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Wesleyan University last month fired its head librarian after a prolonged debate over the role of a library at a liberal arts institution.

Patricia A. Tully, a 10-year veteran with the university, served as the Caleb T. Winchester university librarian from March 2010 until her firing last month. The news was first reported by the campus blog Wesleying.

In a Sept. 2 email to the faculty listserv, Tully said she was fired because of her ongoing disagreements with Ruth S. Weissman, provost and vice president for academic affairs, “about how to lead people effectively in an organization.” The letter was later posted online (click the thumbnail on the right to read).

“Both of us tried, at various times, to resolve these differences, but our efforts seemed always to be at cross-purposes,” Tully wrote.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Tully said it was an “accumulation” of problems, and not a particular incident, that led to her firing. She declined to elaborate, saying she would be happy to have that conversation with Weissman.

“We just seemed to have different ideas about the role of the libraries,” Tully said.

Tully’s comments are likely to resonate at many university libraries, and not only those at liberal arts institutions. In studies such as the recent Ithaka S+R Library Survey, some directors named disagreements with administrators as the main obstacle facing their libraries. Financial constraints, however, still dominated the responses.

A spokeswoman for the institution said it is university policy not to discuss personnel matters, and that Weissman was therefore not available for comment.

According to the email, Tully and Weissman’s relationship grew strained to the point where Tully by the end of August had drafted a letter of resignation. She decided not to submit it, but on Aug. 26, Weissman told Tully her appointment had been terminated. The next day, she was given the choice to resign or be fired.

Resigning meant two more weeks of pay and health insurance, and that Wesleyan wouldn’t contest a claim for unemployment benefits. “Nevertheless, I made the decision not to resign but to be terminated,” Tully wrote.

Tully said she wrote the email to the faculty to explain what happens when an instructor or staffer is terminated -- “abrupt departures [that] are very destructive of staff productivity, efficiency and community.”

“I know that this experience has left me shocked and deeply worried about my colleagues in the library,” Tully wrote. “It can seem both to those who have gone and to those who remain, that staff are regarded as instruments to be used and discarded, not as people to be inspired to use their talents and creativity to their fullest extent for the good of Wesleyan.”

The email was also a message to the administration to reconsider how it treats employees during that process, Tully said.

“My basic purpose in sending that letter was to encourage the administration to rethink their procedures when something like this happens -- to be a little more sensitive to the staff who are leaving and then also [those] who are still remaining in place.”

Wesleyan has named Diane Klare, head of reference at the library, the interim university librarian. In the letter, Tully said she was “very relieved” to hear of the university’s choice, calling Klare “a smart, supportive and skillful librarian who has the confidence of her colleagues in the library as well as that of Wesleyan faculty and students.” Klare declined to comment for this article.

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