Dear Esther – Part 3

Dear Esther,

Retention – a noun; the capacity retain, to hold in place or position

It’s such a simple word, and yet, as we heard at the town hall on Tuesday, the issues surrounding it are not simple. Retention, however, is not limited to the students who choose Chatham and then for any number of reasons decide to leave. There is also the retention of faculty and staff, and that’s where we’ll focus now.

In the past decade there has been tremendous turnover for both faculty and administration.

Faculty turnover is concerning. Without good professors, good programs falter. It’s harder to attract students, and the revolving door (and limited or non-existent tenure opportunities) make up-and-coming academics pause. One of the hallmarks of Chatham has been the stable, committed faculty, those individuals that multiple generations of Chatham women remember fondly. These are the professors who care if a student doesn’t show up to class, not because it could be construed as disrespectful, but because they genuinely care if the student is ok. These professors are retiring, and we wish them well outside of the classroom, but Chatham has failed to find their replacements or, at the very least, failed to keep those replacements¬†around.

More distressing, however, is the turnover in the administration. A ship cannot expect to stay afloat with a crew that exists in pieces and changes out mid-voyage. Case in point, since 2007:

  • The College for Women has has two different Deans, and there was a period of nearly two years when it had no Dean at all.
  • There have been 4 Vice Presidents of Enrollment, with the current VP in only since November 2013, and again there multiple large gaps between Vice Presidents.
  • There have been at least 3 VPs of Advancement.
  • There have been 2 VPs of Communications & Marketing, and at one point the VP of Communication and Marketing was splitting time with Enrollment.

Of course we know that career changes happen, but when there is a consistent turnover in key leadership positions, it’s more than fair to ask why does such an upheaval exist, and what impact does it have on the present and future of the university?

The gaps in key administration positions has severely limited the ability of the College for Women to meet the enrollment expectations set forth by the university.

Without strong and steady leadership, the College for Women has fallen into decline, not for lack of individual staff support in its mission, but simply because too often the positions responsible for strategic planning and implementation have been overwhelmed, in transition, or just empty. There has been no ability for the CCW to gain traction when it comes to new recruitment strategies and no consistency for the traditionally held responsibilities. The next person to come in is always playing catch up, sometimes while splitting duties with other positions. On Tuesday night you even told of the last VP of Enrollment spending 2 days a week off campus, providing services for an external consulting firm. Knowing all of this, it’s not a question of “why is the College for Women enrollment declining,” but rather, “how could it not be?”

A delay of the Board of Trustees vote.

Given the extreme turnover in key positions, we believe the co-ed vote should be delayed by at least a year. During that time we ask you and the administration to provide us with the following:

  • A commitment to reducing the current turnover rates of senior-level staff.
  • A detailed account of the recruitment strategies employed over the last 5 years, including division of responsibility and indications of when those positions were empty.
  • A comprehensive strategy for increasing female recruitment, with input from, and actions items for, alumnae.

You have asked for our feedback, Esther, but are you and the Board really listening? If so, you will take this letter to heart and act upon our requests.

The Save Chatham Movement


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2 responses to “Dear Esther – Part 3”

  1. Ann Kottner says :

    As an adjunct professor myself, and one working to change the now-precarious nature of faculty everywhere, I would argue that when 67% of your faculty are part-time, untenured, and paid as little as $2500/class, that lowers the quality of instruction and of the degree received, in both applied fields and especially in the liberal arts. Chatham is now finding cost-cutting measures and “efficiencies” in undercutting its faculty, as too many other colleges and universities have, under the guise of saving money. I went to Chatham because of the low ratio of students to professors because I wanted a mentoring relationship with my academic mentors. Only the most extraordinary adjunct can give that to students because they can afford to in time and money. If Chatham does not nurture and support its faculty, it cannot claim to offer an outstanding academic experience to anyone, let alone in a women’s college setting where mentoring is a huge part of the “sell.”

    The increased use of adjuncts is one reason I no longer support the annual fund. As an adjunct, I already support all of higher ed with my unpaid labor, and that includes Chatham. Those of us who went onto become academics because of our experience at Chatham feel cheated that our alma mater has become just another corporatized academic sweatshop–and we know what it does to students, too.

    Chatham could, by supporting academics with increased tenure lines and decreasing the use of adjuncts, be a sterling example of what higher education is all about. Women don’t come to Chatham just to be with other women; they come for the high quality academics. if we’re no longer offering that, it’s no wonder women won’t come there.

    Ann Kottner, Class of ’82
    Adjunct Professor, New Jersey City University/York College-CUNY/Empire State University

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