Dean Sandstrom and her assistant deans instructed a professor to move the deadline of a midterm following the election of Donald Trump last year. See the first post for our initial discussion. This is the second.

Let’s tackle a central question to this issue: why were the deans’ actions so troubling? So far I can come up with two answers.

Imagine the students who asked for these extensions are now Williams graduates working in the real world, and then in 2020, Donald Trump shocks the world again by winning a second term. The Williams graduate will think that, since Dean Sandstrom must have known what she was doing in 2016, it is totally okay for him/her to take the next day off or get an extension for a work deadline. What would the graduate’s direct manager think? What will they think of how Williams students handle these sort of situations? Unfortunately for the graduate, if the direct manager objects to a day off/deadline extension, Dean Sandstrom can no longer (I hope not!) email the direct manager to instruct them to be more lenient with the Williams graduate, because after all, that’s what she did here. What then, is our grad to do?

Herein lies the first part of the problem: by granting leniency to students because of a political election by instructing a professor to do what he otherwise said he would not, the Dean’s Office sends a message to students that their obligations, when they do not agree or feel upset with the results of a democratic election, are optional. Irresponsible! As opposed to individual professors doing this on their own (that is entirely up to them, as it is entirely up to the graduate’s boss to grant a day off/extension), Dean Sandstrom, as an administrator (ranking Dean of the College!), puts the weight of Williams behind this remarkable thinking.

Alternatively, EphBlog has consistently reported the trend of declining faculty governance in the College, even against Adam Falk’s claims that this is not the case, in several posts. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. It is hard to diagnose a problem without observing symptoms, then at the very least this is almost certainly what a runny nose is to the common cold! In a campus where decision making power is NOT consolidated by administrators, there wouldn’t be deans who find it acceptable to explicitly instruct professors how to do their jobs in this way following an election.

A commentator in the previous post brought up that a majority of professors want the deans to be able to adjudicate on issues with students, and that is not unreasonable! A (supposedly) objective third party with institutional memory should, in principle, be good at mediating disputes when they arise. My sense is that such disputes between students and professors that are adjudicated by the Dean’s Office arrive at a resolution that the professor and the Dean’s office, if not all parties, agree to. The outcomes are either a compromise between the student and the professor (mediated by the Dean’s Office) or adherence to the professor’s standing policy, because at the end of the day, it is the professor’s class, not the deans’. At least, to the best of my judgment from my own experience and the experience of classmates with the Dean’s Office, that is how issues are resolved. So why did the deans do differently here? Do Dean Sandstrom and her assistant deans think they can do a better job of teaching than Williams professors can? I certainly hope not, but that is what their actions say!

What do readers think?

As usual, any tips can be sent to concerned.ephs@gmail.com. Future generations of Ephs (starting with the class of 2021) will thank you!

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