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At listening sessions with President, faculty say they’re fed up

no confidence sticker

A professor protesting outside IU commencement, wearing a "no confidence" sticker. Through a spokesperson, President Pamela Whitten said "she is committed to listening and learning through ongoing meetings with faculty and staff." (Devan Ridgway / WFIU-WTIU)

This story has been updated since President Whitten's surgery was announced.

IU President Pamela Whitten is holding listening sessions with faculty from the university’s academic units. She’s already met with professors from the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences. Others have been confirmed for this week. 

The meetings were not announced publicly, and schools were informed at different times. They’re intended for faculty to speak directly with Whitten, in a closed-door setting, unit by unit.  

Read more: Hundreds gather to demand Whitten, Shrivastav, Docherty resignations 

These listening sessions come on the tail of an April resolution by the Bloomington Faculty Council, when professors voted “no confidence” in Whitten’s administration, 827 to 29. Since then, many schools have created their own resolutions calling for her removal alongside Provost Rahul Shrivastav. Those later votes were mainly in response to their decision to call Indiana State Police to remove demonstrators from Dunn Meadow. The two issued a joint statement that their choice was motivated by concern for public safety and the possibility of antisemitism.

Read more: Multifaith group rallies at Dunn Meadow 

In a statement, IU spokesperson Mark Bode told Indiana Public Media: “President Whitten has heard the feedback of members of the IU community and has committed to listening and learning through ongoing meetings with faculty and staff.” 

On May 16, Whitten postponed her planned sessions with the Kelley School of Business and School of Education for eye surgery. The Kelley School said their listening sessions would be rescheduled for late summer or early fall.

Attendance is by invitation only, and reporters weren’t permitted to enter. However, some faculty shared their experiences with Indiana Public Media. 

The first meeting took place Friday with faculty from the O’Neill School.  

“It was frank,” said Professor Beth Gazley. “There was no censorship of note taking, equipment, or phones. We took notes, the President took just a few notes, and the President just listened. Yes, there was a lot of anger in the room from a number of us. But there was also an attempt to help this president understand the impact of three years of bad decision making on the way we operate.” 

Professor Beth Gazley said she felt the format of the meeting was right for the conversation, but she isn't seeing "sincere and genuine attempts to understand faculty sentiment and make corrections." (Screenshot from Zoom)

Read more: As arts and humanities enrollment declining, IU advocates say degrees still valuable 

Gazley said faculty were concerned with student safety after incidents with police in Dunn Meadow, but she told Whitten that her grievances are bigger than that, including what she described as a lack of transparency and hostility toward the old culture of IU.  

O’Neill faculty also voiced concern over the upcoming IU budget, which will take effect July 1. Gazley said staff has been told there will be a "budget restructuring" but they haven’t received the budget yet.  

They also brought up the widespread calls for Whitten’s resignation. 

“She was asked directly why she hadn't resigned, and her answer was that she had more work to do,” Gazley said. “I think a lot of what people are concerned about right now is whether these are sincere and genuine attempts to understand faculty sentiment and to make some corrections. I'm not seeing that yet.” 

The Federal Room in the Indiana Memorial Union, where College professors met with Whitten on Tuesday. The room only has a capacity of 72, so many of those present were department chairs. (Devan Ridgway / WTIU)

Read more: Indiana struggles to reverse decline in college enrollment 

Whitten held a listening session with College of Arts and Sciences faculty Tuesday afternoon at the Indiana Memorial Union. The College is IU’s largest academic unit, and unlike the others, has scheduled several sessions to accommodate more attendees. Dean Rick Van Kooten said he asked Whitten to schedule a town hall in a larger space where all College faculty could attend.

Anthropology professor Shane Greene described the meeting after it adjourned. 

“In general, her responses were vague. There were specific requests made for specific apologies, for example, about the use of police force in Dunn Meadow,” he said. “Deferred. Did not directly acknowledge that or certainly not respond to it.” 

Professor Shane Greene said he'd love to see the President improve, but he's not holding out much hope. (Max Rebolledo / WTIU)

Like their O’Neill colleagues, Greene said College faculty cited the budget as an immediate concern with the next fiscal year just six weeks away.  

“The increasing increasingly centralized management of campus in budgetary terms and administrative terms (has) basically wreaked havoc across the campus, with people—both mid-level and departmental level—literally not knowing what budget decisions are being made,” he said. “That just creates chaos for planning.” 

Anthropology professor Sarah Phillips read a statement to the President during their meeting, calling on her to resign. I am one of the seven professors who were arrested along with students on Dunn Meadow two weeks ago,” she said. “I and my colleagues risked our lives and suffered bodily and moral injury to support and shield the students who you, President Whitten, were obligated as university President to protect.” In her April statement, Whitten said the additional manpower was needed to address a heightened level of threats. She cited the national context but no specific risks on campus.

Read more: ACLU sues Purdue trustees over tenure law 

Although many faculty participated, hoping to have the President hear their views, some chose to protest instead. School of Education professor Barbara Dennis stood outside the College meeting with a sign reading “no middle ground,” separate from a nearby group of student demonstrators. She had been arrested by the ISP during the Dunn Meadow protests when she stepped between students and officers. 

Professor Barbara Dennis was among faculty arrested for protesting at Dunn Meadow. She says her message isn't to Whitten but to faculty and students. (Max Rebolledo / WTIU)

Dennis doesn’t believe the listening sessions will make an impact. 

“We're saying the same things we've said in a no confidence vote, we're saying the same things that have been published in the newspapers,” she said. “They're things she's already heard, and I'd like to see some action, actually.” 

Instead, Dennis said her demonstration is directed toward faculty and students. “I want to bear witness to what I experienced and what's happening on Dunn Meadow,” she said.

Tuesday’s listening session coincided with a rare executive session of the IU Board of Trustees. Indiana Public Media was unable to determine whether calls for Whitten’s resignation were discussed at their session. The board cited an exception in Indiana’s open door law that allows them to deny public access when they discuss pending litigation 

After the no confidence vote in April, the board put out a statement supporting Whitten. Since the protests and unit resolutions, there haven’t been any official releases. However, two trustees were present at the College meeting Tuesday: Vivian Winston and Donna Spears, both elected by alumni. 

Watch: IU Faculty Council president says Whitten administration should end

Whitten's previous statement said her and the Provost were “moving quickly to partner with faculty, staff, and students to look for long-term solutions.”

Faculty are trying to be optimistic about Whitten's stated commitment to listening and learning. 

“I'd love to see that, but I have high suspicions and doubts that will happen,” Greene said. “I personally don't think that trust can be rebuilt, and I know a lot of other colleagues who agree with me on that.” 

“I would really encourage faculty to come and speak their mind,” Gazley said. “This may be an empty gesture, we will have to wait and see. But I think it's an opportunity for the fence sitters also to come and make up their own minds about how serious the President is about this process.”

“I do believe people change, and I wouldn't rule out that she could be better,” Dennis said. “I don't have a lot of confidence in that.” 

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