KIRNER-JOHNSON BRADFORD AUDITORIUM, Faculty Assembly – The faculty of Hamilton College voted 110 to 2 to recognize former College Chaplain Rev. Jeff McArn for 27 years of service and called upon the administration to rehire him in some capacity at this evening's first faculty meeting of the year. President David Wippman faced difficult questions from an increasingly disgruntled and escalatory faculty body, who by and large appeared dissatisfied by his brief, avoidant, and at times misleading answers.
Wippman also announced that Dean of Faculty Ngoni Munemo had met with McArn to discuss the possibility of opening a position that combined teaching and work with the Levitt Center for Public Affairs – no final decisions were announced. After over two months and dozens of requests, Wippman openly confirmed on the record for the first time that the College had not accused McArn of malfeasance, and affirmed his support for the separation, also the first time the College has publicly confirmed McArn was involuntarily removed.
“We all are in agreement that it is fitting and appropriate that Jeff's work and its impact become a part of the faculty's official record of college matters,” Professor of History Lisa Trivedi introduced the motion on behalf of its signatories at the meeting. “Our hope is that it may help us navigate a way forward in the wake of his dismissal.”
Dean of Students Chris Card, who recently announced the Chaplaincy would become the “Spiritual and Religious Life” department and has repeatedly affirmed his decision to fire McArn, was in attendance but did not address the faculty.
As many in senior leadership desperately attempt to move forward without looking back, the Hamilton College community’s crisis of faith only grows.
Motion passes almost unanimously
Twelve faculty from a variety of departments, leadership roles, and generations introduced a motion recognizing McArn and calling for his return last week. It was the first substantive item on the first faculty meeting of the year’s agenda. Between Zoom and in-person attendance, well over 200 people including faculty, students, and staff were present. As some speakers noted, it was an unusually high turnout.
Many faculty, mostly protected by tenure and including one member of the Presidential Search Committee, spoke in favor of the motion. Most recounted personal positive experiences working with McArn, or repeated statements from students to the same effect. The only comments that could be perceived as critical of the motion advocated that it be more forceful.
“We all make mistakes. So that's not really the issue. The issue is that mistakes need to be acknowledged and they often need to be remedied,” said Professor of Philosophy Justin Clark, who is part of the faculty delegation that has met with Wippman, Card, and Munemo. “That's accountability and it's something that we're still waiting for. If, on the other hand, College leadership doesn't see the decision to remove Jeff as a mistake, then I'd like to challenge them to inform us today who in our campus community has benefited from his immediate dismissal, because it's not the students and it's not the faculty and it's not the staff.”
Clark also read a statement from dozens of student leaders representing a wide range of organizations, including several housed under the now-Spiritual and Religious Life department and the Days-Massolo Center.
“We, members of the student body and leaders in our respective communities, enthusiastically support the proposed motion and extend tremendous thanks to the faculty for raising this issue,” the statement began. “The absence of transparency surrounding Jeff’s treatment has instead only deepened concerns regarding how the College treats its employees and students.”
“I have been here 35 years,” Professor of Government Steve Orvis, who is part of the faculty delegation, said to the crowd. “I have never seen anything like this. I have yet to talk to someone else other than the people who made the decision who think it was a good idea.” Orvis, like others, expressed openness to stronger action by the faculty in the future.
“Maybe we need a ‘new direction’ in the Dean of Students Office,” one so far unidentified-by-Monitor audience member appearing to be staff or faculty burst out before voting. The electronic vote had 110 in favor of the motion, 2 against, and 8 abstentions. Wippman did not appear happy.
Wippman slips away
Faced with the apparently higher priority of pre-Common Ground celebratory events at his house, Wippman left the faculty meeting early. Before he did, he delivered brief remarks (beginning with pitching Common Ground) about the issue and answered – sometimes sarcastically – several highly critical questions from the faculty.
Wippman began speaking about the motion by emphasizing he has been discussing the community’s concerns with many people who have reached out to him crossing all campus constituencies. “I am very much aware of all of those things. Nonetheless, and having said all that, I think everyone here knows I continue to support the decision that was made. We don't make personnel decisions lightly at Hamilton.”
Responding to the just-passed motion’s aim for a constructive path forward to bring McArn back, Wippman said, “with that in mind, at my request, Ngoni [Munemo] has met with Jeff, and has been having conversations with Jeff about a possible continuing role. It won’t be the same kind of role he had before.” Wippman said the role would likely be some combination of teaching and work with the Levitt Center, were it to happen.
Wippman then fielded questions from a wide range of professors. First, he answered a point from Professor of History Shoshana Keller by saying the College had begun reviewing its personnel policies and retained an outside consultant to assist with the process. He did not provide details on the specific escort policy.
Answering Professor of Music Lydia Hamessley’s question about the details of the supposed “new direction” for the Chaplaincy, he said, “I'm not going to get into details because to do so would wander into reasons for why we're making change.” (A response Wippman repeated to several other questions, too.) Wippman added that they would be following the recommendations of the external review, which he later said the summary of or maybe even the full copy had been shared on the listserv.
Dean Card and McArn’s direct supervisor, Associate Dean Maria Genao-Homs, did not respond to Monitor’s earlier request to authenticate the version of an executive summary of the external review shared on the listserv. Some administrators close to the situation anonymously confirmed it matched the official recommendations, though. It is unclear as of publishing if Wippman’s intent was to authenticate the document shared on the listserv.
When Professor of Philosophy Marianne Janack asked Wippman to confirm what he has told many people in private settings, that McArn was not fired for immoral behavior, Wippman attempted to present as if he already had.
“Well, Marianne, I have said, and it's been reported publicly, I think by you, among others, that there was not malfeasance. There's nothing immoral. That was not part of this decision,” Wippman answered.
It seems Wippman reads the Monitor, a publication that has reached out to him and his subordinates in Student Life, Human Resources, and Communications & Marketing dozens of times, often explicitly asking to confirm that McArn had not committed wrongdoing, and many times alerting them of unfounded speculation that McArn had hurt people. The College has not answered Monitor’s questions on the specific issue as far back as July 10th, when Monitor first contacted the Communications & Marketing Office. Dozens of other questions also remain unanswered under a still-standing stonewall of the press, both on and off campus.
Professor of Sociology Jaime Kucinskas addressed what she felt was the elephant in the room. “Do you have a plan to help us move on together? And how can you build a new department of religious and spiritual life without buy-in from faculty and staff?”
Wippman turned the question around on the hundred-plus faculty who had just voted nearly unanimously to question his judgment on a decision it has taken over two months, threats of halted College donations, and thousands of people’s concern for him to walk back slightly.
“That's an excellent question and one that you all should be reflecting on collectively,” he said. “There will be occasions where we disagree on particular decisions. I hope that does not mean that we can't continue to work together as a community to try and achieve shared objectives.”
“Your responses just show a very disturbing lack of transparency,” Professor of Government Peter Cannavò said to applause. “Also, why summarily dismiss someone with so much institutional memory if you're trying to reconstitute the Chaplaincy? That just seemed like a really boneheaded move.”
Wippman again claimed interest in working together with the faculty.
“Thank you all and forgive me for slipping out,” Wippman said as he walked to the exit with purpose. Shortly thereafter, Dean of Students Chris Card followed.