On Monday, March 20, the first day back from spring break, Professor Teresa Delfín announced to her students that she was informed that her position as lecturer of Anthropology would no longer be renewed.
Delfín told her students that Dean of Faculty Darrin Good presented her with a letter informing her of the Faculty Personnel Committee’s (FPC) decision not to renew her contract. Delfín said she was shocked by the decision and explained to her class that she was sharing the news with them because she was worried that rumors were starting regarding her status.
One misunderstanding students have is that the decision made by the FPC was to terminate Delfín. However, there is a difference between termination and nonrenewal. Only tenured faculty can be terminated, and usually it is because of serious violations.
Those in non-tenured positions such as lecturer cannot be terminated. Instead, their contracts are simply not renewed. For instance, a professor’s contract might not be renewed if the FPC feel that the professor is not performing to the best of their abilities. While termination would require the immediate removal of a person, professors whose contracts are not renewed are typically offered a temporary position as visiting faculty.
When meeting with Good to discuss the situation, he expressed concern that students are misinterpreting the letter and what it means. He wants students to understand it is the FPC that makes decisions about nonrenewal, not administration. The FPC has two central functions: (1) to consider questions of selection, retention, promotion, and tenure of faculty members as well as the special senior status and emeritus/emerita status of retiring faculty members and (2) to consider and recommend to the faculty policies covering the above.
“The committee does not vote,” explained the chair of FPC and associate Professor Gil Gonzalez. “Decisions are made by consensus as one cohesive group. If one person doesn’t agree with a decision, then we continue the conversation until consensus is reached. The committee holds a minimum of two considerations for every personnel matter, often times more, in order to assure that every voice and perspective is heard as the committee moves to reach consensus.”
The decision was unexpected for both Delfín and her students. Shortly after she made the announcement of Delfín’s nonrenewal, senior Sally Shields started an online petition in hopes of changing the decision made by the FPC. “When I heard about the letter and her not being renewed, I was incredibly surprised, especially based on the things that were cited: teaching, advising, and service to the College community. I think that she has had an incredible impact in all of these areas.”
The petition written by Shields states, “Through a decision made not consulting the Anthropology department at Whittier College, the school admin has decided to eliminate (Delfín’s) professor position with no reasonable cause. Understandably, the students, faculty, Anthropology department, and school as a whole are very upset. The administration is in no position to eliminate the position of a professor in an already struggling department who has done nothing but help the school as a whole.” As of Wednesday night, the petition had a total of 543 supporters, many of whom left comments of concern or support. “I think a petition is a good way to show the sheer number of people, even if they can’t show up to a meeting,” said Shields.
Although Delfín is flattered by her student’s efforts to get FPC to reconsider their decision, she also wants people to understand that she had no part in the writing of the petition. “My job is to appeal within the confines of the process, not to create a protest movement,” she said. “I think they’ve been really professional about how they’ve handled themselves but I’ve been kept out of the loop.” After reading the petition and its comments, Delfín expressed her gratitude toward the student support. “Comments from parents and the fact that the parents know the impact I’ve had on their kids is really, really touching.”
Delfín also has the full support of the Anthropology department. Head of Anthropology and Sociology Ann Kakaliouras stated that the department does not support the FPC’s decision.
Dean Good said that the department plays a role in the evaluation process of a professor. “It’s never the case that the department is not involved in the process. The department reviews the faculty member’s materials before they turn them in and are required to write a letter evaluating the faculty member. The department always contributes to a faculty member’s file that goes to the personnel committee.”
If Delfin wanted to challenge the FPC’s decision, she could appeal it. In order to appeal it, she would have to either argue that the process wasn’t adhered to or that there was some form of prejudice or bias that influenced the decision.
Delfín’s nonrenewal letter cited the reasons for not renewing her contract as “performance in the areas of classroom teaching, advising, and service to the College and community.” Delfín recognizes that the FPC is a historically fair and impartial group that takes every case based on merit and often times aligns its beliefs with the department’s suggestions.
However, she does not see any indication that there has been evidence to substantiate claims made in the letter. “Nobody on FPC has ever seen me teach, [and] as far as I know, nobody on FPC has ever talked to my advisees,” said Delfín. “I have never been given a disciplinary warning.”
Students who have expressed dedication to the professor are confused by this. “If they had reasons that made more sense, I’d be more inclined to consider that,” said Shields, Delfín’s advisee and previous research assistant. Each professor does have the opportunity to formally ask for additional information regarding the specific reasons for their non-renewal; however, that process lends itself to being more complicated and permanent. This letter would be written by the FPC to explain in further detail why Delfín is not renewed, but such a letter would go on a permanent file. Dean Good also advised Delfín against asking for such a letter. Therefore, no more information could be given to the Quaker Campus, the students, or to Delfín.
There may be some difficulty in evaluating a professor such as Delfín because her teaching methods do not necessarily fall under the traditional professor criteria of what a classroom looks like.
“I try to rank everything in a really balanced way,” said Delfín. While many professors give students tests to rank their classroom abilities, Delfín says, “Not everybody is a great test taker, not everybody is great at speaking in class, not everybody is great at writing essays. If you distribute the opportunities for learning across lots of different modalities, I think it creates a ton of opportunities for people to have success.”
After sharing the letter with her classes for transparency purposes, students began to express their concerns on the reasons their professor is not being renewed. Junior Esther Hills said that Delfin is one of few professors who teaches classes about African and Latin American peoples, which she feels is needed in the faculty.
“I feel she represents diversity on campus,” said Hills. Another student admitted she was surprised by the news, due to Delfín’s dedication to her students. “I am shocked at the committee’s reasoning,” said senior Micaela Kissick. “It seems very suspicious, considering her stellar reputation on campus.”
Delfín believes that she has these strong connections with her students because of the connections made through her teaching philosophy. She strives to ensure that each student is seen, heard, and listened to in and out of class.
“Even in the biggest classrooms, it always manages to turn into a community, and I think that’s empowering to students,” explained Delfín. “I think we all respond positively to people who empower us and help us find our voice.”
Service to the College community was cited as one of the reasons for Delfín’s nonrenewal, yet she actively participates in the study abroad program as one of the only professors to travel with students every year. As for the future of the study abroad program, Delfín said “the study abroad program is in really good hands.”
The Anthropology department is trying to figure out what their future will look like without Delfín. For the 2017-18 academic year, the department will have three full-time faculty and Delfín intends to stay on for the next year. The year after, though, is much less defined. “We can only guarantee, based on where I stand, one full-time faculty member, and one full-time faculty member is not enough to support a major,” said Delfín.
In regards to the Anthropology department, Dean Good said, “The whole department is excellent, especially at a college that holds up diversity. That’s why I continue to support the department and told them we want to continue to have full-time faculty in this department.”
At this time, the plan would be to allow incoming Anthropology major students to sign on as an advisee to another professor, most likely Dr. Kakaliouras or perhaps some sociology professors as well. Delfín’s current advisees will be allowed to stay on board with her throughout the rest of her time here.