hopes of “drawing attention to the effects [the tenure decision] has on the WGSS department.” She continued, “We’re saying students are watching this appeals process.”
When Macalester hires full-time assistant professors, it generally grants them a three-year contract. At this point, according to the Macalester Faculty Handbook, professors “are typically reviewed for their pre-tenure reappointment . and reviewed for tenure during their sixth.”
During a tenure candidate’s sixth year, the professor undergoes several review phases, which culminates when the FPC, composed of six elected faculty members, the Provost and the President evaluate the candidate’s file and make a final decision by consensus. Professors are evaluated by three overarching categories: teaching, scholarship and service.
International and Russian studies professor Jim von Geldern, who currently chairs the FPC, said that Macalester generally denies tenure to one professor in a given year.
If a professor is denied tenure, Provost Diane Michelfelder said, the college offers him or her a one-year terminal contract.
Morgensen said that he “can’t speculate” if he would remain at Macalester for an additional year, while Brown said that she is presently “looking at lots of different options.”

Morgensen stands as one of the two full-time WGSS department faculty members. WGSS is classified as an interdisciplinary department, which requires a minimum of two full-time professors. Without Morgensen, Douglas said, the department could face a tenuous future.
WGSS department chair Joan Ostrove, who is also a psychology associate professor, said that WGSS associate professor Sonita Sarker plans on returning to Macalester next fall, but that for now, the department’s future is “too much up in the air. There are a number of options that are available.” Ostrove said she remains “confident that the department will remain,” but still contended that the decision is a big “blow to the department” as well.

Maggie McKenna ’08, a WGSS minor agreed, saying that Morgensen’s tenure denial is “probably one of the worst mistakes that Macalester has ever made.”
“Macalester has given up one of its strongest teachers by not giving Scott tenure. It’s a slap in the face to the entire department.”
Douglas said the personal nature of Morgensen’s tenure denial is founded in what she perceives as Macalester’s history of “marginalizing” queer studies. And while Douglas said she has “full respect” for the Macalester community and administration, she still sees Morgensen’s tenure denial as a “failure of Macalester to use its scholarship to use its role as an institution.”
Michelfelder said that when a professor undergoes tenure review, the FAC only considers the individual.
“The department is not under review,” she said.
As Macalester’s tenure review and appeals process are confidential, Morgensen and Brown would not disclose the reasoning behind their intents to appeal. Under Macalester’s appeals process, candidates must file appeals with the Faculty Appeals Committee within three months of when they filed their intent to appeal.

According to the Faculty Handbook, the FAC will then “conduct an initial review of the appeal to ensure that it is timely and asserts grounds that may be the basis for an appeal.” If the case is not denied, the FAC will then reconsider the candidate, who can appeal on grounds of procedural error or academic freedom, a recently added provision.
Macalester Emeritus Chemistry professor Wayne Wolsey served as the president of the AAUP for several years. He said that since he arrived at Macalester in 1964, he has seen the college reverse two tenure decisions in the early 1980s, and allow two cases to undergo a new review process. Macalester’s tenure procedures are unique, he said, a fact that the AAUP has criticized in the past.
“You can’t appeal a decision to the president,” he noted. “Normally you elect a faculty committee, and a faculty committee makes a recommendation to the dean or the provost. The provost then makes a recommendation to the president.”
Under the appeals process, after the FAC makes its decision, it passes a recommendation on to the president, who ultimately has the final say.
Brown noted that the appeals process is “very narrow in scope,” and acknowledged that in the past, tenure decisions don’t tend to be overturned. Still, she said, “An appeal seemed like a sensible thing to do.”
“Institutions don’t always get it right,” she said.
Brown said that she has received support from colleagues and that students have written letters to the administration, but that her case has not garnered as much attention as Morgensen’s has received. She noted that Morgensen’s case is decidedly more “political,” than her own.
“Students aren’t going to get as excited over verb conjugations,” she said.
French department chair Joelle Vitiello said that she was “very disappointed” with Brown’s recent tenure denial.
“She’s a great professor,” she said. “She has developed amazing courses and the students really like her.”

Vitiello said she will now wait for Brown to appeal the decision, and that the department will closely follow her appeals case.
“We will be very supportive through this,” she said.
Rebecca Sutton ’09 is a French minor and has worked in the French department since she was a first year. She said that before being interviewed, she had yet to hear of Brown’s tenure rejection.
“That’s news to me,” she said, before continuing to compliment Brown.
“She is a really fabulous professor and is very knowledgeable,” she said. “She has a passion for teaching, and that is always apparent.

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    Julian EllisonSep 7, 2019 at 4:31 am

    Hahahaha, what a comic this YouTube video is! My group is still laughing, thanks to admin who had posted at this web site.