Pomona Dismisses Janice Hudgings From Role as Dean of College

Janice Hudgings was dismissed from her position as Pomona College’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College the morning of Nov. 12, according to President David Oxtoby. Oxtoby declined to comment on the cause of Hudgings’s firing, stating that the college’s personnel matters remain confidential.  

Hudgings joined the college July 1, 2013, leaving her position as Associate Dean of Faculty and physics professor at Mount Holyoke College. Hudgings will retain her position as the Seeley W. Mudd Professor of Physics, a full-time tenured position, and will begin teaching in spring 2015.

“My ultimate responsibility is to make the best decisions I can for the college,” Oxtoby said. “That’s what I’m thinking about all the time—the college.” 

According to Vice President and Chief Communication Officer Marylou Ferry, Oxtoby returned early from his trip to Asia to address faculty concerns about Hudgings after a group of faculty and staff members told Oxtoby that it would be helpful to have him on campus to manage the situation. 

Assistant professor of physics and astronomy Philip Choi said that many faculty members were in the dark about the details of the dismissal. Choi explained that the Nov. 5 faculty meeting was the first time that many faculty members became aware of concerns surrounding the dean. According to several faculty members, Hudgings gave an emotional statement to the faculty about her personal circumstances and the expectation she faced of being a “superhuman dean.”  

According to several Pomona faculty members, Hudgings’s wife, Pomona biology professor Sharon Stranford, was diagnosed with breast cancer this semester. Stranford is co-teaching her BIOL160 Immunology class due to her illness. 

Hudgings could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. 

According to an email obtained by TSL, Oxtoby wrote to the faculty Nov. 9 that “challenges regarding the Dean of the College have come to light this past week” and that he had been in “continuous contact with the Faculty Executive Committee and [his] senior staff” while in Asia. Politics professor David Menefee-Libey, the chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty, declined to comment on the committee’s involvement. 

Oxtoby also wrote in the email, “I care deeply about the way in which we interact as colleagues and community members … While I cannot and will not comment regarding the details of this particular situation, my approach with all such issues is to deal directly and extensively with the individual over an extended period of time.” 

A group of faculty members organized to compose an open letter Nov. 9 to Oxtoby and the entire faculty, expressing their concern about the sudden downturn of events, the pressure being brought on the dean and the hope of finding a mutually agreeable solution. Another letter, sent by faculty members Nov. 16, called for the Faculty Executive Committee to organize a meeting of the faculty to discuss the firing. Oxtoby responded to the first letter Nov. 12 and invited discussion in his office.

English Department Chair Kevin Dettmar, who sent both letters, emphasized Hudgings’s commitment to Pomona’s diversity efforts, explaining that Hudgings was creating an accommodating environment to a diverse staff.

Choi said that Hudgings was active in terms of faculty hiring, ensuring a diverse applicant pool and recruiting young faculty. According to Choi, Hudgings was also organizing the Faculty-Trustee Retreat for the spring, the planned topic of which was diversity.  

German and Russian Department Chair and Professor of Russian Larissa Rudova, at Pomona since 1991, said that some faculty members had seen a lack of availability from Hudgings throughout her term as dean.

Associate Professor of Biology Rachel Levin noted that some faculty felt concerned about the symbolic significance of the firing in terms of work-life balance, explaining that one “may be judged” if he or she does not meet the traditionally expected amount of work. 

Dettmar said that he appreciated a dean who thought a balance in faculty members’ personal and professional lives was important.

“As much as I’ve admired some of our previous deans, some of the models they’ve set didn’t seem realistic or sustainable to me,” Dettmar said. “Her departure is dispiriting.” 

Emily Glass PO ’15, the Associated Students of Pomona College commissioner of academic affairs, wrote in an email to TSL that she worked alongside Hudgings on the Curriculum Committee and the Faculty Position Advisory Committee. Glass said she was “stunned” when she read the Nov. 12 email by Oxtoby sent to students, staff and faculty informing them of Hudgings’ removal.

“During my time with her she was engaged, hardworking, and creative in navigating issues on our campus,” Glass wrote.

Jill Grigsby, professor of sociology and associate dean of the college, will serve as Acting Dean of the College for the remainder of the fall semester. In January, Elizabeth Crighton, the William A. Johnson Professor of Government and Professor of Politics, will begin serving as Interim Dean of the College. 

Grigsby wrote in an email to TSL that she looked forward to “completing [the office’s] work this semester.” 

Oxtoby, the Faculty Executive Committee and the faculty will collaborate on the search for a new Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College. 

Associate Deans Kristin Fossum, Fernando Lozano and Mary Paster also declined to comment on the details of the dismissal, as did members of the office staff. 

Diane Lee contributed reporting. 

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