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Questions remain in COAS dean's exit

POSTED AT 11:53 PM ON Mar. 10, 2010  (UPDATED AT 11:44 AM ON Mar. 11, 2010)

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Bennett Bertenthal

Bennett Bertenthal’s surprise resignation from the position of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences on Tuesday left many questions unanswered. Bertenthal will step down Friday at the request of University administrators, just days after announcing he will leave the post.

Bertenthal alluded to his reasons for resigning in an e-mail he sent to the faculty and staff of the College Monday.

In the e-mail, Bertenthal said differences in opinion between members of the University administration led to his resignation. He said goals for the College were being compromised.

“The achievement of these goals is often fraught with very tough decisions, especially in a down-turned economy,” he said in the e-mail.

Multiple meetings Wednesday between administration members and faculty added little to the understanding of the swift change in leadership.

“The question was asked and there was no explanation,” said John Lucaites, IU professor and member of the Arts and Sciences Policy Committee.

Lack of information has led to speculation about the sudden announcement.

Several faculty members said Bertenthal and Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson routinely disagreed on budget issues, including cuts Bertenthal made to graduate fellowship funding.

“The dean made decisions that caused concern among faculty,” said Erika Dowell, president of the Bloomington Faculty Council. “Many of these decisions dealt with how the college responds to budget cuts.”

In Wednesday’s meetings, Lucaites said Hanson repeatedly stated the resignation was not due to differences in opinion about policy, but graduate fellowship funding is the first item on Interim Dean David Zaret’s agenda.

Several faculty members are concerned Bertenthal’s mid-semester resignation could be a distraction.

“The faculty is very unsettled by the speed and time at which this was done,” Lucaites said. “When the faculty is anxious, it makes it harder to do their jobs.”

Hanson said there is never a good time to carry out drastic changes such as this because the administrative year is really 12 months long. But this week seemed to be a strategically good time.

“A number of things just concluded and a number of things, including budget construction for the next year, are about to begin,” Hanson said.

Zaret, an IU faculty member since 1977, will take over as interim dean until a replacement can be found. Hanson said a faculty committee will conduct the search that will likely take a year.

She said the goal during Zaret’s tenure is stability, acknowledging the fears of many faculty members.

“Zaret spoke strongly about moving forward, the watch word being continuity,” Lucaites said, “I guess moving forward sounds good.”

 

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