Chair’s Statement on Behalf of the English Department
Dear Students, Colleagues, and Friends of the English Department,
The English Department is deeply committed to offering an equal opportunity for University of Maine students to experience a high-quality education in an environment that is safe, respectful, and free from harassment, discrimination, and unprofessional conduct. As chair of the department, I feel a special responsibility to ensure that these are more than hollow words. Our practices must live up to our principles, and our policies have to be vigorously and consistently upheld, in order for our promise to our students to be earnestly kept.
In late November of last year, a former graduate student voiced on social media serious concerns about her experience in our Master’s program. English Department faculty reached out to her immediately, and by the end of the day she and I had begun a conversation about the process by which the Equal Opportunity Office would register and investigate her complaint. From that day on, as additional concerns and complaints from former and current students and colleagues emerged, we have worked closely with the EO office, Human Resources, and other partners throughout the university and system to make sure that the students were heard and that their concerns were and continue to be addressed.
We also hold ourselves to high standards of due process and the protection of academic freedom, values essential not just to our department but to our democracy. In honoring those values, and the privacy of all parties involved, the work that has gone on without interruption by many people for many months has been, of necessity, largely invisible, not just to students, but also to fellow faculty. I understand the impulse to interpret this as inaction, evasion, and complicity. And I also understand that institutional trust is a depleted resource at this moment in our national discourse. But I want to assure all concerned that we are on this, and that we are animated by the sound guiding principles of integrity, fairness, justice, and professionalism.
Throughout my first year as chair, I have adopted the same “open door” policy that I have seen used to excellent effect by many senior administrators at UMaine. In that spirit, I invite anyone reading this statement who has questions or concerns about it to contact me by whatever medium is most convenient to them, be it an office visit, a phone call, or correspondence. There are, for good reasons, limits to what I am in a position to disclose about a confidential process that has not yet concluded. But there are many things I can share, about our practices, about our principles, and about the strong and caring community that makes this English Department a place we can continue to be proud of and to support.
Associate Professor and Chair of English