Since the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Brent Mallinckrodt, was appointed last April, faculty across the college have expressed concerns regarding his actions. So far, the history department is the only department that has chosen to publicly voice its concerns.
The history department passed a resolution of no confidence in Mallinckrodt’s ability to continue to serve as dean of the college, after a two-thirds majority vote during a department meeting on May 24.
Mallinckrodt and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Brent Carbajal referred inquiries to Paul Cocke, Western’s communications and marketing director.
In a July 14 email, Cocke said Carbajal is aware of the history department’s concerns and has begun to work with college and department leadership to resolve the issue.
The history department announced its decision in an email sent by Kevin Leonard, former chair of the department, to Mallinckrodt, Carbajal and all of the department chairs and program directors within the college on May 26.
The email listed specific concerns about the dean, including a lack of support for diversity in regard to faculty and curriculum, failure to advocate for department needs and to address department concerns, a lack of transparency in decision-making and a lack of commitment to shared governance with faculty.
“This seems to be a different situation than ones we’ve faced in the past,” Leonard said. “There have been times when members of this department have felt as if they’ve not been understood or well-represented by a dean, but they have not been moved to take an action of this magnitude.”
Mallinckrodt was selected as dean of the college in April 2016 and began his position last July. He was an associate dean and psychology professor at the University of Tennessee before coming to Western, according to the college’s website.
College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Brent Mallinckrodt. // Photo courtesy of Western Today
Leonard said many of his colleagues would like to see Mallinckrodt removed from his position, but the decision is ultimately in the hands of Carbajal, who the dean serves under and reports to.
Johann Neem replaced Leonard as chair of the department on June 24, after Leonard’s term ended on June 22. Leonard left the university to take over as chair of the history department at Middle Tennessee State University.
“The provost has not formally acknowledged the history department’s concerns,” Neem said in a July 17 email.
However, Mallinckrodt has reached out to Neem and stated his determination to work with the department during the coming year to build confidence, Neem said.
Ancient Near East and Mediterranean history professor Steven Garfinkle has been at Western for 16 years and is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Leadership Award. Garfinkle created the first draft of the history department’s statement of no confidence.
“This isn’t a court proceeding,” Garfinkle said. “We’re not trying to call out the dean so much as we are trying to make sure that, as a department, we still get to fulfill our mission, serve the students at Western and do our job to the best of our ability.”
Concerns Within Other Departments
Nineteenth century U.S. literature associate professor Allison Giffen has been at Western for 16 years and is president of the Faculty Senate. As president, Giffen said she has heard serious concerns from faculty across the college about Mallinckrodt during small meetings and one-on-one conversations with faculty.
“Faculty have felt he has created more work for them and has been a hinderance and an obstacle to the important work of the university rather than a facilitator, which is what he’s supposed to do,” Giffen said. “Faculty have complained to me about a sense of him not being entirely honest and him offering contradictory information to different constituents. Faculty feel they don’t trust him.”
Giffen said the history department’s issues with the dean are not limited to the history department, and that the English department has been having similar issues.
“Nine faculty members met with [Mallinckrodt] in his office to complain bitterly about the way he managed our personnel procedures,” Giffen said. “We were trying to replace some faculty who had taken jobs elsewhere.”
One of the faculty members who left the English department specialized in 19th century British literature, which contributes to the Literature and Culture courses (ENG 307 through ENG 321) that English majors with an emphasis in literature are required to take.
“We have all kinds of classes in our core that are different time periods, so to have an English department that doesn’t have someone who specializes in nineteenth century British literature is like having a big hole or gap,” Giffen said. “There’s all kinds of required classes in the major that we don’t have someone to teach.”
Despite facing similar issues, the English department has yet to join the history department in publicly announcing their concerns about the dean, Giffen said.
Giffen said that because the English department is so large and the history department announced its resolution near the end of the school year, the English department did not have enough time to come to a faculty consensus and publicly announce its support for the history department.
“Nobody I’ve spoken to feels the history department has done anything out of line,” Giffen said. “They are absolutely justified in what they did.”
“This isn’t a court proceeding, we’re not trying to call out the dean so much as we are trying to make sure that, as a department, we still get to fulfill our mission, serve the students at Western and do our job to the best of our ability.”
Steven Garfinkle, Ancient Near East and Mediterranean history professor
Failure to Advocate for Department, Lack of Transparency, Lack of Commitment to Shared Governance
The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is the largest college on campus, with 13 departments and three interdepartmental programs. Every year the college hires based on its budget and faculty departures for the current year.
