Dye’s Evaluation Sparks Disagreement
This year’s annual Board of Trustee evaluation of President Nancy Dye was conducted differently from prior years, stirring up discontent among Oberlin College faculty, who felt their input was disregarded at a crucial time.
Generally in the evaluation process, each Board member presents an individually written evaluation of the president to either the Board Chair or Vice Chair, who synthesizes the letters, presents them to the board and then discusses them with the president.
However, in response to an April 2005 faculty petition requesting that an on-campus survey be included in the Board’s annual evaluation of the president, the Board of Trustees brought former President of the American Council on Education Robert H. Atwell to campus in April to assist in the 2006 evaluation. Each interview of faculty and trustee members was confidential and lasted approximately 30 minutes.
“The petition was motivated by dissatisfaction with Dye’s performance and by [the] traditional exclusion of faculty views from the Board’s annual evaluation,” explained Professor of English John Hobbs, one circulator of the petition.
Professor of Politics Chris Howell attributed Atwell’s visit to similar faculty frustration:
“For the past three years, there has been mounting faculty discontent over Dye’s leadership. [Examples are] her termination of the London program, strategic planning procedures [and] faculty position cuts,” said Howell. “[This] widespread discontent might have meant nothing more than grumbling, but when the board suggested that it cared enough about faculty opinion to hire a distinguished consultant whose opinion would be taken seriously, it created expectations.”
On May 1, Atwell presented his findings orally to Robert Lemle, chairman of the Board, and again on May 8 to a five-member ad hoc Trustee Committee on Presidential Evaluation, of which Lemle was a member.
“It was the committee’s responsibility to provide the Board with an evaluation report on the President’s performance that clearly and fairly reflected the views of trustees and the information that we obtained from Mr. Atwell,” explained Lemle in an interview conducted via e-mail.
By early June, however, faculty rumor had it that the ad hoc committee had, as Howell put it, “buried the Atwell report,” reputed to be uniformly scathing about Dye.
Eleven faculty members quickly collaborated on a letter addressed to Lemle and the Board of Trustees in an effort to convince them to address the Atwell report directly.
The letter read, “It is our understanding…that the Board has now decided to disregard [Atwell’s] report, neither receiving a verbal report from Mr. Atwell, nor circulating the full written report to all of the trustees.”
It continued, “To first solicit faculty opinion and then choose to ignore that opinion undermines the faculty’s deep and abiding commitments to Oberlin College and its well being.”
Lemle responded to these concerns in two August meetings intended for faculty. He argued that Atwell’s reporting was not methodologically sound.
The ad hoc committee, he said, had unanimously decided “to follow the Board’s usual process of obtaining written evaluations from trustees, to incorporate trustees’ views, together with the information obtained from Mr. Atwell, in the Ad Hoc Committee’s evaluation report to the Board at the June meeting; and to rescind Mr. Atwell’s invitation to attend the June Board meeting.”
Roger Copeland, professor of theatre and dance, responded to Lemle’s explanation.
“Lemle was attempting to defend the indefensible,” he said. “He gave no good reason to believe that Atwell had suddenly become a loose cannon and that his report was not an accurate reflection of general feelings toward Nancy Dye. It looked to me as if Lemle just didn’t like what Atwell said.”
This controversy, coupled with Hirsch’s sudden resignation, has stirred faculty dissatisfaction to new heights, Copeland noted.
“I think we have reached what Malcolm Gladwell would call the tipping point,” he said. “I don’t see how Nancy can recover from this. There’s no way trustees can be oblivious at this point to the groundswell of opposition.”
A summer article in the Chronicle of Higher Education connected the dispute over the report to a June Trustee vote to not renew the terms of two trustees, Peter J. Kirsch and Roberta S. Maneker, neither of whom was on the ad hoc committee.
Both Kirsch and Maneker were elected as honorary trustees who can participate in future meetings, but cannot vote.