Rev. Jeff McArn to return as adjunct, but community concerns remain
BUTTRICK HALL, Dean of Faculty Office – Rev. Jeff McArn will be back at Hamilton College this spring as a part-time faculty member. McArn says he accepted an offer of Senior Lecturer from Dean of Faculty Ngoni Munemo last Friday morning, September 22nd. According to McArn, the position is a three-year appointment that will allow him to teach two courses per academic year.
Reactions from many in the community are mixed, rejoicing at the popular former College Chaplain’s return, but frustrated by the lack of a full-time position and broader unanswered questions about institutional governance and employment policy. The Dean of Students Office fired McArn from his role as College Chaplain on the spot in June with a Campus Safety escort, despite both supervisors who conducted the dismissal alleged to feel the escort was unnecessary. The College has since affirmed McArn was not accused of malfeasance after significant pressure for transparency.
"I am thrilled to be returning to campus life in the spring semester,” McArn told Monitor. “While I regret that I will not have a role in the new chaplaincy, I am grateful for the opportunity to teach and be connected to the Levitt Center, Religious Studies and American Studies departments. I would like to offer a special word of gratitude to Dean Munemo who has been very gracious to me in responding to my situation. I am indebted to him for his thoughtfulness in helping me rejoin the Hamilton community for next semester."
McArn is slotted to teach two courses he has previously taught: Hamilton College & Social Justice, and American Freedom & Religious Thought. The first will likely be tied in some way to the Levitt Center’s Justice Lab program. In an interview with the Monitor on Tuesday, September 26th, Dean Munemo confirmed McArn's acceptance of the role. He also emphasized that he could not go into more detail discussing the specifics of any private personnel matter, McArn or otherwise. The Levitt Center did not respond to a request for comment by publishing time.
“While I am glad that Jeff is confirmed to be coming back to campus next semester, the fact that it would only be part-time shows the administration still doesn't understand the monumentality of the work he did,” said Stephen Socolow ‘25, who has been one of many student organizers supporting McArn. “I think it is incumbent on us to push for a full-time position at the college, which will do more to recognize his decades of work as Chaplain.”
Professor of Religious Studies Brent Rodriguez-Plate, who has worked closely with McArn in the past and is a member of the faculty delegation that has been advocating on his behalf, told the Monitor, “While I’m thrilled that Jeff will continue to have a role on campus, it is really a ‘concession,’ and misses the incredible opportunities and abilities that Jeff can offer.” Rodriguez-Plate emphasized that while McArn is an excellent teacher, his best work has been in community-building.
Community pressure played a major role in the limited concessions offered by the College so far. Earlier this month, the faculty voted 110 to 2 to recognize McArn’s work and call for a return. Thirty-seven student leaders crossing many sectors of student life sent a letter of support for the motion. President David Wippman, amidst many criticisms for his handling of the situation, responded to the motion’s passage by announcing Dean Munemo had met with McArn to discuss the possibility of a position. The two met at least once more in the following weeks.
Rodriguez-Plate continued, “Meanwhile, staff are in fear, faculty frustrated, and students confused by the Dean of Students’s boondoggle of firing Jeff from his role as Chaplain. DoS has done little to show itself competent through its decisions, now months on and nothing to show for their decisions.”
Months after numerous requests, Director of Human Resources Stephen Stemkoski still has not provided the text of a policy claimed, by the College, to require escorts during terminations. While some supervisors have issued memos to their staff expressing their desire to create psychologically safe work environments that foster open discussion, many College staff remain fearful of retaliation for expressing disagreement in the absence of tangible labor protection commitments and increased transparency.
McArn’s initial firing, and the following protest resignations by two Chaplaincy staff, have stretched the office thin. Now called the Spiritual and Religious Life department (not yet updated from “Chaplaincy” on its email account), the office is being run by a mix of administrators, faculty, and students. Though some additional staff hours have been added to compensate, many are concerned that key responsibilities have been offset to students. Dean of Students Chris Card told the community “We expect to announce an interim director in the coming weeks” in an August 28th campus-wide email; none has yet been announced.
Dani Bernstein ‘24, All Beliefs Union (ABU) intern and a student activist and artist, told Monitor, “The weight of this crisis has fallen onto student leaders and the few Chaplaincy adults left behind in the aftermath. Students have been working tirelessly to continue essential programming and revive the Chaplaincy community without major physical, structural, or financial support, and all while adjusting to poor communication and an entirely new and confusing structure.”
“Chaplaincy programming is shrinking and not growing.”
One administrator, speaking under condition of anonymity, echoed those sentiments. “I'm upset that so many of the things that Jeff named, created, and fought for are continuing without him ever having been given any credit by anyone in the administration for having - on his own and of his own volition - created these programs.” They continued, “The College is not only not currently going in a new direction, they are going in the same direction that Jeff was going but paying student wages for this work rather than an administrator's salary.”
With many outstanding questions and concerns, advocates continue to discuss strategies for applying pressure to achieve broader goals in support of religious and spiritual life, administrative transparency and community inclusion in decision-making, and increased labor protections, particularly for at-will employees. Many of these concerns have filtered into feedback for Hamilton’s ongoing presidential search. The administrative Pandora’s Box has been opened for community inspection.