Letter to the Editor: On the Non-Renewal of ECW Chair Pegeen Reichert Powell

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee (Senate ExCo) writes to express our dismay at the recent decision by dean of LAS Steve Corey, in consultation with provost Marcella David, to not renew Dr. Pegeen Reichert Powell’s appointment as the Chair of English and Creative Writing despite the unanimous support she had for her reappointment from within. We see this decision, as well as the subsequent lack of collaborative discussion with the English and Creative Writing Department, as the unequivocal undermining of faculty voice and agency at this college.  

Senate ExCo would like to acknowledge two things up front: first, the current Senate president, Madhurima Chakraborty, is a tenured member and currently associate chair of the English and Creative Writing Department. Second, having read carefully through the Faculty Manual (the document that governs the appointment, renewal, and hiring of chairs  of departments among other things), as well as other College policies, we are not arguing that there has been any technical breach of College policy in Dr. Reichert Powell’s non renewal. 

We make these acknowledgments up front not to provide a disclaimer for our acute disappointment in the decision. On the contrary, we believe that these factors confirm that this recent decision is significant and worrying because it normalizes the diminishing agency that faculty (the Faculty Senate’s specific constituency is the full-time faculty) have at this college, with little recourse to advocating for ourselves. Because of Madhurima’s membership in ECW, as well as the conversations we have had with other members of English and Creative Writing, we understand Dr. Reichert Powell to have the universal and  enthusiastic support of the members of her department. News of her non-reappointment was a matter of shock to the faculty and staff. The full-time faculty articulated this reaction in a letter to dean Corey and provost David that also asked that the dean and provost engage with the department on the matter before moving forward with the process of  appointing a new chair, which was refused. 

We understand that the policies surrounding the appointment and reappointment of chairs (as articulated in the Faculty Manual and the Academic Personnel SharePoint site) may have been met, so far, in letter. We see, for instance, that these policies ask only that  departmental evaluations are solicited and considered, and we understand that, apparently, even a cursory review of such evaluations can technically meet such a requirement. We also see that there is no process outlined by which faculty or other members of a department might appeal a decision, or even be helped to understand the rationale behind such a decision.  

Yet, we find it hard to believe that such an approach, which decimates the ability of a department to feel agential and empowered in both influencing the choice of their leader as well in questioning decisions that seem likely to hurt the department’s long-term health, is in the spirit of policy documents that govern an institution of higher education such as ours.  

It is not just that, generally, institutions of higher education should run on faculty members’ capacity to express their own areas of expertise; this includes having a meaningful say in when chairs of their departments and other academic administrators hinder or, as in this case, enable them to do their best work.  

It is also that, specifically, our college’s Faculty Manual recognizes the importance of faculty and other departmental voices despite subsequent caveats, asserting that “the perception of the department faculty is valued and central to the evaluation process” (Section 405.1, emphasis added). We believe that because of their daily interactions with the chairs of their departments, and because they are able to comprehend what kind of leadership encourages them to produce their best work, faculty should be, as the Faculty Manual intended, truly valued and central in determining the efficacy of their academic leaders such as chairs.  

Consequently, we find it hard to believe that the policies surrounding chairs’ appointments  at Columbia College Chicago are in fact working appropriately, or within the spirit of what’s best for the college, when a decision about non-renewal can be made in direct contradiction of the enthusiastic interests of the department.  

We see the non-renewal of Dr. Reichert Powell as chair of English and Creative Writing, which was done in opposition of the wishes of those who she led and advocated for, as well  as the subsequent refusal to engage in a good-faith conversation with the department about the ramifications of such a decision, as compromising the agency, power, and morale  of faculty, and, consequently, working against the very spirit of shared governance at  Columbia College Chicago.  


The Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate