Faculty express concern with Scripps presidential search

A courtyard with columns, ivy, tile and a fountain at Scripps College
Some Scripps College and 7C professors are calling out what they see as a lack of transparency and dialog in the school’s ongoing search for a new president. (TSL file photo)

As Scripps College continues its search for a new president, faculty are protesting what they say is a closed-off process that minimizes their input.

In a statement issued June 1, members of 7Cs’ chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which aims to help faculty advocate for academic freedom and shared governance, called the search a “short-sighted effort to prevent the faculty and its next president from engaging in necessary [dialogue] about the future of Scripps” and urged the board of trustees to reconsider.

Central to the faculty’s concerns is the composition of the search committee, which is made up of 10 trustees, two administrators, a student and two faculty — philosophy professor Yuval Avnur and politics professor Nancy Neiman — down from the originally planned three. 

AAUP chapter president and Scripps music professor Anne Harley told TSL the faculty suggested a third faculty member be appointed from the arts, since the committee currently lacks arts representation, but the board has declined to do so. According to the AAUP, 63 tenured and tenure-track faculty signed an open letter objecting to the decision.

A presidential candidate who participates in this type of search condones a process without appropriate faculty governance,” Harley said. “[Scripps] can only make its most valuable contribution to education and society when faculty governance remains robust.”

Scripps is holding fast to the structure of the search committee. College spokesperson Rachael Warecki SC ’08 said in an email that the search committee is mainly comprised of trustees rather than faculty because “it is ultimately the Board’s responsibility to select a president, and the committee wants to ensure that a number of trustees have been involved throughout the process.” 

The AAUP members also objected to a lack of dialogue in the process, noting that the two remaining faculty members have signed non-disclosure agreements and therefore are not allowed to publicly communicate any search information. In addition, it says that no opportunities exist for Scripps faculty to provide feedback about the search finalists, nor for search finalists to engage with Scripps faculty to exchange views and discuss the college’s future trajectory. 

“A college president who is hired without an opportunity to engage in [dialogue] with the collected faculty during the search process has, by definition, consented to a process in which the principles of faculty governance have been ignored,” the statement said. “Such a president would be inappropriate for Scripps.”

The AAUP further claimed that the search indicates a “fear of transparency and communication” at Scripps, calling it “an affront to shared governance.”

Warecki disputed the characterization, arguing the search “reflects Scripps’ shared governance structure,” in which staff and student members selected through an application process could also share their feedback about the candidates. 

“In March, the search committee and our search consultant focused on engaging the Scripps community by way of numerous virtual meetings, conversations and an online survey,” the committee’s co-chairs said in a letter last month. “We deeply appreciate the current, Life and Former Trustees, students, faculty, staff, alumnae and parents who have provided important feedback and information via those channels. More than 130 members of the Scripps community participated in the community listening sessions, 158 sent in nominations and 30 completed the survey.”

The Claremont Colleges AAUP chapter was reestablished in 2020 after nearly two decades. AAUP advocates for the rights of academics, “particularly as those rights pertain to academic freedom and shared governance.” 

Daniel Segal, vice president of the chapter’s executive committee and a Pitzer College anthropology professor, told TSL that AAUP is weighing in on the search because “educational excellence requires that the faculty play a central role in decisions that impact the future of the college.”

“The search for a Scripps president is first and foremost a matter for the Scripps community, relying on an open and democratic shared governance process,” Segal added. “But Scripps is part of a larger collective enterprise of value: the Claremont Colleges. So those of us outside of Scripps welcome the opportunity to support the Scripps faculty and community in this important matter for the future of Scripps.”

The rejuvenated Claremont Colleges AAUP chapter has been advocating for greater transparency from the colleges since the pandemic began. Throughout the spring 2021 semester professors of the chapter organized in response to pandemic-related cuts, advocating for more faculty-led governance and less of what they saw as a top-down approach to important decisions.

Former Scripps President Lara Tiedens stepped down from her role on April 15 after announcing her decision to leave in November 2020. Dean of Faculty Amy Marcus-Newhall is currently acting as interim president.

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