What's Up at UNM?
OK, so I heard last year that the University of New Mexico was having a difficult time, but I didn’t notice it was THIS big of a deal. So, here’s the question: what would you do if one of the faculty members of an MFA program that you taught in showed up in some sort of suggestive sadomasochism photos on a local “meet and greet” website?
Just for the sake of argument, so one can get a better idea of what the offense is, let’s say THIS is the website (adult content!), because, well it was:
PeopleExchangingPower S&M website
What would you do? What should you do?
Now let’s see what they all did:
Here’s the headline: “English professor resigns over administration's actions.” And guess what, it’s NOT the prof you think it is!
By: Maggie Ybarra
Creative writing professor Joy Harjo has resigned amid rumors that strife between the department's faculty and senior administrators cannot be resolved.
Harjo, the University's only Joseph Russo Endowed Professor, said her resignation was a result of the administration's decision to retain associate professor Lisa Chavez.
Pictures of Chavez posing with one of her students on a sadomasochism Web site were discovered in spring 2007.
Chavez could not be reached for comment.
Diane Thiel, associate professor in the English department, said Harjo's resignation is an incalculable loss to the University.
"The administration's mishandling of the very serious matter regarding professor Lisa Chavez and apparent ignoring of at least eight formal student letters reporting mistreatment has created a learning and work environment that is untenable for numerous faculty and students," Thiel said. "Faculty and students have resigned and left UNM over this and will likely continue to. The recent resignation of Joy Harjo, arguably the most well-known Native American poet in the world, highlights the seriousness of the situation, many details of which have yet to be reported to the media."
Harjo said Chavez was retained as a University employee because administrators were afraid of a lawsuit and wanted to keep the problem quiet.
Harjo said she could not continue to work in a program "that has been so deeply compromised" and that she didn't trust the University to uphold the rights of its students and faculty.
"The Chavez-and-students sex-site debacle was mishandled," Harjo said. "Because of this, the creative writing program lost face and credibility locally and nationally. Those of us - a majority of the creative writing program - who pushed for a proper ethics investigation based on policies already in place were retaliated against for speaking up. This whole situation could have been handled in a way that was respectful to all parties. As it is, only the rights of one person was considered."
Julie Shigekuni, director of creative writing, did not return phone calls Monday, but on Nov. 3, Shigekuni sent an e-mail to faculty members and creative writing students that said the creative writing faculty "voted to move forward immediately with a job search for a new assistant professor in poetry."
However, the position's job description says candidates seeking employment at UNM as a tenure-track faculty member must be able to start in August of 2009.
The teaching load is two courses per semester, and qualified applicants should have obtained their master's or higher, have experience teaching poetry and possess a significant record of being published.
The job description was drawn up the same week President David Schmidly declared a hiring freeze.
Susan McKinsey, spokeswoman for the University, said the hiring freeze can be broken and exceptions might be made when it comes to certain types of faculty hires.
"There are some positions for every department that are considered crucial," McKinsey said. "So … they ask for an exception from the provost," McKinsey said.
Professor Sharon Warner, former director of creative writing, said Harjo's resignation will leave a huge dent in the already crumbling infrastructure of the department, no matter who is selected to take her place.
Warner resigned from her position as creative writing director in March, and she said she requested a sabbatical because the University's investigation into Chavez's actions was insufficient.
Warner said Harjo is departing for the same reasons.
"The University has made a large number of mistakes in the investigation of this situation," Warner said. "And they've done such a poor job of it that they've now backed themselves into a corner."
Harjo said she did not resign to pursue another job.
She said she requested a severance package because she resigned under duress but that her request was denied.
"I have no plans at this time to join any other University," Harjo said. "In the spirit of the teachings of the Mvskoke people, I will continue forward and carry with me only that which nourishes."
Richard Holder, deputy provost of Academic Affairs, said Harjo did not need a severance package and would be compensated by receiving pay for the spring semester.
"Faculty members are under contract for a nine-month period, and under her standing work agreement, she doesn't teach a class anyway the second half of the first semester and all of the second semester, and so she is keeping her employment with the University until the contract period is over in May of 2009, and so we felt that was sufficient," Holder said.
Harjo said the pay was insufficient.
“I’m suffering a great loss from losing this job. I’m suffering several years of loss,” Harjo said. “It was a hard decision to make when you look at economic times and the strain of being an artist. They didn't give me anything extra. That was nothing extra. That was the year that I was paid for.”
Harjo said she wouldn't have left the University if Chavez had been dismissed.
Holder said the University had no plans to terminate or reinvestigate Chavez.
“Lisa Chavez remains an employee of the University and a professor of the English department where she has tenure, and the University is not planning to contest her tenure in any way, and if that was a part of Joy Harjo’s reason for resigning, I think we regret that,” Holder said. “I think we would like to say that we very much regret her loss. She was a valuable member of our faculty.”
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So anyway, THAT seems to be quite the place to be these days. Possible new slogan for their MFA program: Putting the FUN in dysfunction: UNM!
But really. Harjo resigns because the university didn’t fire Chavez? Warner resigns her directorship because the university didn’t fire Chavez?
So what would I do? I’ve no idea. I don’t know the history of these people, but from what I’ve read, I don’t think I’d do much. This barely raises my pulse. Am I jaded?
With all I've read so far, I still can’t figure out why Harjo would take it upon herself to resign over it. If she was really interested in the atmosphere and the students, for instance, then it would seem this would be the last thing she would or should do. Resigning just made it that much bigger of a story. And resigning left her students there without her. And what kind of a workplace is it now for the faculty?
My guess is that Chavez won't be there much longer. A little rebuilding will be underway.