UM System President Mun Choi, in response to mathematics education scholars from around the country, last week affirmed MU leaders’ decision to remove Kathryn Chval as dean of the College of Education.
A letter calling for Chval to be reinstated as dean, signed by 61 professors and academic leaders in her field of study, also requested a review of “broader concerns about campus climate at MU” and cited an “authoritarian approach” by top campus leaders.
In two responses to the letter, Choi affirmed that Chval’s removal would not be reversed and said he believed “significant performance improvements” are needed within MU’s College of Education.
Sent to Choi, the UM Board of Curators, MU Provost Latha Ramchand and the MU Faculty Council, the letter made several demands of MU leadership:
- Reinstate Chval as dean at the College of Education.
- Investigate events that led to her removal as dean.
- Review for any bias or retaliation within Chval’s dismissal process.
- Talk with Chval regarding the state of top university leadership.
- Review Chval’s record of leadership both at and outside MU.
- Talk with former MU administrators who recently departed MU and whose “untimely departures could shed light on the broader concerns about campus climate.”
Chval had no comment when contacted by the Missourian on Thursday. MU spokesperson Liz McCune confirmed the correspondence Thursday.
Both the letter and Choi’s response cited a number of metrics and statistics in reference to Chval’s leadership.
Her colleagues called Chval’s leadership “exemplary,” citing her positions on national committees, research and recruitment efforts. Their letter pointed to an increased national ranking for the MU college, increased enrollment, leadership awards and her role in university search committees.
Most prominently, it referenced increased recruitment and retention rates among faculty of color. During Chval’s tenure as dean, the percentage of tenure-track faculty from underrepresented groups at the College of Education tripled to 34%, according to the letter.
Choi pointed to other factors in his response, including a number of statistics that he said would “clarify the performance in diversity and inclusion for MU and the College of Education” in recent years. Several of them were related to faculty recruitment and retention from 2016 to 2019, during which tenured or tenure-track faculty from underrepresented minority groups increased 26% at MU.
During that period, Choi said, “the College of Education didn’t see an increase in the total number of Black/African-American/Hispanic/Latinx tenured/tenure-track faculty.” McCune confirmed that statistic.
Other statistics shared by Choi referenced students within the college from 2015 to 2019:
- The percentage of Black or African American undergraduate students did not increase in the College of Education, remaining constant at 38%.
- The number of Hispanic or Latinx undergraduate students increased from 29 to 39 in the college.
- The six-year graduation rate for Black or African American students decreased from 63% to 50% in the college.
“With the strong, nurturing and focused leadership of Dr. Erica Lembke, interim Dean in the College of Education, we will actually realize our goals to significantly recruit and retain underrepresented minority students and faculty, significantly grow AAU Phase I research and place an important focus on teaching excellence,” Choi said.
Among the letter’s criticisms of MU leadership was the citation of the university’s “best interest” in removing Chval, as well as Choi’s recent comments discouraging internal dissent by university employees and administrators.
“The President’s and the Provost’s critiques regarding Dr. Chval’s leadership not serving the ‘best interest’ of the university are unfounded,” the letter read. “The continued insistence of silence by the President raises further questions about ‘whose interests’ are being served by her removal.”
Choi has frequently cited the “best interest” of MU to defend decisions that were criticized by MU faculty, staff and students, including a refusal to remove a Thomas Jefferson statue on campus. In a July 7 meeting with MU College of Education faculty, the phrase prompted a tense exchange with a faculty member, who called it “racially coded” in reference to Chval’s support among faculty of color in the college. Choi has said the phrase has “nothing to do with race.”
McCune said Choi has never “insisted on silence,” calling it a “narrative driven by some recent press accounts and others.” She affirmed his support for free speech rights and a goal of meeting with a variety of campus stakeholders.
“He is also a vigorous supporter of the university, and it is his right and responsibility to encourage leaders, staff, faculty and students to find positive rather than destructive ways to achieve progress and change at the university,” McCune said.
The letter also called MU’s diversity and inclusion efforts into question, suggesting that in the wake of virtual student protests and concerns in recent months, campus leaders’ decision-making should be reviewed.
“Given vocal student-led protests on social media and in the Missourian related to MU’s continued legacy of systemic racism, we believe the (UM) Board of Curators’ attention would be better focused on the track records of (UM) System President and Interim Chancellor Mun Y. Choi, and the MU Provost Latha Ramchand,” the letter read.
McCune said Choi and Ramchand “have demonstrated their commitments to diversity and equity, community engagement and strong, decisive leadership” through conversations and initiatives on campus.
In a brief, initial response to the letter at 9:36 p.m. July 21, Choi thanked the professor who sent the letter and affirmed that Chval would not be reinstated. He copied Ramchand and UM System Deputy General Counsel Paul Maguffee in his response.
“I do appreciate your support for Dr. Chval,” Choi wrote. “There are many good reasons for our decision for the dismisssal and the decision will not be reversed.”
About an hour later, Choi replied again, this time copying a number of others: the Board of Curators, Ramchand, Maguffee, MU Faculty Council Chairs Clark Peters and John Middleton, interim College of Education Dean Erica Lembke, UM Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Kamrhan Farwell and Media Relations Director Christian Basi.
“Given the deep concerns that you shared about Dr. Chval’s dismissal ... I feel that you and your colleagues deserve more than a perfunctory response,” Choi said. “I don’t agree with your conjecture that the UM top leadership is authoritarian. I’m sure you’ll agree that you and your colleagues are not privy to the important issues that informed our decision. Unfortunately, I can’t and I won’t go into the details, but I stand firmly on the decision for the dismissal and Dr. Chval will not be reinstated.”