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‘Connell Hall simply feels wrong in her absence’

Derek Pufahl, Staff Writer

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A petition with 61 names was circulating late Tuesday afternoon in psychology classesm, throughout Connell Hall and around campus in a effort to bring back Dr. Karen Walker, a well-respected WSC psychology professor.

Walker was seen being accompanied off campus by a campus security officer on Oct. 5, according to unnamed witnesses.

On Oct. 6, students who were enrolled in Walker’s psychology classes received an e-mail from the dean of the School of Natural and Social Sciences, Dr. Tammy Evetovich, which stated that due to “unforeseen circumstances,” their classes would be canceled until Monday, Oct. 12.

“This is a personnel issue,” Campus Security Manager Jason Mrsny said in an e-mail. “And any questions are to be directed towards Candace Timmerman, in Human Resources.”

When asked about Walker’s being accompanied off campus and what her current employment status was, WSC’s director of Human Resources, Candace Timmerman, said that it was a personnel matter and could not be discussed.

This past Monday, as psychology students entered room 127 in Connell Hall, everyone was asking the same question:

What happened to Dr. Walker?

“You started off the class with someone else,” associate professor of psychology, Dr. Dan Miller, told the 405 Experimental Psychology class in Connell Hall, “and now you’ve been asked to complete the course with someone else. And I know that’s not good, that’s not ideal, for any of you.”

According to Evetovich, Walker’s classes are being covered by Laurel Krokstrom, who will be receiving her Ph.D in human development and educational psychology from the University of South Dakota in December; Dr. Steve Dinsmore, a professor in the counseling department here at WSC; Dr. Ashley Ridge, an instructor who is familiar with online teaching and has been teaching at Peru State College and Dr. Miller.

But still no one has answered the real question: what happened?

“I am not at liberty to discuss any of this with the press,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Michael Anderson said in an e-mail.

According to WSCEA union president Tami Worner, NSCS union representative Marlene Wehrbein has told all faculty and advisory committee members to avoid saying anything about the matter in public.

“I don’t agree that keeping this under cover is a good thing,” Worner said. “We tell students that when we work through our problems, we learn. So it’s really hard when we can’t do that.”

Worner said that the reason for the silence is to respect the process that is in place for handling the situation.

With this cover on things, nobody wants to talk about what happened, or why Walker is no longer teaching her classes. But a number of Walker’s students are asserting concern.

In the days leading up to Walker’s absence, students could tell that she wasn’t herself.

“Everybody kind of knew something was up,” a senior psychology major, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “You could tell something was bothering her. You could tell she was sad.”

“It sucks,” the PSY 405 student continued. “We have to start from scratch with the work we’ve done over the semester.”

“No matter what happened, I am disappointed that administration decided to act in the middle of the semester,” senior psychology major Annie Kucera said. “I think that the students are feeling like we were not thought about when decisions were made.”

Susan Westerhaus began the petition in her social psychology class. From there, she said, the petition has taken a life of its own.

The head of the petition reads: This is a petition to show solidarity and support for Dr. Walker of the Psychology Dept. We want her back.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to impress the president of the college,” Westerhaus said. “Several students have e-mailed the president with concerns about their classes.

“It keeps gaining signatures and we’re really excited about it. We’re trying to get as many as we possibly can.”

Walker helped a number of students like Kucera with honors class projects, and now those students are having to work with different psychology professors who may not be familiar with the work.

“Dr. Walker’s influence is deeply felt across campus,” said a senior psychology major who also wished to remain anonymous and had Walker as advisor. “This has been an agonizing experience for all of us who love her, along with those who just want to learn from one of the best.

“Connell Hall, in particular, simply feels wrong in her absence.”

 

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5 Comments

5 Responses to “‘Connell Hall simply feels wrong in her absence’”

  1. Bruce Byers Ph.D. on October 19th, 2015 11:01 am

    It was disconcerting to read that a respected faculty member at an increasingly distinguished college was apparently escorted off of the campus, and apparently following conduct so scandalous that two highly unusual actions are being taken. If the article is correct, her review is going to be administrative, and not peer based. In addition, this is being justified by the nature of the action, which is being withheld. As a former associate to the Dean of Academic Affairs at NYU Steinhardt School of Education, I can assure you this treatment suggests the actions were criminal in nature, which is clearly not the case. The actions of any Provost or Academic Affairs office is to ensure measured review by peers that understand the depth and nuance of the academic community, and protect academic values. Instantaneous transfer to administrative review implicates the faculty as guilty of predacious action at complete odds with her scholarship. If unsubstantiated, university deans stand guilty of violation far greater codes of conduct, including proportional discipline (if even warranted) or denial of due process required to be observed in accordance with Wayne State College’s accreditation. This action should be returned to faculty review, lest Wayne State College be placed under deep regional or national scrutiny. I make these statements following consult with former colleagues now at the London School of Economics and Columbia University. Bruce Byers Ph.D.

  2. Glenn Hayslett on October 19th, 2015 2:17 pm

    I am sorry to hear that Dr. Walker has been relieved of her teaching duties. I hope she will have an opportunity to make her case in a process that is fair and transparent.

  3. Amanda Broxterman on October 19th, 2015 3:57 pm

    Many alumni will stand by her too. She impacted many of us and though her we learned why psychology is so amazing. We also learned that being a caringnl, respectable professor can change the life of many people.

  4. Cathy Blaser on October 21st, 2015 1:10 pm

    Stater, letter to the editor:

    As a short introduction, my name is Cathy Blaser and I taught mostly adjunct classes at WSC for about 25 years. My husband Kent Blaser taught there for 30 years, was an administrator for 5, retired as an emeritus faculty member and wrote a history of the college.

    I am watching from a distance the case of the firing of Karen Walker. What seems glaringly obvious to me is that no one is talking, and the faculty is scared. “No comment” on personnel issues seems to be the line of the day. If I were a faculty member at WSC, I’d be asking questions, lots of questions. In a college that prides itself in its teaching and treatment of students, the fact that a tenured professor can be escorted off campus in the middle of the semester is unsettling. It seems that the termination had nothing to do with teaching or treatment of students, but all about administration unhappy with faculty pleading their case to their administration or department.

    I would think that the entire faculty would immediately ask for clarification on this issue. Is this a three strikes and you are out deal? Are there other faculty members with a strike or two against then who may be surprised when security arrives and escorts them off campus? And who makes the call? Is it HR, the Dean, the VPAA? Do any of them do this on their own or do they need all three plus the consent of the president? Does the faculty know who has this power and are they informed of the steps administration is able to take? Is this written out somewhere?

    Who makes the decision that some behavior is fine and other behavior is out of line? Is it the Dean? Is it a fellow department member who is tired of contentious meetings who takes his concerns to the Dean? Are faculty members in some departments allowed contentious meetings and others not or is it standard across the campus what behavior is allowed by the administration and what is not?

    Any campus that embraces heavy handed tactics in dealing with its faculty, the lifeblood of the college, have lost its way. This case screams of an administrative vendetta. It looks bad, it hurts students and it tarnishes the reputation of the college.

  5. Faith on October 21st, 2015 3:43 pm

    Karen is the heart and soul of the Psychology Department. Connell feels tense, isolated, and uncomfortable without her presence. The school hasn’t been transparent with many of its latest issues and this is just another one of those.

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‘Connell Hall simply feels wrong in her absence’