Many questions loomed for the New College community after Matthew Lepinski resigned at the conclusion of the Apr. 26 Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, a meeting where trustees voted 6-4 to deny tenure to five faculty members. Lepinski, an associate professor of Computer Science, was chair of the New College faculty and faculty representative on the BOT. His sudden resignation stunned the community, and many wondered who would fill the role of faculty representative on the BOT.
In a subsequent election, Professor of French Language and Literature Amy Reid and Professor of Spanish Language and Literature Jose Alberto Portugal were voted co-chairs of the faculty uncontested. The duties will be split, with Reid handling the outward-facing responsibilities of sitting on the BOT and Portugal attending to internal affairs. Their term will officially start on May 17.
In the short period until the newly elected co-chairs take office, the interim representative on the BOT will be Vice Chair of the Faculty and Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies Nicolas Delon, who inherited the position as second in command. The Catalyst interviewed Delon to get his thoughts on recent events and the most pressing issues facing New College.
“When Trustee Lepinski resigned from the board abruptly at the [Apr. 26] meeting, everybody was shocked,” Delon said. “I was actually not aware of his plans… It was surprising and, I think, quite admirable. He was quite brave. I know he doesn’t really have a backup plan. He did not resign knowing that he had a cushy job waiting for him the next day.
“He has tried really hard to work in the most constructive, diplomatic way possible with the new administration,” Delon continued. “[He] thinks that the constructive and diplomatic way of working with them has failed, and he just couldn’t take it anymore. I respect that because I think he’s acted with a lot of integrity.”
Delon said that due to his individual circumstances, he would not be able to assume Lepinski’s full responsibilities, thus prompting the swiftly organized faculty elections. He said he told Lepinski that “I am actually not interested in being the permanent Chair of the Faculty.”
When the Catalyst asked Delon about the greatest concern facing the faculty at this moment, his reply on May 2 was that uncertainty surrounding the “likely curriculum changes” for the upcoming fall semester is placing a burden on the faculty.
“Those changes [to the curriculum] are being implemented with or without the coordination of the faculty, who may have to teach some of those courses,” Delon shared. “We may have to recruit colleagues for some of those courses knowing that we currently have some visiting assistant professors whose contracts need to be renewed but have not been renewed. We have searches that have been going on but put on hold for months now. We’re losing candidates.
“In addition to that, we know that the administration is currently trying to hire a slate of new faculty, without any faculty input,” Delon continued. “We’re really in the dark as to which of our colleagues are likely to stay in the fall and who our future colleagues will be if they manage to recruit the faculty they want, and how those different people fit into the new curriculum.
“That’s on top of a layer of frustration, disappointment, anger and sadness with the denial of tenure to the faculty last week and the people who got fired,” Delon concluded. “The utter contempt for academic norms and the expertise of faculty was bad enough, but now we have to scramble in order to put together a new curriculum.”
Delon was not alone in his concerns. On the morning of May 10, President Corcoran sent a letter to the New College through NCF email, in which he acknowledged strong faculty feedback on the outlines of the proposed curriculum and conceded: “One thing is clear: the number 16 is too big. It would interfere with some AOCs and all double majors and senior theses and the rest.”
The full text of Corcoran’s statement can be found here.
Delon also said that, under the current circumstances, he wouldn’t be surprised if as much as 25 percent of the faculty resigned within the next two years. With that in mind, it is worth highlighting that Corcoran concluded his May 10 letter this way: “If you’re thinking about leaving, give it another year. If we continue to work together, there is no doubt in my mind New College will be the envy of liberal arts colleges throughout the nation.”
Potential departures in addition to an influx of new employees could place pressure on the faculty union, Delon said, noting that if chapter membership fell below 60 percent, the union would be dissolved as per recent changes to the legislature. A faculty union representative confirmed that the current percentage of faculty members is around 80 percent.
“Anything that has happened the last few weeks has reinforced my very pessimistic assessment of the future of the institution,” Delon said. “It’s heartbreaking because I love my job and I love my colleagues and my students. But I think the New College that we love is about to die.”
Delon ended the conversation by casting doubt on the motivations of the trustees, saying that their words were not aligned with their actions and that their intentions were clearly political.
“Denying tenure on what appears to be mostly political grounds with all my colleagues not being so-called ‘mission-aligned,’ interfering with the curriculum, subjecting currently tenured faculty to pass tenure review, depriving faculty members of their rights to control the hiring process and giving those powers to the president,” Delon listed. “All of that is just political interference with the way we run universities. It is in direct contradiction with their claim to be introducing more ideological diversity in university, which they don’t want. They are quite explicit. What they want to do is create a conservative liberal arts college. So whether for students or faculty, what they want is affirmative action for conservatives.”