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Forty-four Barnard senior faculty signed letter to trustees asking for interim president with academic background

Forty-four senior faculty members—representing all of Barnard’s academic departments and programs—wrote a letter to the trustees last month requesting that the president's temporary replacement possess one specific trait.

Despite their request—that the interim president be “one of them,” a member of academia—the board unanimously selected Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldberg for the position, who does not have an academic background.

The decision, for some faculty members, has triggered concerns that their voices will carry little weight as the trustees begin the search for Barnard’s next president.

The appointment of an interim president was seen by some as an opportunity to restore stability amongst faculty following Spar’s unexpected announcement that she will be leaving the college midyear to serve as CEO and president of Lincoln Center. She will leave the college with an uncompleted construction project and a massive ongoing capital campaign, both started under her direction. In addition, the contingent faculty union recently voted to approve strike authorization, meaning that a majority of Barnard’s faculty can go on strike at any time.

Goldberg—just the second male to lead Barnard since Leroy C. Breunig was named interim president in 1975—was appointed in December, less than a month after Spar announced she would resign from her position in March.

The letter from department chairs and program directors—submitted to the Barnard board of trustees in early December and obtained by Spectator—states that the interim and permanent president should “be a scholar-leader committed to defending the liberal arts, higher education, and academic freedom in the coming years.” A second letter by members of the faculty requested transparency in the hiring process and the opportunity for faculty to contribute ideas.

Faculty said they were not opposed to the selection of Goldberg itself, but that the process by which he was chosen was  concerning.

Africana Studies Department Chair Tina Campt cited “tension” among faculty regarding how the board solicits input.

“What we were emphasizing in both of them [the letters] is that we want to be partners,” Campt said. “We don't want to be sidelined, we don't want to be transacted around.”

In response to these concerns, Chair of the board of trustees Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, BC ’81, said she feels that faculty will have a prominent voice in the search process, especially because four faculty members are on the search committee.

“I think the faculty should feel very comfortable that the members on the search committee are well representing all members and all constituencies within the faculty,” Caruso-FitzGerald said in an interview with Spectator. “I would encourage [faculty] to talk to members who are on the search community over the next week to make sure their voice is heard.”

But faculty have stressed that even when they are given a designated platform from which to provide input, it is not a given that those suggestions will be put to action.  

“There is always a question of whether you get heard and whether you get followed,” Robert McCaughey, the Janet H. Robb Chair in the Social Sciences, said. “I have no reason to think that the trustees on the search committee and the trustees in general would do other than listen carefully, but I think they are also fairly sophisticated in the sense that there is a certain kind of self interest that is there.”

However, faculty did acknowledge that Goldberg’s background was relevant in several aspects of the job of interim president. Caruso-FitzGerald said that Goldberg was selected because of his understanding of the administrative workings of the college—a rationale that most faculty members agreed with.

“In the chief operation officer role, he really had oversight for so much of the administration, so in our mind it was very easy and seamless to appoint someone who had so much of the operational running of the college under him anyway,” Caruso-FitzGerald said.

She also added that it was important to choose a candidate who would not be considered for the role of president.

Caruso-FitzGerald declined to comment on whether or not Barnard’s chief academic officer, Provost Linda Bell, was considered for the interim position. In an interview with Spectator on Dec. 1, Bell declined to comment on whether or not she was a candidate to permanently replace Spar.

Faculty members said that a president with an academic background is necessary to ensure that the educational process—the chief objective of the college—and collaboration with faculty is prioritized.

Chair of the music program Gail Archer said that in the last presidential search process, which resulted in the hiring of Spar in 2008, she felt the trustees took into account the interests of the faculty. For Barnard’s next president, faculty are interested in someone who understands the intricacies of the classroom and is committed to communicating with faculty, Archer said.

“There have been instances where people felt … that there isn't enough interaction between members of the administration and members of the faculty, the actual community that's thinking and working together everyday,” Archer said. “Someone has got to understand teaching. The chemistry in the classroom has to be something that the leadership responds to.”

The letter from faculty also identified concerns regarding the role of the interim president and the possibility of a strike by the contingent faculty union in the coming months. The letter said the interim president  “would need to be someone who could respect and represent not only the perspective of the administration, but also of the strikers.”

The letter also noted confusion over how tenure and promotion cases would be overseen by the interim president and how responsibilities would be distributed.

Still, faculty members said they were hopeful that their voices would be heard moving forward in the hiring process. In response to the submission of the two letters, Caruso-Fitzgerald attended a faculty meeting last semester in an effort to increase transparency and clarify the hiring process. Additional moves include faculty representation on the search committee and the recent announcement that open forum listening sessions will be held at the end of the month.

“[The Board is] talking about the ways that they really want to integrate faculty and listen to faculty,” Campt said. “And if that happens, and it's really taken seriously, I think it is going to be an inspired choice. ... I'm still nervous, but I'm totally optimistic.”

Jessica Spitz contributed reporting.

aubri.juhasz@columbiaspectator.com | @AubriRuth

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