The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Students protest to keep business professor

When University of Richmond students found out that Mary Middleton's contract had not been renewed for the 2009-10 academic year, they wrote e-mails to the school administration and started a Facebook group, urging the school to keep her.

Middleton, a professor of nine years in the accounting department of the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business, found out in January that her contract would not be renewed.

Jess Lofgren, a senior, and Martha Van Dale, a Richmond alumnus, started the Facebook group, "Keep Dr. Middleton at UR," which had 225 members as of April 23. Lofgren and Van Dale started the group because they wanted the school to understand that it was making a huge mistake, Lofgren said.

"I want Dr. Middleton to know that even if this university chooses to let her go, this is not at all reflective of the feelings of her students, as so many of us appreciate and admire

her greatly," Lofgren said.

Lofgren and Van Dale also sent an e-mail to students in the accounting department urging them to e-mail University President Edward L. Ayers, Herbert C. Peterson, vice president for business and finance, and Stephen Allred, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

"One major concern we have is that students were not consulted and, in large part, not considered when this decision was made," Van Dale said. "It is hard to believe that anyone who has ever spoken to a student of Dr. Middleton would support the university not renewing her contract."

Jorge Haddock, dean of the business school, could not comment specifically on Middleton and her situation because university policy does not allow him to comment on personnel matters. But Haddock insisted that he did listen to student comments and evaluations of professors when considering contract renewals.

"We cannot do everything based on student comments," Haddock said. "There are other things in the best interest of students that we have to take into account when considering the employment of a professor."

Members of the dean's office have to consider student needs, class sizes, balance among departments within the business school and school accreditation, among many other things, he said.

On April 14, Middleton met with Haddock and W. Darrell Walden, chairman of the accounting department. Haddock reiterated that her contract would not be renewed, Middleton said. But after an hour-long conversation, Haddock told Middleton he would consider rehiring her as an adjunct professor, Middleton said. But Middleton ultimately declined this offer, she said.

During the previous nine years, Middleton had been a contracted visiting professor, meaning she worked on a year-by-year basis. A mother of four, she chose not to pursue a tenure track, a more demanding and time-consuming status for professors, because she had always wanted to have time with her family and extra time to advise her students, she said.

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"The fact of the matter is if you're here doing research, you're not changing diapers and I chose to be home and change diapers," Middleton said. "I also wanted to spend as much time as possible with my students. Being on tenure track does not allow you to meet with 82 students in a semester for 45 minutes each."

Middleton said she would miss her students the most. She is grateful that her students went to bat for her, she said.

"I made a difference in their lives," said a teary-eyed Middleton when asked what had highlighted the relationships she made with many of her students.

Hilary Miller, a junior business administration major with a concentration in accounting and French double major, had two classes with Middleton. Miller said she initially wanted to have a concentration in international business but that Middleton had inspired her to pursue accounting instead.

"For me, she was the best professor I have ever had at Richmond," Miller said. "She took the time to get to know students and figure out their strengths and passions, regardless of whether or not they wanted to pursue accounting."

Middleton would meet individually with all of the students in her Accounting 201 and 202 classes each semester, Miller said.

"Beyond just being good accountants, she wanted us to be good people who considered the consequences of our actions before we acted," Lofgren said. "She wanted us to live fulfilling lives and be the best at whatever we decided to do."

Miller and many other students of Middleton's, such as Matt Cully, continued to meet with her after taking her classes.

Cully, a senior with a concentration in accounting, said Middleton's teaching quality extended far beyond the classroom. Middleton was always willing to meet or speak with students, he said.

"She encourages students to call her seven days a week with any questions," Cully said. "How many professors are willing to hand out their cell phone and home phone just in case a student cannot figure out a debit or a credit?"

One of Miller's classmates once studied in Middleton's kitchen the night before an exam, while she was making dinner, Miller said.

Joe Hoyle, a professor of accounting, said he had never met a college teacher that cared as much as Middleton for her students. Middleton was always looking in the best interest of her students, Hoyle said.

"She and I disagreed vehemently on politics but we never disagreed that the good of the students had to come first and had to come first every day," Hoyle said. "My perspective is quite limited, but I do not see how the University of Richmond will be a better place without her. Maybe it will.

"But that is hard to envision at this moment."

Contact staff writer Nick Mider at nick.mider@richmond.edu

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