Updates on the New Dean Hire
Ben Whedon (’18)-
In the last issue, we asked readers to email or call the Provost’s office with their concerns about Dr. Conner’s questionable hiring practices. Thank you to everyone who did so. The Spectator staff appreciates your support. We are always impressed with the dedication that former students show to their alma mater. Since then, many of you have requested an update on status of the search for a new Dean of the College.
I am sorry to say that we have very little idea what has happened since the article went out. Our efforts to discover the truth have been completely stonewalled. Fragments of information regarding the subject are few and far between. When a group of students bring their concerns to the community and the community sides with them, it is the duty of the University leaders to be forthright about it. Instead they’ve chosen to keep everyone in the dark and to carry on as though a large swath of the community didn’t vehemently object to their actions. We condemn the administration’s lack of transparency on this issue.
Everything that follows is our best understanding of the situation based on what little we have been able to uncover. Please be advised that, except where explicitly noted, most of this information was supplied anecdotally and lacks any written source documentation, in contrast to the previous issue. While I hesitate to give a platform to issues with only verbal confirmation, I feel it is important to honor reader requests for information, as the school certainly won’t and, moreover, to highlight just how unwilling the administrators are to engage in discussion.
Multiple faculty members confirmed that, immediately following the Winter Break, a general faculty meeting was held to discuss the controversy over the hiring process in full. The consensus is that the faculty overwhelming opposed the Provost’s decision to abridge the normal hiring process and to forgo a national search for a new dean. Anonymous persons in attendance described the scene as “heated” and “tense” with several key administrators reportedly growing visibly angry in the room.
From what we can tell, the committee did take a vote to offer the position of Dean of the College to Dr. Hill in spite of public outrage. She has yet to accept the offer however, and the administration has been left hanging on a cliff awaiting response. Ironic, that Provost Conner would roll out the red carpet for this woman, considering her the obvious choice, only to have her delay accepting the post.
Moreover, since we released the article, several alumni brought it to our attention that Dr. Conner and Dr. Hill currently serve together on the executive board of the Ralph Ellison Society, a scholastic organization dedicated to the study of the namesake’s literary works. The home page of the organization confirms that Dr. Hill and Dr. Conner serve as Vice President and Treasurer respectively. While it is not uncommon for members of academia to know one another through such groups, that these two have had a significant prior relationship and maintain a common academic interest does raise questions of bias in the hiring process.
Conner’s own elevation to the rank of Provost came from a similarly unusual appointment. The previous office holder, Daniel Wubah, entered the position through entirely routine channels. For reasons immaterial to this article, his sudden ouster was swift and largely unopposed. Dr. Conner, Associate Provost at the time, was named temporary acting Provost, awaiting a new national search. Nothing wrong with that except that the new President ultimately chose to forgo a national search and simply name Dr. Conner the permanent Provost. Is it any wonder that Dr. Conner wouldn’t value the national search process when he himself didn’t have to go through it?
Our primary objection was not with Dr. Hill but rather with the unmeritorious method of her selection. So, here’s the real kicker: A disgruntled professor in the history department confirmed (albeit through an intermediary) that the department has offered a full-time position to Dr. Hill’s husband, Dr. Michael Hill, in order to sweeten the deal. The history department just went through a legitimate national search to fill the vacancy left by Dr. Peterson’s impending retirement. They brought people to campus to give guest lectures and sought student feedback. Through that process, they selected someone for a tenure-track position by a meritorious system. So why offer someone a similar position in the department, with no vacancy and no national search, when you just properly handled an actual vacancy? Administrative cajoling. We looked over Dr. Michael Hill’s resume, and he is a supremely qualified candidate who deserves to be interviewed for a position through the normal channels. We merely disagree with the procedure whereby no other candidates are considered. The administration wants Dr. Hill to come. Her husband is also a professor. If they don’t give him a guaranteed position, then she isn’t coming to Lexington.
If true, this is disturbing because W&L should not hire people based on their marital connections. This is not a monarchy. Dr. Conner has previously affirmed his commitment to bringing the most qualified candidate to campus (provided that person contributes to our diversity), and he should live up to that by hiring people based solely on qualifications. The Spectator hopes that the administration will be more forthcoming on the hiring process for the new dean.
Dr. Michael Hill’s CV: https://english.uiowa.edu/sites/english.uiowa.edu/files/field/cv/HillCVforWeb.pdf
This article has been edited to reflect that Dr. Conner was named permanent Provost after Ruscio's retirement.