Director search riles adjunct faculty

Faculty and alumni of the Graduate School of Political Management are firing back against top University officials for not weighing their opinions during the search for the school’s new executive director.

Irked adjunct faculty members and alumni said the dean of the College of Professional Studies has a limited vision for the program, and doesn’t have a comprehensive enough understanding of political management to qualify her to oversee the school and its growth. They also allege Dean Kathleen Burke shuts them out of decision-making processes and fails to take their complaints into account.

To be seriously considered for the top spot, candidates must have a Ph.D. or law degree, a strict requirement that has disqualified former members of Congress and leaders in the political management field for the job. The pool is down to three candidates, including Charles Cushman, the associate dean for academic excellence in the College of Professional Studies. The other two candidates have not been made public, but faculty and students interviewed said Cushman, while the favorite of the staff, will unlikely be chosen for the position.

“If Chuck is chosen, everything will be fine. He is the favorite among the students and faculty,” a current GSPM student said. “If Chuck isn’t chosen, I imagine people will want the search to start over.”

The student spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing his ongoing relationship with the graduate school.

Faculty interviewed said this prerequisite is excessive for the graduate school, which emphasizes practical, hands-on learning.

Burke defended the Ph.D. requirement, saying it’s common practice for executive director positions and would increase the reputation of the graduate school.

“The number of faculty with terminal degrees is viewed as a hallmark of quality,” Burke said. “A terminal degree ensures that faculty have been exposed to and excelled at graduate education, and that they have a very deep understanding of their particular field.”

The faculty’s discontent came to a head Wednesday, when adjunct professors in the school unanimously voted to request a meeting with the dean that oversees the school concerning the search. In a letter sent to Provost Steven Lerman – who will assist in the hiring process – the faculty expressed its discontent with the process.

“While we were invited to meet with the candidates – we had (a) no way or opportunity to express our opinion on any of them; and (b), the process itself was flawed from the beginning by not seeking the input of the ‘adjunct’ faculty,” the letter read.

Former Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., who served in the House of Representatives from January 2009 to 2011, applied for the director position at GSPM, but was turned away because he did not hold a terminal degree, said Ed Grefe, an adjunct professor who has taught at the University for 15 years. Maffei, who holds two master’s degrees, worked as a reporter and producer for ABC’s Syracuse affiliate before working as a press secretary for two senators and coordinating presidential and gubernatorial campaigns.

“The one thing that Washington, D.C., is blessed with is an abundance of extraordinary people,” Rodney Smith, a GSPM alumnus who is now president of AT&T’s Connecticut division, said. “You’re doing a great disservice if you don’t open your mind to look at all of them.”

Michael Cornfield, who has been teaching at GSPM for 17 years, said he sees the selection of a new director as an opportunity to raise questions about the identity and future of the school, and said the process so far has been exclusive.

Another alumnus, who requested anonymity for fear of damaging his relationship with the University, expressed similar sentiments.

“I think that it’s a shame. I think they haven’t done a good job of casting a wide net. They only want an academic,” the alumnus said.

Faculty and alumni in GSPM voiced discontent last March, sending letters to University President Steven Knapp and Burke, but said they never received a response addressing their complaints.

Burke said said the committee was already well at work by the that letter was sent. Burke added that faculty search committees are, “mainly the province of the University’s faculty and administrators,” rather than alumni.

The search committee consisted of faculty and administration, including faculty from GSPM, CPS and from disciplines related to what is taught in GSPM curricula, Burke said. Additionally, the committee included a representative from the GSPM advisory board, a University vice president and the CPS development director.

The most recent executive director and the founding dean of GSPM, Chris Arterton, left the school in July 2010 to return to a faculty role, where he now leads GSPM’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. Arterton did not return a request for comment.

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