Faculty members split over Karl Eikenberry’s appointment at Buffett Institute

Benjamin Din, Digital Projects Editor

Faculty members discussed Wednesday regarding the appointment of Karl Eikenberry as the first-ever executive director of the Buffett Institute for Global Studies.

Eikenberry, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was named to the position last November and is slated to start in September. The decision was met with strong backlash from faculty members who believe his non-academic background and lack of research and teaching experience make him unfit for the job.

At Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting, those against the appointment made their appeals to the Senate, which was attended by Provost Dan Linzer; Jake Julia, associate provost for academic initiatives; and Jay Walsh, the University’s vice president for research.

French and Italian Prof. Michal Ginsburg said she brought the matter before the Senate because of the administration’s lack of response to faculty protests about the appointment.

“Our most important task as senators is to protect the interests and rights of the faculty,” she said during the meeting. “When a search overseen by the central administration produces an appointment that a large number of the faculty finds unacceptable … it seems only appropriate that the Senate will look into the matter.”

Political science Prof. Jacqueline Stevens and Spanish and Portuguese Prof. Jorge Coronado — neither of whom are on the Faculty Senate — presented after Ginsburg’s introductory remarks.

Instead of addressing concerns regarding Eikenberry’s scholarship, Stevens said the University has attempted to put a spin on his record by listing his associations with academic associations where the barriers of entry seem higher than they actually are.

However, Linzer refuted the professors’ claims. He said the search committee did its best to put forward three high-quality candidates for the position, from which he and University President Morton Schapiro chose Eikenberry.

“The remarks wove together a number of comments from different contexts from different sources that lead to what seems to me to be a conspiracy theory,” he said.

During the meeting, Ginsburg questioned University President emeritus Henry Bienen’s involvement in the search. Bienen, who chaired the search, submitted Eikenberry’s name for consideration without him applying, which Linzer said was something that happened often in these searches.

By appointing Eikenberry to the position, Linzer said the University would be able to accomplish the goals it hoped to achieve with the appointment: to enhance student and faculty opportunities by opening new doors.

“If we hired another person who was similar in nature to other senior faculty, that would be great for adding another faculty scholar,” he said. “It would not have created the breadth of opportunities that someone who comes from a different background can create.”

When discussion about the topic opened up to the other Senate members, Communication Prof. Carol Simpson Stern said, based on the evidence provided, she did not think anything was wrong with the search committee’s process.

“I find it extraordinarily narrow-minded to think that the definitive qualification is a Ph.D.,” she said. “I don’t think that’s compelling. Everything I’ve heard this evening convinces me this was a properly conducted search.”

Toward the end, Ginsburg raised the possibility of a faculty vote of no confidence, something she said happened in the early 2000s with a past appointment Bienen was involved in.

“Had this kind of discussion occurred in the context of this previous appointment, that no-confidence vote would not have happened because the person wouldn’t have been appointed,” Stevens told The Daily. “We’re hoping to avoid that kind of situation down the road.”

Although Stevens said she was glad they were able to further educate their colleagues about the situation with Eikenberry’s appointment, she told The Daily she felt Linzer did not directly address the concerns brought up.

Ultimately, she said she is not against Eikenberry being at Northwestern. Rather, her issue is with the selection process that considered a candidate without extensive research experience to lead a research institute.

She said she would support finding a different position at NU where students and faculty can benefit from Eikenberry’s connections that is better aligned with his experiences in the field.

“I am hopeful that in response to this there may be new arrangements made to find an alternative position for Karl Eikenberry at Northwestern,” she said. “I’m hopeful that there will be some further rethinking about the position and his fit with Northwestern.”

This story was updated Thursday at 9:20 p.m. to clarify the nature of Wednesday’s meeting.

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