The Collegian
Monday, May 20, 2024

Professor's departure upsets some students

Lee Carleton, assistant director of the Writing Center and faculty adviser for the Earth Lodge program, is leaving the University of Richmond at the end of this semester, and several students have expressed their frustration with the university's decision to eliminate his position.

Carleton has been working as the assistant director of the Writing Center since 2003. He also started the Earth Lodge program, one of the first Living and Learning communities on campus, in 2005 and has been the faculty adviser for the program ever since.

In the Earth Lodge, students live together and explore a range of attitudes toward the environment through the study of literature and through a variety of gatherings in the outdoors, according to the university's website.

Carleton said that he was "tremendously anxious" about the future.

"I am a father, I have a child and another one on the way, and I'm facing the prospect of no work," he said. "And it's not because of poor performance. If you look at the eight years, most of the student feedback is stellar. So that's pretty hard to take."

Linda Evans, assistant director of media and public relations, answered a query to Arts and Sciences Dean Andrew Newcomb about Carleton's dismissal, saying, "With the elimination of English 103 as a graduation requirement and the resulting decrease in demand, the university has made necessary adjustments to faculty assignments."

Carleton said that the university notified him on New Year's Day this year of its decision to eliminate his job.

"[The decision] was sort of a surprise, sort of not," he said. "But two years of, like, anxiety, and not any kind of real support or good explanation of why or whatever. ... I say what I think and that gets me in trouble. Like, I am not the kind of person who just insults people, but I don't calculate ahead of time."

Several students have expressed their frustration with the school's decision to fire Carleton. They said that if it was not for the Earth Lodge program and Carleton, they might have transferred to other universities during their sophomore year. Such students include Molly Schaefer, Jerry Giordano and Travis Henschen.

"When you talk to Lee, he is interested in everything that you say. Every single thing. And everything is a good idea," said Schaefer, who was a member of Earth Lodge in 2009 and RA in 2010.

She said that Carleton was more of a personal mentor than a professor to her, and that he would choose to talk with her about her personal issues, even though he was not her adviser anymore and he was going through his own problems.

"Lee has been an asset to U of R, and he has devoted a lot of himself to teaching here," she said. "I think that he will be greatly missed. And he is definitely irreplaceable."

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Henschen, who was a member of the Earth Lodge in 2009, said: "He brings something unique to the university. It's something different from what I have experienced in other classes. It's refreshing, I would say."

Giordano, who was also a member of the Earth Lodge in 2009, said that Carleton always tried to relate the subject material into something that students were interested in or identified with, so that they would be more engaged.

"That's something that most professors don't take time or do not have the creativity to do," he said.

"When we had found out that Lee's position had been terminated, we all met in our lounge that night to discuss what we wanted to do because obviously everyone was outraged.

"We decided that a letter to The Collegian might be the most appropriate means. We wanted to keep it positive insofar as we wanted to affirm the value of the program, but we didn't want to pretend that we were okay with what was going on."

He said that he was really frustrated because when the decision was made, there was no student voice, even though professors are supposed to be judged based both on contributions to the academics and teaching.

"The fact that these decisions can be made by such a small group of people who were so isolated from so many other aspects of campus life, I think is really wrong."

Henshcen said, "I saw my debate coach [Kevin Kuswa] cut from the same department that I saw Lee Carleton get cut. So it has been frustrating to see two professors being fired who have had the largest impact on my education at this school, and I think other people could say the same thing."

Joe Essid, director of the Writing Center, said, "Our program has benefited from Lee's hard work, and I and our Writing Consultants will miss him." But he declined to comment on the school's decision.

Carleton said that despite the fact that he had started Earth Lodge and established the foundation for other living learning programs on campus, he had never been acknowledged or thanked for that effort by the university.

"It's not about getting attention or my ego," he said. "But if I don't get credit for the work I've done and I get let go, naturally I'm upset and I feel used. Strong positive student response has been clear -- it's not about my ego, it's about demonstrated work.

"If there are petty personal politics involved, I feel like that should be exposed. Aside from the fact that I'm being let go in a depression when I've got a wife and toddler to support, personal politics are inappropriate in education and ultimately harmful to students."

Carleton said that after the school's decision to replace English 103 with First-Year Seminar programs, he had proposed to the school that he teach one of the First-Year Seminar classes instead, because he helped establish the program by researching similar programs at other universities. Nonetheless, he was told he was not needed.

Carleton said he was applying for a position in the School of Continuing Studies. He said that if he could not get a position there, he would have to look for positions at other institutions in Richmond.

"I feel like I've done good work." Carleton said. "I've done an honest, from the right heart, the right motives. And I hope that will just pay off somehow. Because, if not, gosh, how dismal."

According to the university's website, the Earth Lodge program will remain with a new faculty adviser who is yet to be determined.

Contact reporter Masato Tsuruta at

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