Nielsen, supporters await decision

No decision in theater and dance professor Lara Nielsen’s tenure appeal has been announced, creating uncertainty as to her future status at the college.

Nielsen, an associate professor in the Theater and Dance Department, was denied tenure last December. A group of students and other supports of Nielsen started a campaign, “Support Lara Nielsen!” which worked to drum up support for Nielsen throughout the semester by staging art displays, organizing letter writing campaigns and conducting a Week of Action to initiate conversation on how tenure decisions are handled at Macalester. They also met with President Brian Rosenberg and Provost Kathy Murray and created a petition in support of Nielsen that garnered over 500 signatures.

Some students on the campaign also mounted an ultimately unsuccessful effort to have Nielsen awarded with either the Educator of the Year Award or the Jack and Marty Rossman Excellence in Teaching Award. Departing chaplain KP Hong and economics professor Mario Solis-Garcia won the Educator of the Year Award while environmental studies professor Roopali Phadke won the Jake and Marty Rossman Award.

Julia Davidson ’13 is a theater and dance major with a critical theory concentration, who has worked with Nielsen extensively in the past. Nielsen is her advisor, and Davidson was heavily involved in the student campaign to support her.

“Lara has changed the way I think, and I would hate to deny students to come the opportunity to work with such a gifted mind,” Davidson said. “On that level, I sincerely wish that all the parties involved in this decision understand how her impact has resonated on this campus and grant her the appeal.”

Nielsen declined to comment for this article. She officially filed her appeal to the Faculty Appeals Committee in mid-March. They will recommend a decision to President Brian Rosenberg, who has approximately two weeks to make a final decision, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre.

If Nielsen is denied tenure, she will have the option to continue teaching at Macalester for one more year. Currently, she is listed as teaching one class for next fall: Introduction to Theater Studies.

According to Hamre, that one-year contract is intended to allow a faculty member denied tenure time to locate another position.

The final decision is expected in the coming weeks near the close of the semester.