Review process for dean causes controversy

Kailey Love|Photo Editor
Students in the music school have appealed to Provost Austin and President Gormley over a member on the dean’s review board.

Raymond Arke | News Editor

04/05/18

Controversy has enveloped the normally routine performance reviews of the Mary Pappert Music School Dean, Seth Beckman. A group of music students petitioned Provost Timothy Austin and President Ken Gormley calling for the removal of one of the review committee members over allegations of possible biased behavior.

This performance review occurs regularly, Austin said.

“The deans of Duquesne’s nine schools serve set terms and undergo reviews of their performance towards the end of each term,” he explained. “Amongst other things, the Handbook calls for the creation of a committee — composed of faculty members, one student and one alumnus or alumna — which prepares a detailed report and recommendations for the president to consider. The president is assigned the discretion to make the final decision.”

Jonathan Craig, a junior trombone performance major, created the petition and has been leading the effort to remove one of the committee members. He became concerned when he found out the associate dean, Stephen Benham, was appointed by the dean to be one of the reviewers.

Austin explained how that decision occured.

“I formed the committee following the process outlined in the Faculty Handbook, which calls for some members to be elected and others appointed,” he said.

The Faculty Handbook does not address placing an associate dean on the panel, Craig said.

Craig thought that the appointment of Benham gave the process an “appearance of impropriety.”

“[The dean and the associate dean] work so closely together,” he said. Additionally, the associate dean is the “direct supervisor of the other [committee] members … It prevents an accurate look.”

Craig also said that if the decision on whether or not the dean is rehired directly impacts the associate dean.

“This, in particular, is a problem. The associate dean’s job is on the line,” he said.

Craig started a petition and circulated it among students in the music school. He collected more than 70 signatures, a significant amount in a school that Craig estimated to have around 200 students. He took the petition to a meeting with Austin.

Austin explained what he told Craig in the meeting.

“I thanked him for his engagement with the process. But I also explained to him that everyone involved in creating the committee had followed the [Faculty] Handbook process carefully and that it would be completely improper to make any changes at that point,” he said.

At this point in time, Austin said that the only recourse would be changes to the Faculty Handbook in the future.

“The fact is that following a set of procedures sometimes produces an outcome that some observers find problematic,” he said. “In that case, though, the appropriate recourse is to propose changes to the procedures for the next time they are needed; simply moving off in some new direction that disregards the official guidelines is not an acceptable response.”

Craig agreed.

“We should take a hard look at Appendix E [in the Handbook] … amending the handbook is the best way forward,” he said.

Austin said that President Gormley has been made aware of the students’ concerns.

“As the ultimate decision-maker, however, he cannot become involved in the evaluation process until a recommendation is brought to him in due course,” he said. “Up to that point, it is my responsibility to continue to follow the procedure that the Faculty Handbook lays out.”

Craig also wanted to make it clear that the complaints weren’t about Benham, personally. It is just about preserving an unbiased decision.

“[This] is not to say this individual is an inherently bad person,” Craig said.

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