Students Fight to Retain Votes on Pitzer's APT Committee

Tour guides and students at Pitzer College often point out student involvement in the college’s decisions in appointing, promoting, and tenuring faculty. But discussions continue at Pitzer regarding the composition of its Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure (APT) Committee and the option of making students nonvoting members or removing them from the committee altogether. 

Although no written proposal has been made, some students have begun to take action to prevent the removal of the student vote on the APT Committee, which consists of nine voting members: two students, six faculty members, and the dean of the faculty.

The Pitzer Student Senate initiated a Student Voice Week Feb. 3-7, during which daily themes and a series of events concerning student voice on Pitzer were planned. Activities included holding workshops and putting up posters throughout campus with facts about student involvement in the college’s decision-making.

Stephen Colón PZ '15, the organizer of Student Voice Week and the junior student member of the APT Committee, said that the event highlighted the importance of student votes on campus.

“It’s part of our culture, and the fact that students are on a committee that selects and tenures faculty members shows that our education is cooperative,” Colón said.

However, history professor Daniel Segal said that although he thinks that student input in the committee is important, the people best suited to evaluate all the data, including the input from students, are faculty members. 

“I think that’s because faculty in a given field have the expertise to judge somebody’s knowledge, while students with less knowledge do not possibly have the expertise to judge a faculty member’s knowledge in a field,” Segal said.

Segal added that he thinks that administrators are equally unsuited to vote on the committee because they are "often subjected to such social forces as the views of donors, trustees, [and] public opinion."

"Faculty’s responsibility is to teach what they believe to be true knowledge even if it offends the wealthy, even if it offends popular opinion," he said. 

Dean of the Faculty Muriel Poston, a voting member of the APT Committee, wrote in an email to TSL that Pitzer is considering several models of administrative participation on the committee.

Pitzer has proposed "removing the President as a member of the APT Committee since the APT recommendation goes to the President," she wrote. The president serves as a nonvoting member of the committee. 

Although interest in re-evaluating the composition of the committee is not new, a visit from B. Robert Kreiser, a recently retired senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), sparked further conversation on the topic.

Kreiser completed an evaluation of college policies last year on invitation from Poston and anthropology professor Leda Martins, who chairs the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC), Kreiser wrote in an email to TSL. After Kreiser visited Pitzer, he wrote a three-page letter to Poston and Martins concerning issues of shared governance.

“I took very strong and unequivocal issue with the presence of students (and administrators) as voting members of committees which should be elected [by] all-faculty bodies,” Kreiser wrote. “It may be the tradition at Pitzer for them to serve in such a capacity, but their doing so cannot be reconciled with generally accepted standards of academic governance and can only dilute and undermine the faculty's appropriate role in the governance of the college.”

APT Committee member Evan Slovak PZ '14 said that students think that the comments made by Kreiser on those days were “so strong and so negative” that it is no surprise that removing students as voting members on the committee is now being considered. 

Poston discussed the issue of student representation. 

"The student members of the APT Committee have been thoughtful and diligent during the two years I have been on the committee," she wrote. "However, I think it is a faculty decision as to whether to continue with student representation which does not align with the recommendations of the American Association of University Professors statement of faculty governance."

Slovak said that he, along with other students, wants the college to consider the history and value of student participation on the committee. 

“We think it’s important for Student Senate and the college in general to articulate why, initially, were students involved to the extent that they were in Pitzer College in the first place and why should they continue to be now,” Slovak said. 

FEC student representative Braden Holstege PZ '14 explained that any recommendation to change the composition of the APT Committee must come through FEC before the Pitzer College Council can receive the recommendation. However, according to Kreiser and AAUP guidelines, student participation in FEC is also unwarranted.

Holstege said that he expects that the college will hold open forums about potential changes to the APT Committee.

"You can certainly expect students to be vocal about our preferences at those open forums,” he said.

Colón said that changing the composition of the APT Committee or demoting voting student members to nonvoting student members would have negative results.

“I want our students to be learning in an environment where they see cooperative governance at work, where they see people protecting the least powerful, not saying, "We’re going to take away the little power you have,'” Colón said. “If they take away power here, it has consequences on our learning culture.”

Segal said that there is misinformation surrounding the discussion. 

“The faculty are interested in hearing a number of different models, of which this is one that people have talked about,” he said.

While Segal noted that he and some faculty members believe that students and administrators should not have voting rights on the APT Committee, input from all sides is necessary before a decision is made.

“To be frank, I think input from students is more important than the input of administrators, technically speaking,” Segal said. “Students should continue to have a very large role in governance at Pitzer, so I think there is actually much more agreement with the students than some students seem to recognize.”