A QUESTION OF CLASSWHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE----INSIDE THE ASU COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT
Alan Goldman, by many accounts, was an inspiring classroom teacher who attracted students to the communications department at Arizona State University West. Doing good work wasn't enough for him to keep his job, however. He and two other popular instructors were let go to make way for "big league" professors despite student protests and accusations of nepotism and cronyism.
Goldman and two other instructors, Dudley Williams and Jan Ferguson, had been signing year-to-year contracts, hoping that when money became available they'd be rewarded with tenure-track positions. A fourth instructor on a tenure track was fired after a tenure review. Goldman and Ferguson were especially popular. "They attract students," says Williams, who was once their supervisor. They do a damned good job. "They don't give away grades; they make students work for them." "That's definitely true," concurs Jan Shirreffs, director of the ASU West Division of Human Services, which includes the communications department. Shirreffs even took classes from Goldman. But, she points out, "you're not just looking for someone who teaches."
Historically, the ASU West campus of 5,000 students has catered to "returning students," a population slightly older than the traditional undergraduate. Until now, the West campus, which is in Glendale, has been a satellite of the ASU campus in Tempe, but as of August it will have separate accreditation. Accordingly, says Shirreffs, "our intention has been to systematically and gradually begin replacing nontenured faculty along tenure-track lines."
The complex laws of academic hiring call for nationally advertised searches to fill any position, and since the communications faculty at ASU West had failed to attract candidates in past searches, the task was farmed out to the communications department at ASU in Tempe.
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After several tons of resumes had been shoveled away, none of the current faculty was even called for interviews. Out of 140-some applications, two of the positions went to a married couple with close personal ties to the department (and search committee) chairman, Charles Bantz; his wife, Sandra Petronio, who also teaches in the Tempe department; and a third Tempe professor, Judith Martin, who sat on the search committee.
Dawn and Charles Braithwaite, the new professors, had been teaching at New Mexico State University; Dawn Braithwaite had been a student of Petronio's, Charles Braithwaite is a friend of Martin's, and all of them had been friends while students and/or faculty at the University of Minnesota.
Eyebrows raised, and so did voices. Students wrote letters to the ASU Board of Regents and the president of the university and circulated scurrilous rumors about some of the candidates and search-committee members. And Goldman himself has been lobbying assiduously on his own behalf.
Allegedly the "best" candidates were selected, fairly and without preselection. As it turned out, however, a married couple wound up the best of 140 applicants. "What are the odds?" asks Goldman. "Give it to the oddsmakers in Vegas. What would they say?"
There are no rules against nepotism at ASU, however, and even the suggestion drives Sandra Petronio up a wall. "If you print that, I'll go crazy," she says. "There are so many married couples in academia that if that were true, the whole system would be falling apart."
Petronio's husband, Charles Bantz, is more low-key. "It does look bad," he admits. Why do you think I didn't vote [on the Braithwaites' selection]?"
Bantz also admits that the Braithwaites are close friends, but points out that he knew at least 30 of the applicants and has known Goldman since 1975 when Goldman was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado and Bantz was a junior faculty member there. The Braithwaites "are big league players, and everyone acts as if they got the jobs because they're friends," Bantz says.
Michael Hecht, another Tempe communications professor who sat on the search committee, adds that he knew most of the finalists as well.
"Quite naturally, professional and personal relationships develop within academic fields," university president Lattie Coor responded in a letter to one Goldman supporter. The president's office investigated charges of impropriety in the search, as did the affirmative action office and the provost at ASU West. "As best we could tell, it was an open and fair search," provost Vernon Lattin says.
Goldman felt he deserved more and argued to administrators that his three years proved he was more than just a stopgap teacher.
Jim Reed, a faculty member at Glendale Community College who teaches part-time at ASU West, agrees. "When it comes down to someone who taught for three years, you'd think that there would be some consideration made," he says. The American Association of University Professors said as much on Goldman's behalf in letters exchanged with President Coor. Dudley Williams sides with the hiring decisions despite his ouster, saying that because the teachers had signed one-year contracts, they all knew they were being used and would eventually be cast adrift. "From where I stood, it was always expected," he says. "What burns my butt is to eliminate all four of us at the same time." (Ferguson, who reportedly turned down the offer of another one-year contract, was out of town and unavailable for comment.)
Regardless of student and peer opinion, Petronio says the four outgoing faculty were at ASU West only because the school was desperate for people to teach those classes. When put in competition, they didn't stand up in terms of credentials. I don't think the students would understand."
Some history: Petronio was editor of an academic journal, a position later given to Goldman. She claims she didn't want the job, but Goldman says it was taken away because she never produced an issue during her stint as editor.
Regarding Goldman's credentials, Bantz says, "The university won't let me talk about anyone who wasn't interviewed for the position," then goes on to hint that the quality of Goldman's research wasn't what it could have been.
Goldman responds that he has published four books, has contracts for two more and has placed 20 to 25 articles in some of the same journals as the Tempe professors.
What constitutes high-quality research? Kay Albert, who just graduated from ASU West with a bachelor's degree in communications, attended the presentation that each applicant gave as part of the interview process. As one successful candidate described her research into male reactions at baby showers, Albert says she couldn't help but think, "What the hell does this have to do with anything?" Albert says she chose ASU West over Tempe because "I wanted smaller classes and more time with professors instead of graduate students, and that's what I got." She describes Jan Ferguson as one of the most dynamic women you'll ever meet. How are they going to replace her in terms of energy?" Of Goldman and Williams she notes, "They're in touch with adult students-we're a tough audience."
The four new professors, by Bantz's account, are excellent teachers scholars. But a tough audience may be exactly what they'll face.
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