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Several professors quit after the administration sided with department leaders over complaints.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
A majority of the faculty in the English department at Virginia Military Institute has resigned as a result of disagreements that stemmed from a change in curriculum, a VMI spokesman said.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Tuesday that seven faculty members have quit and another will leave soon, a year after VMI dismissed a complaint that accused leaders of the department of creating a hostile work environment.
According to The Chronicle, the professors, all tenured or tenure-track, alleged that the department administrators established unreasonable performance goals and then retaliated against them when they objected. The mass resignations have left just two professors in the department who are not also administrators.
VMI spokesman Stewart MacInnis confirmed the number of resignations but said two were unrelated to issues that he said grew out of changes to the English curriculum and unhappiness over how the new curriculum was instituted.
“Not all of the eight left because of that,” he said.
“We’re sorry they felt the need to move on to other jobs. Nobody was forced out,” he said, although some received poor evaluations that they thought were unfair.
Their complaints were investigated and found not to be substantiated, he said.
Both sides in the dispute cited a lack of collegiality, he said.
“This is difficult because these are all good people all the way around,” he said.
Some of the professors who resigned have been at VMI more than 20 years.
MacInnis said six new tenure-track professors have been hired, but three are for positions unrelated to the resignations.
The change in the English curriculum announced in spring 2012 moved the primary focus away from literature to one more heavily based on rhetoric and composition, he said.
“In all of academia there’s this great battle between the composition-rhetoric folks and the literature folks across the nation,” he said.
At VMI, the curriculum shift puts more emphasis on writing skills, he said, although “literature is not thrown out.”
According to The Chronicle, the American Association of University Professors sent a letter last month to VMI Superintendent Binford Peay objecting to lack of faculty input in the curriculum change.
The Chronicle said the resignations, six of which occurred this spring and summer, resulted from discord with the administration that began three years ago when faculty members suddenly began receiving negative performance reviews. The professors filed a complaint in October 2011 that said they were rebuffed when they sought guidance on how to improve.
Peay appointed a five-person committee to investigate the complaint, which rejected all of the professors’ allegations last summer and found that the faculty members were to blame for any hostile environment that had been created, The Chronicle reported.
MacInnis confirmed that account, but VMI did not immediately respond to a request for Peay’s report on the findings.
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