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As a recent graduate, I was disappointed to hear of the decisions made by the college regarding the tenure of Professors Fortin and Mehta. I see this issue to be two-fold. Not only are these decisions indicative of the administration’s lack of understanding of the importance of these professors specifically, it is also a systemic issue regarding the input of the student body in decisions made by the administration and the lack of transparency surrounding them. In this op ed, I will first address the importance of the two professors Emmanuel has deemed to be expendable and then proceed to discuss the institutional failure of the tenure process as it stands.
I had neither Professor Fortin nor Mehta in my time at Emmanuel. Professor Fortin I know primarily through my history major friends. He has a reputation as a professor who has high expectations of his students and sets them up to succeed. I think this is most evident in his performance in the History Department’s Senior Seminar. His efforts resulted in five students receiving distinction in their field, a 100 percent success rate. The time and effort this requires on his part is significant and was clearly effective.
Professor Mehta I have more direct experience with. Many of you may remember the unrest on campus by students of color and their allies last winter. Our administration’s lack of response to the systemic violence perpetrated by the police on people of color– particularly Black men– outraged much of the campus. Professor Mehta rose to fill the void left by the administration. She is the advisor for the Psychology Club and was instrumental in the organization of Race Unspoken, an event designed specifically to provide a space to discuss racial issues both systemic and those in the news at the time. One suggestion of Professor Mehta was to start the discussion with a step into the circle activity. I found this to be incredibly beneficial. The statements used in the activity– step into the circle if you do not like your hair, if people have followed you in a store, if you are asked to speak on behalf of your race — gave me a glimpse of what people of color experience daily. Much of this I do not believe would have been touched upon without Professor Mehta’s involvement.
In the planning of the event, Professor Mehta gave her all. She was not only present at the event, sacrificing the entirety of her Saturday, she also made herself available through office hours, random meetings, and emails at all times of day, frequently responding to over ten emails in a day. This is not something a professor is paid to do. All of this she did on her own time. The dedication she showed to this event is but one example of her commitment to the students of Emmanuel and the community on the whole. It is also an example of her commitment she shows to the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame. When confronted with a social injustice, she took strides to address it, going far above and beyond what is expected of a professor. As noted above, I have never had Professor Mehta for a class. Despite this, I consider her to be both a formative part of my college experience and an integral part of my support system on campus.
Now to address the systemic issue of the tenure process. I truly understand that much of the decision making process must be confidential. When professional work is being evaluated, not all people are comfortable with those critiques being made public. However, the outrage on behalf of the student body regarding these professors shows a fundamental flaw in the process and perhaps in Emmanuel on the whole. This was also shown the Spring before last regarding the rehiring and tenure of Professors Kulich and Craig. The loss of Professor Barry points to this flaw as well. While quality teaching and engagement with the college and its mission are both listed among the criteria for tenure, it seems to be neglected in the final decision making. All of these professors showed themselves to be dedicated to the student body, to be invested in both what they teach and more importantly those whom they teach. I know these professors prioritize their students and the Emmanuel College community. The decisions made by the college regarding tenure and promotion over the past few years makes me worried its first priority is not its students. I trust that Emmanuel will re-find itself. I trust it will reverse the decisions regarding Professors Fortin and Mehta. I trust when it considers its mission statement and the values of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Emmanuel will make institutional change to prioritize its students in the same way its professors do.
Until these decisions are reversed and such institutional change is made, I propose a boycott of alumni giving and of alumni events.
If Emmanuel has decided it will not wholeheartedly support its students and those instrumental in their success, I see no reason why as an alum I should wholeheartedly support Emmanuel.
Alumni: Class of 2016