NU to conduct faculty-hiring survey

Casey Newton

In response to recent criticism of hiring practices in the Hispanic Studies department, University President Henry Bienen said Wednesday that Northwestern would conduct a survey of school and departmental hiring practices.

The goal is to define the role of student input in the process, Bienen said.

“This issue came up and it made me think — well, I don’t even know how we’re doing,” Bienen said. “I’m sure (Weinberg) Dean (Eric) Sundquist knows how it happens in his department and I’m sure (McCormick) Dean (John) Birge knows how it happens in his. But I don’t, so I’ve asked to get a survey of what the different departments are doing.”

Bienen said he asked Eugene Lowe, assistant to the president, to develop and conduct the survey.

Lowe said on Thursday that he would develop in the next week a memorandum to departments describing the survey’s goals and content.

Currently, the university’s regular program reviews have limited student input. But Bienen said less is known about student input in department hiring processes.

“My personal preference is, and to some extent I think it would be good for the institution, to have a systematic way of having student input,” he said. “I think if you had that, then you also wouldn’t have these kinds of situations as much.”

Bienen did say that he opposes students having a binding vote on hiring decisions.

“Some universities have students involved in the voting on it, and I’m not in favor of that,” he said. “I think there should be lines of demarcation. You should want to know what your students think, and the student optic is a good one to get on how the classes have been and how their priorities fit your priorities as a teaching department.

“So I hope something useful will come out of this — I don’t promise it will, because it’s got to come out of the college and the departments.”

The hiring controversy started when the Hispanic studies department did not give tenure to visiting Prof. Christopher Larkosh. Twelve student groups signed a letter to the administration on Wednesday demanding disclosure for the reasons why Larkosh was not hired, adding that they might stage protests if they are not satisfied with administrators’ response.

Alianza President Lilly Gonz