Tripod Examines Progress on President’s Special Opportunity Hires

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Brendan W. Clark ’21


Trinity’s faculty Educational Policy Committee (EPC) and the College’s senior academic administration have met over the summer to consider the apportioning of new faculty seats for several “Special Opportunity Hires.” The Tripod examined faculty involvement in this hiring process, among several objectives outlined by President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney in response to demands by student activists in June over ongoing incidents of unrest and discontent over racism and discrimination at Trinity.  

The special opportunity hires “will be for diverse faculty members, including members of underrepresented groups,” Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Sonia Cardenas told the Tripod in July. Berger-Sweeney also told the Tripod that the positions would be reserved to “increase our faculty diversity.” This amounts to eighteen estimated positions—six each year, appointed over three years—based on the July email from Berger-Sweeney. 

It was not immediately clear when the College expected to begin the hiring process, though an email from Cardenas to faculty in late June noted that it will occur in the 2020-2021 academic year while a general hiring freeze remains in place over new faculty positions. Interim Chair of the EPC and Associate Professor of Mathematics Paula Russo explained to the Tripod that the EPC is generally responsible for determining the allocation of open lines across departments at the College and “carefully reviews” proposals brought by department and program chairs. 

Eighteen new positions, “preferably at the senior/tenured level” per Berger-Sweeney’s email, could constitute a formal increase in the size of the faculty under the Stewart Amendment, a provision in the Faculty Manual which affords the faculty oversight in the process of increasing faculty size. The Stewart Amendment would require a vote of the faculty to authorize the EPC to begin a “formal inquiry” and would require a subsequent vote to change its size as part of a two-step approval process. The Amendment, which originally arose in response to an attempt by the College administration to eliminate the Education Department in the late 1970s, does have a caveat in that faculty approval of a formal inquiry is only “normally” required.

The Tripod spoke with Faculty Secretary and Associate Professor of Economics Mark Stater, who stated that the increase in hires may require a vote, “depending on if the number of hires available in a given year exceeds the number of Special Opportunity Hires.” Stater, referencing the “normally” term of the Stewart Amendment, added that the EPC could be “granted an exception” and have the “formal inquiry requirement waived” if applied for. Cardenas, in her June email, added that positions will be apportioned “consistent with the process outlined in the Faculty Manual for Special Opportunity Hires.” 

While the EPC is responsible for bring recommendations on the apportioning of positions across departments, the “Dean of the Faculty makes the final decision” and may “replace one or more of the positions recommended by the EPC” with another, added Russo. The College’s senior administration has not signaled where they expect to allocate existing positions. 

Stater noted that while he had not received any notice of an intent by the EPC to begin a formal inquiry or bring a vote, the faculty “would entertain a motion if it came through the proper channels.” For an increase to be successful, 60% approval would be required. 

Russo told the Tripod that her understanding of the Stewart Amendment, per the Faculty Manual, requires that “any recommendations for overall changes in the size of the Faculty, or for (other) substantial changes in the educational policy of the College, must be approved by the Faculty.” Still, Russo noted that the EPC has “not yet had a formal discussion about increasing the size of the faculty” and added that such decisions of allocation and timeline were among those topics that the “committee will be considering” over the course of the next year. 

Special Opportunity Hire positions will not be the only positions considered over the coming year. Four previously authorized but unfilled positions will be advertised, according to Stater and Cardenas’ June email. While the College did institute a hiring freeze in response to the coronavirus, Stater noted that the “EPC will be allocating some open positions to departments” that had previously been applied for, but those positions will not be “hired this upcoming year.” 

The senior administration declined to outline to the Tripod in August what criteria would be used in their hiring process, though Russo clarified that the hiring criteria is an administrative decision and that others “determine whether the candidate meets the goals of the College.” The Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion also “makes a recommendation as to how well the proposed candidate meets the College’s goals for diversity,” Russo added. Recommendations on faculty appointments are ultimately extended from the College’s Appointments and Promotions Committee to the Dean of the Faculty. 

Cardenas—in her June email—added that “students of color will be included in the nomination process.” It was not immediately clear whether students would be appointed or if an invitation  to participate would be extended to certain community members as part of the process.


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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