The IFA Board sent a letter to Chancellor Michael V. Drake on May 12, 2013 voicing their concern over the possible appointment of Howard Gillman, former Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at USC, as the new Executive Vice Chancellor, and the lack of public review in the selection process.
Dear Chancellor Drake:
We write on behalf of the Irvine Faculty Association, representing the IFA in accordance with our bylaws. It has come to our attention that Howard Gillman, former Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at USC, is the finalist of the search for a new EVC to replace Michael Gottfredson. Searches of broad concern to the campus should be conducted as openly as possible so that faculty from various areas and perspectives can raise issues that may not be evident to the necessarily few colleagues on any search committee. It is the purpose of our letter urgently to point out such issues, even if the search has reached its final stage. We are concerned for several reasons. Dean Gillman’s fairness in handling personnel cases, as well as his relationship with faculty in general and American Studies and Ethnicity faculty in particular, have been called into question by reports from USC. Given ongoing public attention to racism at UCI, Dean Gillman’s hiring particularly without public discussion or review would send a negative signal regarding UCI’s seriousness about addressing its problems. We urge you to weigh the grave impact that this choice may have.
USC colleagues convey that Dean Gillman had poor relations with USC faculty. According to current and past faculty at USC, Gillman’s renewal as dean was contested in letters written by many Humanities chairs as well as many individual faculty who complained of his lack of support for their research and lack of respect. According to their accounts, Gillman’s reappointment at the first renewal was qualified by reservations about his performance. Matters apparently did not improve during the second term. Gillman was offered, and declined, reappointment for a third term, again over faculty objections. Many senior faculty left during his term despite USC’s able financial position, and there is a perception among USC faculty that Dean Gillman’s retention and tenure decisions were uneven, unclear, and partial. This situation raises questions about his qualification to be EVC and Provost at UCI during a period of ongoing budgetary difficulty and reorganization that will require deft and professional negotiation and cultivation of trust.
Dean Gillman’s improper handling of personnel procedures is a matter of record. According to published articles, in the course of an appealed tenure case that is still pending as an EEOC complaint, it was concluded that Dean Gillman acted inappropriately to bias the proceedings by calling additional referees outside the candidate’s field. “USC’s faculty grievance panel found that ‘Dean Gillman’s phone calls to additional referees during the [review] lacked appropriate protocols, resulting in a procedural defect that materially inhibited … [the] tenure review process.’ The panel also recommended that Gillman’s ‘cold calls’ documentation be removed” from the professor’s dossier and that her case be reevaluated (http://dailytrojan.com/2013/05/02/prof-loses-tenure-bid-after-appeal/). Regardless of the merits of the professor’s case, Gillman’s behavior unduly influenced it. This conclusion appears to corroborate USC colleagues’ reports that he was out of touch and unsupportive. An endowed Professor of English, Tania Modleski, has taken the unusual step of criticizing her own institution in print. Professor Modleski published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education analyzing the “continued erosion of faculty governance” during the period of Gillman’s tenure, erosions that opened the door to the kinds of actions in which Gillman engaged. (http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/11/the-death-of-shared-governance-at-u-of-southern-california/) Professor Modleski notes that the kind of action Gillman took — phone calls to additional referees — returns to practices that are socially rather than procedurally and objectively based, and that such practices have long operated to the disadvantage of minority faculty and women. A dean who believes that such a practice is appropriate is ill-suited to govern as EVC and Provost at a public university.
While it is tempting to hope that the problems with Dean Gillman’s record could be offset by the impact of important gifts to USC, it is far from clear that Dean Gillman played a decisive role in these gifts. $200M raised in the period is attributable to a single very large gift that was donated by a trustee. For many faculty, Dean Gillman’s difficulties apparently outweighed his fundraising contribution, thereby casting doubt on this dimension of his performance as well.
