Students rally today for dismissed professor

Derek Pufahl, Staff Writer

A peaceful protest has been organized in support of Dr. Karen Walker, the tenured Wayne State College psychology professor, who—according to several sources—has been dismissed as an employee at WSC.

Political Science Club president Nate Neary, a junior political science major, coordinated the protest with dean of students Jeff Carstens. The event is scheduled for this afternoon (Oct. 28) at 4 p.m. in the Student Center Plaza (between Bowen Hall and the Student Center) and will be an open mic event for students and faculty to share stories, give testimonials and provide support for Walker.

“In nearly four decades on Wayne State’s faculty, I’ve never before heard of campus security escorting a tenured professor off campus,” associate professor and faculty senate member J.V. Brummels said on Tuesday. “In fact, I don’t know of a single incident that bears any resemblance to the case on this campus or any other. Certainly, the treatment of Dr. Walker is unprecedented.”

Walker’s employment status still has not been clarified to the Wayne Stater by either administration members or the human resources department. Both have responded to inquiries by stating that the issue is a “personnel matter,” or that it “cannot be discussed at this time.”

The uniqueness of the entire situation has probed a lot of student and faculty discussion about the way things are being handled.

“The theory I keep hearing among the faculty,” Brummels said, “is that this is a vendetta by the vice president of academic affairs who wanted to be [college] president and he blamed Mark.”

Brummels is referring to Walker’s husband, Dr. Mark Leeper, who was the faculty senate president last semester. Brummels said the problem goes back to last spring semester and involves a letter that the WSC faculty senate members sent to the Nebraska State College System (NSCS) Board of Trustees in January, which proposed three resolutions. The resolutions dealt with opening communication between the college faculty and the system office; one resolution also mandated that faculty members be permitted to keep their tenured status when accepting a dean’s position.

The letter was sent with unanimous senate approval. Included in the letter was a statement saying that administration also approved of the proposal.

The resolutions were ultimately denied by the NSCS Board in February.

“The story I heard,” Brummels said, “was that after that, the vice president of academic affairs left a long message on Mark’s machine and then later Mark was confronted by a very angry vice president in the foyer of Connell Hall.

“After this blow up, Karen Walker was upset and expressed it to the VPAA. Then the administration weight was on her. She raised her voice in a department meeting, and the axe fell.

“I have been in faculty or department meetings where people raise their voices more times than I can count,” Brummels said. “Remember that education can become a pressure cooker. If we remove that, it would form a college where people are afraid to raise their voices. It would create a passionless education. I don’t believe that to be an education at all.”

When asked for an interview to discuss the events leading up to Walker’s dismissal, the vice president of academic affairs, Michael Anderson, said that he could not discuss it at this time.

Neary came to the desk of Carstens in representation of a group of students who care about Walker in an effort to set up a rally.

“Jeff Carstens was really encouraging and showed support,” Neary said. “He brought up a discussion about what students think about what’s happening, you know, and I told him they’re confused, and worried about the quality of education they’re getting now without Walker.”

All of Walker’s courses are being covered by different instructors at this time. Carstens said that students are being offered a free refund for the courses they were taking with Walker if they choose to withdraw from their class. Any assignments that students had handed into Walker, prior to her dismissal, that hadn’t been graded yet, will simply be given an “A” now that a different instructor has taken over.

Carstens said that while he has no opinion or comment regarding Walker’s employment status, he does value freedom of speech and encourages students to express their views and opinions in a manner that is responsible and consistent with college regulations.

Neary, with the help of other supporters, has posted a number of flyers around campus promoting the open-mic event. However, not long after putting the flyers up, Neary said someone had taken them. All of them.

“I don’t know if someone was just following me around and picking them up as I posted them, or what,” Neary said.

“We really don’t have a lot of restrictions on what students put on bulletin boards,” student activities director Christy Fiske said. “As long it’s not something really vulgar with a lot of language or nudity, all students have to do is come to the office, ask for permission. I’ll look at the flyer and say, ‘Sounds great! Have fun with your bake sale!’ or whatever is.

“We only gather up flyers after the date of an event has come and gone. So I don’t know what happened to them.”

Senior criminal justice major Faith Sheldon set up an event for the open-mic event saying, “They can take our flyers, but they can’t easily silence social media.”

The event was posted in an online Facebook group named, “Support Dr. Karen Walker,” which has gathered 241 members. The group’s administrators are Collen Hupke, Linda Marie Tighe and Lucas Sutton.

“Dr. Walker’s passion and never ending desire to challenge, as well as motivate her students, is what makes her a special educator,” Lucas Sutton, a WSC alumnus who graduated in political science, said. “She goes out of her way to make the campus community a better place, and losing a professor of her quality seems to me the opposite of what WSC should want.”

“If there’s anything worth fighting about. It’s this right here,” Neary said. “This is not a ‘personnel’ issue. It affects the student body. It sets a precedent for this to happen to anybody—a graduate assistant or faculty member with a less established career.”

Neary has been on the dean’s list for two years and he said it’s because of the encouraging support shown him by Walker.

“I took general psychology with her my freshman year, and I wasn’t going to classes, I missed tests,” Neary said. “Halfway through I went to her and asked if there was anything I could do. She said if you’re willing to work hard and start coming to class, then I’ll be willing to walk through this with you. And that’s what she did. I didn’t get a perfect grade, but I passed. And that stuck with me—working hard—it’s the reason why I’m on the dean’s list.”

According to the dismissal procedure outlined in article 17 of the SCEA Union Agreement between WSC faculty and the Nebraska State College System (NSCS), the college president shall notify the faculty member in a written letter whenever a recommendation has been made by the vice president of academic affairs for a faculty member to be dismissed from employment.

The contract further states that a faculty member being dismissed should state in written reply to the president within no more than ten business days after receipt of the president’s letter whether he or she wishes a hearing regarding the proposed dismissal action.

If a written request for a hearing is made, the president shall refer the proposed dismissal to an “advisory committee” for a hearing and recommendation.

The advisory committee is to consist of two tenured faculty members chosen by the local SCEA Union president and two tenured faculty members chosen by the President.

WSC’s SCEA president, Tami Worner, said that two tenured faculty members have been chosen, but their names are not to be disclosed.

The date and time for the hearing is decided by the president. This should be sometime in early November, because the hearing should be conducted within 30 business days of the request for a hearing.

After the hearing, the advisory committee will give its written recommendation to the faculty member, and the president within ten business days after the hearing.

Within ten business days after receiving the recommendation from the advisory committee, the president will decide how to proceed.

A petition started by psychology major Susan Westerhaus, which currently stands at 75 signatures, the “Support Dr. Karen Walker” Facebook group, the protest this afternoon– all are attempts by students and faculty to influence the president into deciding that the dismissal is unjust and that Walker should be brought back to campus.

According to the contract, if, after the hearing and the president’s decision, the faculty member being dismissed is not satisfied, a written request can be made to the chancellor of the NSCS, Stan Carpenter, for a hearing before the Board of Trustees.