The University of Richmond Faculty Senate unanimously passed a motion to delay its part of the three-year review of Patrice Rankine, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, on Friday, Feb. 22. The motion was passed at the third meeting of the Faculty Senate this month -- two more than is usual. 

The motion and subsequent senate review delay follow The Collegian’s reporting of a pending $1 million civil lawsuit against the university.

The review of Rankine’s position will be delayed until September 2019. It had originally been scheduled for this spring, as Rankine’s third year at UR will end this semester.

In the lawsuit, Della Dumbaugh, a former associate dean of arts and sciences, accused Rankine of gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment, and claimed that it led to her effective firing.

UR has since responded to the lawsuit with a motion to dismiss

Provost Jeffrey Legro is responsible for carrying out Rankine’s review, which includes his own evaluation of the dean and faculty feedback solicited by the Faculty Senate. Legro had planned to delay his part of the review until September 2019 and requested that the Faculty Senate do the same. 

Jane Berry, Faculty Senate president and professor of psychology, had originally planned to abstain from voting but after hearing discussion from senators at the Faculty Senate’s Feb. 22 meeting, voted in favor of delaying the review. 

“I voted the way I did because the provost has decided to delay the review, and I think that the resources, effort and time that would go into the survey this semester would be wasted,” Berry said after the meeting.

Legro, who was not present at the meeting, wrote a statement explaining his three reasons for delaying the review that was read aloud by Berry at the beginning of the discussion. 

First, more attention could be paid to the recent lawsuit than other aspects of the dean’s leadership during his three years at UR, Legro wrote. 

“Survey experiments have widely documented the distorting effects such dramatic news preceding a survey can have on the results,” Legro wrote. “In this case, for example, defenders of the dean may limit the constructive criticism they would otherwise offer. Critics may be less likely to acknowledge strengths than they otherwise would.”

Second, it is unlikely that more information about the lawsuit will emerge during the spring semester, meaning Dumbaugh’s complaint would be the only side of the story publicly known, Legro wrote. 

“One-sided information produces similarly one-sided assessments,” he wrote.

Third, media and campus attention on the lawsuit may lead some faculty members to opt out of giving feedback for the review to avoid “being dragged into an uncomfortable dispute,” Legro wrote. A low response rate could distort the survey results, he wrote. 

“The later review will mitigate the immediacy effects of excessive attention to the lawsuit in considering the dean’s full record and invite greater participation in the survey,” Legro wrote. 

In addition, by September, “the lawsuit will be resolved or the process will reveal more balanced information across both sides of the case,” he wrote.

Julie Laskaris, a senator and chair of the classical studies department, said she would be voting to delay.

"I do think it's fairest to the dean and best for the university as a whole, and certainly best for the faculty,” Laskaris said. “And I think that the response rate will be better in the fall. I think that the remarks themselves will be more tempered.”

Kristen Osenga, Senate vice president and law professor, noted that pausing certain operations is a normal course for companies involved in litigation. Osenga had concerns about the Senate’s subcommittee report for the review being involved in the ongoing lawsuit. 

“I don’t think the Senate should ever be in a position of creating a litigation document, which is what the Senate subcommittee’s report would end up being,” Osenga said. “Whatever that says, it would be valuable to one side or the other of the litigation. I don't think that we should do either side’s attorneys’ jobs.”

Three February meetings

Legro and the Faculty Senate -- which usually meets only once a month -- discussed delaying Rankine’s review at two prior meetings this month. The first, on Feb. 8, was unannounced to the campus community, but acknowledged by Berry at the Feb. 22 meeting. 

“Pursuant to the provost’s request, the senate met on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, from 4 to 5:15 to discuss the provost’s request. The provost attended part of that meeting to answer our questions and to present his request,” Berry said. 

Berry said she had neglected to consult the Faculty Senate’s charter when she called the Feb. 8 meeting, in which senators and Legro discussed the responsibilities of both the Senate and provost regarding a dean’s review in a closed session.  

“I apologize to the university community for not announcing the Feb. 8, 2019, meeting,” Berry said. “I realize that holding that meeting without announcing it to the university community sent the wrong message.”

The second meeting, on Feb. 20, was formally requested by Legro and announced by Berry, but was closed to the public. The purpose of that meeting was for Legro to answer senators’ questions and reiterate his request, Berry said. 

Tanja Softic, senator and professor of art, criticized the way in which Legro went about his plans to delay the review and his request for the Senate to delay its part in the review.

“We should have never been in this situation,” Softic said. “This is something I believe the provost and provost’s office should have communicated to faculty, that the provost is delaying the review until the fall. I don’t think it’s going to be particularly useful to collect information now if the provost is not even going to look at it until the fall, and he also made it clear he will consider it tainted information.”

During the meeting, Jennifer Erkulwater, senator and professor of political science, read aloud a letter in which Mimi Hanaoka, a professor of religious studies and Islam, expressed concern over the executive session meeting on Feb. 20.

“I respectfully request that you register and convey to the Senate membership my deep concerns about secret, non-transparent, and apparently off-the-record and minute-less meetings of the Faculty Senate,” Hanaoka wrote. “The Senate cannot appropriately or effectively function in accordance with its charter if there are secret Senate meetings, the contents of which are totally inaccessible to the ostensibly represented faculty.”

While speaking, Softic addressed Berry’s statement apologizing for the prior meetings.

“The credibility of the Senate should not be taking a hit because there’s a discomfort with speaking to faculty about why this is going on,” Softic said.

Contact senior news writer Arrman Kyaw at arrman.kyaw@richmond.edu and news writer Katherine Schulte at katherine.schulte@richmond.edu.