It is a crucial matter that Dean Gillman’s tenure was riven by faculty perceptions that the decisions, research priorities, and tone he set at USC adversely affected minority faculty and women and indeed, the culture of enlightened exchange at USC. In addition to the EEOC complaint pending regarding the case of Mai’a Davis Cross, Assistant Professor of International Relations, which we cited above, another tenure case involving a minority assistant professor, Jane Iwamura, received national attention in the form of a petition signed by 923 academics and students and opposition from USC’s Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment. (Professor Iwamura’s book from Oxford UP was widely praised by leading scholars in her field.) A panel held at USC on September 22, 2010 on “Race, Tenure, and the University” was dedicated to studying the larger social forces related to what was said to be a pattern of racial discrimination in personnel actions at USC. In addition, according to faculty in American Studies and Ethnicity Gillman refused to appoint a chair they had elected, declining both of their nominees. Faculty who work on ethnic studies and minority discourse who departed from USC during Gillman’s tenure include Professors Denise da Silva (now at Queen Mary, University of London), Roselinda Fregoso (UCSC), Ruthie Gilmore (CUNY), Robin D.G. Kelley (UCLA), Herman Gray (UCSC), David Lloyd (UC Davis), and Cynthia Young (Boston College). While Dean Gillman is not the sole reason that many left for thriving careers at other institutions, we are concerned that his management appears to have exacerbated perceptions of institutional racism rather than helping to overcome them. Administrators quoted in the above articles respond to faculty concerns about diversity and equality by arguing about the methodology used by a political science professor who was working to document them, instead of treating the existence of those concerns as a serious matter. This response is not appropriate. Dean Gillman ought to have created conditions that encouraged a different kind of response: a less defensive demonstration of the ability to hear campus concerns at the level at which they are expressed by faculty and students.
We do not need to emphasize that UCI is in the middle of a challenging situation regarding racism on campus. The last few weeks have brought two incidents of hateful slurs against black students. Nor have such incidents been foreign to the campus previously. In addition, the external review of the School of Humanities strongly criticizes the assessment of Humanities units and one Social Science unit that were said to “need attention.” The external review rightly stresses “the seeds of distrust, the resentment, and destruction” sowed by the targeting of precisely those units on campus most concerned with the study of difference and diversity. The “Needs Attention” exercise threatened to affect the academic reputation of UCI, becoming citable as evidence of administrative complicity in an inhospitable culture for minority students and faculty. The campus is vitally in need of an EVC/Provost that comes into this situation with a strong proactive record of promoting diversity on campus, including warm relations with ethnic studies scholars; a forceful articulation of racism’s complex causes and effects; and strong interpersonal skills for the handling of racially charged conflicts. In this context, the hiring of a former dean who actually has an EEOC complaint pending against his unit and who has been found by a review board to have introduced bias into the tenure case of a minority professor would be a visible and egregious mistake. It would immediately be noticed as such by all members of the community who have been following the “Needs Attention” debacle or working with students who are rightly indignant about racism on campus. These are disproportionately not the members of the community who have had the opportunity to weigh in on the EVC finalists.
Our university has a serious commitment to equity and diversity. The nomination of Dean Gillman as EVC calls that commitment into question. Were he appointed, UCI could be charged with having dismissed in advance the EEOC complaint. And while a current employee of the university has a right to have judgment withheld regarding a discrimination complaint, that is not the point when a candidate seeks to be hired into a new and broadly significant position. In the latter case, an absence of association with controversy and animosity is a positive and reasonable, even minimal, criterion. Dean Gillman does not meet that criterion.
We would have raised the above issues earlier if we had had any opportunity to do so. Amid ongoing concerns about equality, the limited opportunity for comment in the search process may also be cited as evidence that UCI, like Dean Gillman, needs to be more committed to open governance and to the diversity and fairness it protects. Hiring Dean Gillman without having given ample opportunity for views such as ours will make it seem as if UCI is ignoring the recommendations of the Humanities external review and the calls for sensitivity and education being issued by UCI’s Office of Student Affairs. We bring these matters to your attention in the spirit of openness and public concern. We urge that it is not too late to have an open and full conversation about finding the best candidate for this key leadership position at UCI.
Executive Committee, Irvine Faculty Association firstname.lastname@example.org
CORRECTION (May 18, 2013). This letter has been edited. As originally published, it erroneously stated that Dean Gillman was not offered a second renewal of his term as dean at USC.
Our letter speaks from the IFA’s independent position regarding a matter of public concern: attention to fairness amid a troubled climate. We encourage all who share our concern about these issues to speak about them in an accurate, serious, and respectful way.
Chancellor Drake’s Response to our letter is available here. In response we would like to reiterate that this letter was not anonymous. It was sent in the name of the Irvine Faculty Association, a campus affiliate of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, for more than 30 years a recognized UC faculty organization with membership at all campuses, and posted on our official website. We would also like to reiterate that while there was opportunity for faculty and students to comment on the best qualities to look for in an EVC, the final candidates themselves were not made public and therefore there was no ability for faculty to share any concerns or give any input in the process. Our only opportunity to respond in this regard was when we were informed by colleagues of the immanent selection of Dean Gilman. Given the serious concerns voiced to us from a variety of sources we felt it was incumbent upon us to make a public statement in order to ensure even at this late stage and in view of the serious situation on campus, that the fullest possible discussion would be possible.