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Edgewood College reinstates terminated faculty following appeals process
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Edgewood College reinstates terminated faculty following appeals process

2019-09-19-Edgewood 4-09192019150256

Edgewood College students study in the library.

Edgewood College has reinstated the positions of all six Edgewood College professors who were initially terminated in May.

One anonymous professor and English and ethnic studies professor Huining Ouyang learned this week that the Board of Trustees decided to rescind their termination notices, while communications professor Bonnie Sierlecki had not yet directly heard the results of her appeal at the time of publication. Though Ouyang plans to return to the college, both she and Sierlecki cited opaque and confusing communication from administrators throughout the appeals process. 

They were among six faculty whose positions were eliminated May 27 as a step to meet “changing student needs.” Though the three others have since left the college, the Board decided to rescind all six terminations “in order to allow for a review of the entire process” and work toward a more comprehensive growth strategy, according to an email from Board chairwoman Lucy Keane to the Academic Rank Committee on Thursday.

“The Board felt that the best opportunity for those groups to work together was to move the focus away from a decision made in the past and put our focus and attention in the future,” Keane said in the email. “We look forward to a time of healing and for our new President to use this new-found time and space in a constructive way.”

In June, both the American Association of University Professors and Edgewood’s Academic Rank Committee, composed of elected faculty members, concluded that the college did not have “adequate cause” to fire the professors. It also did not meet the standards for financial exigency or discontinuation of an academic program, they said.

Following the process outlined in the faculty handbook, the case then went to the Board of Trustees, which communicated its decision to rescind the terminations to President Andrew Manion last week. 

“I would hope that the institution and the Board learn from this episode and not make those kinds of terminations, in violations of standards and their own policies, in the future,” said Nick Fleisher, president of AAUP Wisconsin.

Keane wrote in the email, however, that the Board’s decision does not indicate agreement with the professors’ appeals, the AAUP’s definition of financial exigency or its findings that academic freedom is at risk at the college.

The professors were first informed last Friday that the process was finalized and were asked to meet with Manion and human resources Monday to hear the decision. After she declined to do so, Ouyang waited throughout the week to receive an official notice through postal mail. But when the president announced plans to hold a debrief meeting of the appeals process with Edgewood faculty Thursday, Ouyang chose to speak with him and learn the results beforehand.

Though Ouyang said justice has prevailed, she said she heard no mention of “how I’m going to be reintegrated into the community or any signs of welcome.” She has repeatedly emphasized the importance of healing, saying she is concerned about lasting impacts of restructuring and hopes to “revitalize” ethnic studies.

“I was mentally prepared for a negative outcome,” said Ouyang, the only full-time professor in the ethnic studies program. “I believe an apology is in order.”

On Thursday, she also received the notice in the mail, which included one sentence that the Board rescinded her termination notice.

Sierlecki, who called the long wait a “mind game,” was unable to attend both the Monday meeting and the debrief. When she expressed concern to Manion, who took over as president on June 1, that he was debriefing the appeals process before she even knew the decision, she said she received a “rather hostile” response.

“(He showed) no overtures at all toward a faculty member that you’re supposed to be welcoming back toward your organization,” Sierlecki said. “It’s pretty disappointing even if it turns out to be good news.”

Manion was not involved in the Board’s review process and refused to intervene by reinstating the faculty, according to an internal email sent to faculty July 13. 

He added in the email that decisions to terminate faculty were “not made lightly” and that, “while we must operate with efficiency, we will not cut our way to prosperity.”

“I understand that many faculty feel very strongly about this issue, and it is in heated moments like this when we should hold most steadfastly to the processes provided by the handbook, which was written by dispassionate people for just these sorts of moments,” Manion said. “That process is playing out and I will enforce the results of that process, which I trust.”

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