The process begins with each department creating a ranked list of proposals for tenure-track faculty positions that need to be funded. All of the proposals in the college are then looked over and ranked again by the Dean’s Advisory Council, which is made up of all the chairs and program directors within the college, before finally being passed on to the dean.
This year there were a total of 19 proposals. Because there had been five faculty departures in the past year, only the first five proposals were guaranteed to receive funding, with rankings six through eight potentially receiving funding if it became available.
When Leonard accepted his job offer from Middle Tennessee State, the history department put forward a proposal for a full-time position devoted to teaching modern African American history to replace him in the classroom, Garfinkle said.
The Dean’s Advisory Council had ranked the history department’s proposal at number five on the list. Leonard said Mallinckrodt disregarded the council’s recommendation and moved it down to ninth place, without consulting the history department beforehand.
This meant the department would not receive funding to replace Leonard’s faculty position, and would therefore be unable to continue offering courses on modern African American history.
“African American history is one of the ways in which we contribute to the general education curriculum, and it’s one of the ways we recruit a more diverse student body,” Neem said. “It’s also a very important commitment by the history department to teach the history of all Americans.”
Leonard said the dean also moved a proposal from the psychology department, his area of discipline, from 12th place to fifth place.
“The university keeps saying, ‘We are committed to diversity,’ yet when you look at where it prioritizes faculty positions, scholarship and assistance to students, it doesn’t always look as if the administrators are really deeply committed to diversity,” Leonard said.
Since the history department’s resolution of no confidence, Mallinckrodt has moved the department’s proposal to sixth place, Leonard said.
The modern African American history position has been funded and a search is now being conducted to find a faculty member to fill the position, Cocke said in an email.
“The decision to prioritize the psychology department position up several spots by the dean was made only to meet the needs of Western students and the university, and had nothing to do with the college dean’s preference for any particular academic discipline,” Cocke said in an email.
Lack of Support for Diversity
Garfinkle said the department’s decision to vote no confidence in Mallinckrodt was based on many factors, but the biggest was the department’s perception of the dean’s lack of effort to retain Leonard when he was recruited by another university, and his unwillingness to replace Leonard’s faculty position.
In addition to teaching courses on LGBTQ+ and Latin American history, Leonard was the only faculty member in the history department with an area of speciality in teaching modern African American history, Garfinkle said.
Leonard said he was also the only openly gay faculty member in the history department. He was a former member of Western’s LGBT Advocacy Council, as well as the President’s Task Force on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity.
Leonard had been at Western for 20 years and was serving his second term as chair of the history department when he was offered a job at Middle Tennessee State University in March. Typically when a faculty member of Leonard’s esteem is sought out by another university, administration makes an effort to retain them, Garfinkle said.
However, when Leonard informed Mallinckrodt about his offer from Middle Tennessee State, Leonard was told that because the base salary offer he received would not be higher than his current base salary at Western, the dean would not approve a salary increase. Instead, Mallinckrodt offered Leonard a summer research grant, Leonard said.
Though Mallinckrodt did not mention how much the grant would be for, the standard amount of a summer research grant at Western is $6,000, Leonard said in July 24 an email.
“I understood that to mean, ‘We don’t really have any interest in keeping you here,’” Leonard said.
Leonard said he knows a number of LGBTQ+ faculty who have left Western over the years because they did not consider it a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ faculty. He believes administration seems to not care that LGBTQ+ faculty are leaving the university, because they have not made more of an effort to retain those faculty.
“I don’t know if that’s in any way related to my sexual orientation, but at the same time I’ve seen the university go out of its way to retain people, even some people who don’t have other offers,” Leonard said.
Cocke said this is not the case, and said in an email that the university administration “does care about and highly values LGBTQ faculty at Western.”
Leonard’s term as chair ended on June 22. He is still considered a faculty member at Western until his resignation on Sept. 15, though he is not teaching any courses.
“We lost a lot of expertise in what are critical areas right now,” Garfinkle said. “Our curriculum suffers, our teaching suffers and the department has to find a new chair — all of this in an environment where you’ve got someone who has 20 years of tremendously committed service to Western, and a dean who’s been here only a few months tells him, ‘We’ll be fine without you.’”
Moving forward, Neem said he hopes to rebuild trust between the history department and the dean’s office. Garfinkle said in some ways, the history department’s struggles with Mallinckrodt have strengthened the department, and reaffirmed its commitment to the success of its students.
“What we need to see from the dean’s office is much more effective and respectful leadership,” Garfinkle said. “Whether that’s with the current dean, because he can become a more effective dean, or whether the university needs to look at changes in the dean’s office, that’s a decision for the university and the provost to make.”