Provost Not Applauded

Carl Brooks

A terse and iron-jawed Paul Fonteyn has quashed any hope that the College of Public and Community Service might have had to return Professor Ismael Ramirez-Soto to his former position as Dean of the college, even as an interim dean.

In a hastily convened meeting with the college, Provost Fonteyn told CPCS that it was in deep trouble and that the time had come for “a new direction”

He also heard the recommendation by CPCS’s Policy Board that Ramirez-Soto serve as interim dean while a new dean is found, and categorically refused to consider the possibility, saying, ” We are not adding him to the list [of candidates]. He was offered the contract and he turned it down. It’s over. We are moving on.”

The provost, taking a stern tone and speaking bluntly as he opened the meeting, was critical on several fronts. He sharply criticized the college’s admission and retention rates and indicated that CPCS’s budget was out of line with other colleges on the UMass Boston Campus.

Saying, “It doesn’t come as any surprise to anyone that [CPCS] has a severe retention problem,” Provost Fonteyn noted that the college’s enrollment had dropped from 1043 in 1993 to 669 in 2002. He compared the student/ faculty rate, which is 9:1 at CPCS, with the campus average, 18:1 and pointed out that CPCS has the lowest retention of freshman students, at 60%, well behind the average for the campus, 72%

He was critical of the amount of money CPCS spent, saying that the college spent $7372 per student, more than any other college, because they had so few students. By comparison, the College of Nursing spends $6632 and the College of Arts and Sciences spends $4000 per student. He said that this was unfair to other colleges with much higher enrollments and that other colleges had been complaining to him.

Provost Fonteyn, “I have colleges out there saying, ‘our enrollment is going up, other colleges’ are going down and why aren’t you adjusting things according to enrollment?'” He did not specify which administrations had been complaining.

The provost was also determined to see the end of the controversy surrounding former Dean Ramirez-Soto, saying, ” I think we need to move forward. For those determined to live in the past, I’m not going to work with them.” He promised to appoint an interim dean by Oct 1 and said he would look for someone committed to “turning this bad boy around.”

Reaction among the CPCS staffers at the meeting was heated and emotional and many people took the opportunity to ask pointed questions of the provost, repeatedly bringing up the unpopular termination of Dean Ramirez-Soto. Touching off the brouhaha in early September, Ramirez-Soto did not accept the contract offered to him by the administration, saying that it was “totally unacceptable” and citing the lack of a clause that allowed him to be dean without tenure.

All deans either have tenure or are offered tenure. The controversy was intense, with CPCS feeling like it was under attack by the administration and that the removal of their very popular administrator was an attempt to find someone whoa would, as Marie Kennedy, assistant dean of CPCS, put it “do their bidding.” Provost Fonteyn repeated that the administration had offered Ramirez-Soto, “the exact it contract that was offered all the deans” and “we think it is a much more sound way of doing business.”

Speaking with finality, the provost also said, “we offer the ability to get tenure based on people’s prior academic credentials.” Ramirez-Soto holds a J.D and a degree in education, but has spent his career as an administrator, and not a professor or researcher, and based on the inflexible standards laid out by the provost, it is unlikely that Ramirez-Soto would meet those standards for tenure. He would not have been eligible to continue as dean, and would have had to leave CPCS after 2 years.

This is why the contract was deemed unacceptable; Ramirez-Soto’s last contract with then-Chancellor Sherry Penney had included a special section that allowed Ramirez-Soto to return to the faculty and seek a position that would eventually offer him tenure. Ramirez-Soto is a member of the faculty at CPCS and likely to remain so, but there was no word on whether or not he will be able to get into a tenure track position.

The meeting quickly slid into resentment and hostility as one after another of the CPCS staffers stood up to defend the college. One staffer got up to say that the provost shouldn’t blame Ramirez-Soto for failings of the administration, “You have a problem as provost, [Chancellor Gora] has a problem as chancellor!”

“I’m not reacting to you as a person, I’m reacting emotionally.”

One young woman asked sarcastically, “I suppose you communicated to [Ismael] about what he needed to do… and he communicated to you about the plan that was in action,” and pointed out that CPCS had offered a strategy to the provost’s office a year ago to help fix some of the college’s problems.

Other people noted that CPCS had been trying to address its problems to the administration, including many problems with the Admissions Office, for some time, and the Ramirez-Soto had submitted a plan and got no response for the administration. David Rubin, retired Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at CPCS said, “We met with you last November concerning our problems and our solutions.” The provost engendered a gale of laughter when he admitted that he did not recognize Rubin.

Drawing grumbles from the crowd, Provost Fonteyn said that he couldn’t engage with the dean without a contract, and that negotiations had gone on for “some time.”

Many in CPCS felt that the admissions office was a large part of their problem. One teacher said, “It is well-known that the practice of the Admission’s Office is to steer students away from CPCS. I’ve had students who tried to enroll in CPCS and were told not to.” and claimed to have detailed affidavits of students who had “no clue that CPCS existed.”

The meeting ended abruptly as Provost Fonteyn was once again pressed on accepting Ramirez-Soto as interim dean. The provost bluntly dismissed the recommendation that Ramirez-Soto be interim dean, and stood up to go. A staffer rushed up to the provost, startling him slightly, and pressed a copy of the CPCS’s Policy Board into his hand, evoking echoes of political protest.

After the meeting, Terry McLarney was as blunt as the provost, “I don’t think he said anything that satisfied our concerns.” McLarney added that the provost hadn’t said anything to reassure CPCS, and that the atmosphere among the CPCS staffers was not likely to improve.

“What happens when there is no clear signal to people that the worst is not over?” he wondered.