‘Connell Hall simply feels wrong in her absence’

Derek Pufahl, Staff Writer

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.”