Letter to the Editor: Students should be more involved in selection of dean

Julia Watson and Erik Zorn

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Dear members of the Northwestern community,

On Tuesday evening, the 17 members of the search committee tasked with selecting the new Dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences invited members of the NU community to voice their opinions about the selection process at a forum hosted at the Block Museum of Art. Sixteen of these members on the search committee are NU faculty, while one is an NU undergraduate student. This committee will begin reviewing applications for the dean position in the coming weeks. After interviewing candidates, they will make a recommendation to the Office of the Provost. This means that while the Provost will make the final decision of the candidate selected, this search committee makes vital judgments regarding who is considered a finalist in the process.

To give context, Weinberg is NU’s largest school — over half of the undergraduate population is enrolled in its programs. Academically, Weinberg is the most diverse school, offering over 100 available majors, minors and areas of study and special concentrations. The other five schools that make up NU — the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, the School of Communication, the School of Education and Social Policy and the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Musicall offer academic programs in conjunction with Weinberg. It is safe to assume that all undergraduates at some point, regardless of the school they are enrolled in, will most likely interface with Weinberg, in the form of a course, professor, advisor, program, service or otherwise.

The candidate chosen by the selection committee will shape the experience of every undergraduate student on this campus. Associated Student Government’s 2013 survey of over 3,000 students found that close to 40 percent of Weinberg students were unsatisfied or ambivalent with the experience offered to them through the Weinberg distribution requirements. Additionally, 50 percent of Weinberg students were unsatisfied or ambivalent about their freshman advising experiences. These are just two of a multitude of student concerns that our next dean will need to resolve in order to continue our history of excellence.

While the forum was a great way to ensure our future dean will be prepared to address these issues, such meetings cannot be the sole mechanism for including students in this process. We do not doubt that the faculty and administrators on the committee took the opinions expressed tonight seriously. We also recognize that everyone involved in the search process wants to find a dean that will continue Weinberg’s academic excellence. However, no matter how well-intentioned a faculty or administrator might be, they cannot adequately represent the needs of students. Only undergraduates can understand and communicate their lived realities. For this reason, we fear that the priorities of the committee’s 16 non-students will overshadow our contributions from that evening, as well as the opinions of the group’s one student representative.

We want to acknowledge the efforts of the selection committee thus far, but we also want to remind them of their responsibility to show the NU community how the selection process will change in order to incorporate student feedback. Hosting another forum or holding focus groups with student leaders will not adequately correct the absence of undergraduate voices in the formal process. We believe that the only solution to this issue is strengthening students’ formal roles in the selection decision. Whether this is through student interview groups, as are utilized by Student Affairs, or by adding more students to the selection committee, a fundamental change to incorporate student opinions into the hiring decision must be made.

For a better Northwestern,

Julia Watson, ASG president

Erik Zorn, executive vice president

Anna Rennich, VP for Academics

Austin Romero, VP for Diversity and Inclusion

The Associated Student Government Executive Board

Nine of the 16 members of the ASG executive board are Weinberg students, and all members have taken classes in Weinberg.