Students fight to keep Prof. Kinzer at NU

Alexandra Finkel

When Michelle Soffen took a political science seminar with Prof. Stephen Kinzer last quarter and saw the extensive reading requirements, she was afraid that despite her interest in the subject, she would have to drop the class.

“With my learning disability, it’s often a struggle to get through classes with a lot of reading material,” the Communication junior said. “I had a breakdown, and normally I would have just dropped the class. But I went to speak to Professor Kinzer and he was the nicest and most receptive professor I’ve had here – he convinced me that I could get through the class and I ended up learning so much.”

When Kinzer announced that Winter Quarter would be his last quarter due to an expiring and nonrenewable contract, Soffen said she was surprised, especially with his high CTECs, popularity among Northwestern students and “impressive resume.”

Soffen helped organize a group of students working to keep Kinzer on campus, saying she hopes they will demonstrate the impact Kinzer has had on his students and the importance of him continuing to teach at NU.

“We owe it to him to at least try to make a difference,” Soffen said. “The school should know they’re making a mistake.”

Kinzer worked for The New York Times for more than 20 years as a foreign policy correspondent before being appointed bureau chief for Nicaragua in the 1980s and for Germany and Istanbul, Turkey in the 1990s. The Boston University graduate has also written six books about global conflicts and American intervention abroad.

In 2006, NU hired Kinzer for one year as the Charles Moskos Visiting Professor of Military Studies. He then accepted a non-tenured track “visiting professor” position, which required him to teach two political science courses and one journalism course each calendar year. He received notice in March that his contract, which expires in December, would not be renewed.

Kinzer’s visiting professor position was required to be one of limited duration, Provost Daniel Linzer wrote in an e-mail.

“The resources for his visiting appointment must now be available for another use,” Linzer wrote. “The question, then, is not if his visiting appointment will be renewed (it cannot), but if the school wishes to offer him a new appointment as an adjunct faculty member.”

Weinberg Dean Sarah Mangelsdorf offered Kinzer a position as an adjunct professor to teach for one year but with nearly a 50 percent pay cut, Kinzer said.

His salary was originally paid for by financial resources from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the Medill School of Journalism, the Provost’s office and the Roberta Buffet Center for International and Comparative Studies, he said. Kinzer helps coordinate the speakers and workshops that the Buffet Center brings throughout the year.

“No one has told me exactly why I am unable to renew my old contract,” Kinzer said. “They say it’s due to my position as a visiting professor, but that doesn’t seem sufficient to me.”

This may be the result of the university’s current financial situation, said Hendrik Spruyt, director of the Buffet Center and former political science department chairman.

“All of this is happening because of the budget,” Spruyt said. “It’s not a question of quality.”

The Buffet Center has offered to increase its portion of Kinzer’s pay, despite the fact that the university’s international programs have been negatively impacted by the economic crisis, Spruyt said.

“We think he is a great asset to the university not only because of his teaching, but because of his work with the Buffet Center and town-gown relations,” he said. “It’s a unique situation and the provost’s office is forced to make very hard decisions.”

Although he hasn’t seen an issue like this before, Spruyt said the university might face similar choices in the future regarding visiting faculty and lecturers.

Some students hope voicing their opinions will encourage NU administrators to renew Kinzer’s current contract.

Soffen created a Facebook event and met with other students who have taken Kinzer’s classes to spread the word and garner support for him.

“Going into this, I wasn’t expecting that this would necessarily save him but I thought it could happen,” she said.

The students created an online petition in March which has since gathered 426 signatures. The group plans to meet this week to discuss further action including writing to alumni for support, speaking with NU faculty and passing a resolution in the Associated Student Government.

Hugh Roland, a Weinberg junior, has taken two of Kinzer’s classes and is also helping Soffen organize student support for Kinzer.

“It’s embarrassing that Northwestern is possibly letting go of one of its best faculty members,” he said.

Although Kinzer has yet to make a decision as to whether he will accept the post of adjunct professor in Weinberg with a substantial pay cut, he said he must make a decision by April 14.

“I am still hoping a way will be found to renew my contract at the level it is now,” he said.

Despite the students’ activity, Kinzer said he is reluctant to get involved but appreciates their efforts.

“It’s wonderful to see them responding this way, not just because it’s a cause that affects me, but because it affects the university,” he said. “But ultimately it’s more important to me to know that so many students have appreciated my teaching than to have my contract renewed.”

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