Students complain at open forum about lack of voice in dean search


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Members of the Weinberg dean search committee take questions from the audience during a forum held at the Block Museum on Tuesday evening. The committee members spoke on a variety of topics, including how to foster a sense of community among Weinberg students.

Olivia Exstrum, Assistant Campus Editor

Students voiced concern Tuesday night about their low level of representation on the search committee for the new dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The students made their comments at an open forum held by the search committee at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. About 30 people attended the event.

The search has been underway since Spring Quarter, when then-Weinberg dean Sarah Mangelsdorf announced she was chosen to be the new provost at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Chemistry Prof. Mark Ratner is serving as the temporary dean for the 2014-15 academic year. A search committee for Mangelsdorf’s replacement was announced in May.

Out of the 17 members of the committee, two of whom were not present at Tuesday’s forum, only one is a student, Weinberg senior Hannah Bredar. The rest of the committee includes faculty members from different departments across Weinberg and one alumna.

At Tuesday’s forum, where members of the Northwestern community offered suggestions and input about the position, students and alumni criticized the committee for not involving more students in the search process.

Associated Student Government President Julia Watson said at the forum she is concerned that the search committee is not prioritizing student interests. As a Weinberg senior, she said she is invested in knowing “which way the dean is going to take this school.”

“This could have huge implications for people coming after us and this will shape how Weinberg will attract students,” Watson said. “After this forum, what’s next?”

Prior to the forum, ASG created a Facebook event to encourage students to attend, Watson said. She suggested the committee form small groups and distribute surveys to gather student feedback.

Anna Rennich, ASG academic vice president, said students should have the chance to interview candidates for the position. She said although faculty and students share many of the same goals, the forum showed that their priorities differ.

“Weinberg prioritizes faculty because there’s only one student (on the committee),” the Weinberg senior said at the forum. “It gives the impression that no matter how much we value undergraduate education, we still value faculty more.”

English Prof. Wendy Wall, chair of the search committee, responded by saying her teaching background has given her a “deep knowledge of the problems that students face.”

“I’m not a student, but I do have a perspective on students,” she said. “I think I have a lot of education experience, and the others on the committee represent different parts of campus and all have different interactions with students.”

Rennich told The Daily that ASG reached out to Jake Julia, associate provost for Academic Initiatives, at the end of Spring Quarter about involving more students in the search, but was told the committee had already been chosen.

The search committee was unaware of this request, Wall told The Daily.

Students and faculty also brought up qualities they hope to see in a dean, including attentiveness to student needs, support for low-income students, accessibility and transparency.

At the end of the forum, Rennich told the committee it has a “responsibility” to use students’ input to make decisions in the future.

“Please wake up and understand that you have a better insight into what students feel and think,” she said. “Bring that into Northwestern culture after the selection process is over.”

The committee is taking applications from across the country because it did not receive enough internal applicants, Wall said at the forum. A group of finalists will be referred to Provost Daniel Linzer, who will choose the new dean. The committee expects to wrap up the search process by the end of Spring Quarter 2015.

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Previous stories on this topic:

    Weinberg chooses new interim dean, continues search
    Search committee chosen for new Weinberg dean