To the Editor:

What Professor Patricia Limerick is enduring is unthinkable, unconscionable, cruel (“A Prominent Scholar Was Fired. Neither She Nor Her Institution Will Say Exactly Why,” The Chronicle, October 5). Scholarship, effective teaching, and service to students and the broader campus aside, she is a treasured colleague to hundreds of faculty members nationally and internationally. She is beloved.

I was affiliated with the Center of the American West for 14 years, teaching the capstone course about film and literature of the American West, participating in business meetings and social events for faculty affiliates of the Center, enjoying guest speakers during student dinners that Professor Limerick hosted in her home, and looking forward to end-of-the-year events for graduates of the certificate program and their families and friends. Even brief consideration of Professor Limerick’s deep feeling for the Center — not just the commitment, energy, and time she invested in its work — makes this time at the University of Colorado at Boulder unbearable. Based on local and national articles about the controversy, it is clear that the new dean and president have no idea who Professor Limerick is or how loyal students and faculty members are to her and to her programs.

The decision to dismiss her from the Center she founded was carried out with no regard for an award-winning historian; a New York Times columnist; a recipient of the Hazel Barnes Award, the highest recognition given to a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences; a devout supporter of the university; and a fundraiser with demonstrable clout. When faculty members compare Professor Limerick with the revolving door of administrators we have hired, promoted, and supported over the past few decades, many of us are enraged and deeply sad.

According to news reports, the dean met with Professor Limerick but had already made the decision to terminate her position in her Center. No one allowed her a voice. No one explained how an audit, which rarely if ever occurs without suggestions for improvement, became the document used to oust her. One is left with the question: When are administrative reviews of deans, for example, carried out in such a manner (or carried out at all)? Where is the institutional protection for a nationally and internationally known scholar of the American West? What, exactly, does a pre-eminent scholar and teacher have to do to earn the loyalty of the university she loves?


There is no replacement for Professor Limerick and no hope that the Center — if it survives — will ever have the standing it has enjoyed. Faculty members associated with the Center worked hard, but we also had fun. The Thompson Writing Awards that recognized student work, for example, were formal as well as raucous, well scripted as well as joyfully spontaneous. One of the former students who won a writing award and became a successful author said of Patricia Limerick this week, “She’s an original…She was always trying to find common ground between groups of people that you would think would have nothing in common.”

The decision to remove Professor Limerick from the Center will have — is already having — unintended consequences. The institution is in no way prepared to address what it set into motion. The only solution is to reinstate Professor Limerick as quickly as possible and devote the remainder of the semester to addressing whatever real or imagined issues may exist.

Jan Whitt
Professor Emeritus
College of Media, Communication and Information
University of Colorado at Boulder