At Western Michigan U., Resistance Over a Popular Dean’s Dismissal

January 29, 2015

Alexander Enyedi was "deeply disappointed," he wrote in an email to his top subordinates, when his contract as dean of Western Michigan University’s College of Arts and Sciences was not renewed. He was not the only one.

In the past week, many faculty and staff members, students, and alumni have made their opposition clear. About 200 people attended a Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday to express their support for Mr. Enyedi, reported Mlive.com, a Michigan news site. By Wednesday, more than 1,200 people had signed an online petition requesting that his contract be renewed for another five years after it expires, on June 30. He has been dean since 2010.

Sarah Hill, an associate professor of anthropology and environmental studies, started the petition. She says Mr. Enyedi’s advocacy of the university’s "core mission" of teaching, research, and service, and his devotion to preparing students to meet the challenges of the 21st century, make him "the symbolic leader of something which is much bigger than Alex."

He is well liked, too, she says, pointing to an evaluation conducted last year by the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, in which 91 percent of the faculty members who responded said they wanted Mr. Enyedi to continue as dean. Nearly 50 percent of 127 respondents rated him as "superior" and an additional 20 percent as "excellent."

Some of his supporters suggested that his efforts to get additional pay for female staff members may have hurt him. "Many are worried that an effective campus leader is being fired for consistently speaking out about diversity-related issues, in particular, gender equity," Cathryn Bailey, senior associate dean of the college, wrote in an email. The issue has been a contentious one on the campus.

On Wednesday, Timothy J. Greene, the provost, emailed a statement to the college’s faculty and staff members to respond to what he called "a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding" about the dismissal. His message praised Mr. Enyedi’s efforts to recruit strong faculty members and other achievements but also referred to problems under his leadership, like declines in enrollment and research funds, and issues over "expectations of how to manage budget allocations."

Deans who cannot support and carry out the decisions of senior managers, Mr. Greene wrote, "have the obligation to relinquish their leadership position."

He said that he would meet with the college’s academic chairs and directors on Friday to choose an interim dean and that Mr. Enyedi would be assigned other duties until his term as dean ends.

In response to a request for an interview, Mr. Enyedi emailed a brief statement that said, in part, "I think it critical that WMU move forward in a way that demonstrates its commitment to transparency, inclusion, and respect for all members of our campus community." He expects to stay at Western Michigan as a professor of biological sciences.

The faculty union plans to hold a no-confidence vote on Mr. Greene on Friday, over Mr. Enyedi’s dismissal and other issues.

Ruth Hammond edits the People section and the Almanac issue. Follow her on Twitter @ruthehammond, or email her at ruth.hammond@chronicle.com.