In the face of significant faculty opposition, Arizona State University this week reinstated the head of its history faculty, who had been removed from his post just days earlier.
The move came after the history faculty unanimously passed a resolution Dec. 12 and asked the University Senate to investigate irregularities in Philip Vandermeer’s dismissal and reaffirm that he was still the head of the department.
An Arizona State spokesman said Thursday that the university would not discuss personnel matters. “The situation in question has been amicably settled,” he said in an e-mail.
But some faculty members say the dismissal and the reinstatement reflect growing tension between the history faculty and the university’s administration over matters relating to promotion and tenure and to academic integrity.
In a Dec. 15 letter to the chair of the university's academic council (who is also the president of the University Senate) that explained the removal, Elizabeth D. Capaldi, the university’s vice president and provost, said that a faculty head’s renewal was at the discretion of the president or the dean of the school.
“Dr. Vandermeer is an associate professor with tenure and aspired to be a full professor. He expressed numerous concerns about being placed in a difficult situation because he was not a full professor. While he did not seek to step down from the post, it was the dean’s considered opinion (and one with which I concurred) that the best course of action was to put someone in charge temporarily who was a senior leader, knowledgeable about the Humanities, and able to be insulated from any concern that a faculty member in a rank below Professor might have to address,” the letter said.
When contacted after the reinstatement, Vandermeer said: “I received notice of this in a public meeting [Monday]."
He said the university was engaged in discussions about how to best integrate the departments within the School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies.
“There are tensions between trying to promote disciplinary strength and promoting interdisciplinary issues,” Vandermeer said.
But there might be more serious tensions as well.
Monica Green, chair of the promotions and tenure committee in the history department, said there had been several promotion and tenure cases in the department in which disputes had arisen between the department and the administration. Those issues have not been resolved, she said.
Several history professors say the fight over Vandermeer reflects larger tensions over the relative authority of professors and administrators -- issues that are likely to arise in future flashpoints like this one.