Search for new Child Development Center director raises concerns among faculty

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A contentious nine-month search for the new director of the Child Development Center (CDC) on campus officially came to a close April 17, when Director of Human Resources (HR) Danita Maxwell announced via email that Laura Drew would take over the center beginning May 3. Drew, a 23-year professional with experience at a center similar to CDC, is a qualified candidate. But the hiring process illuminates a deficient communication between HR and faculty.

The CDC cares for up to 42 children, ages two to five, whose parents are part- or full-time college employees, alumni or residents of the surrounding community.

The search began over the summer when previous director Tamara Woolery retired after 23 years of service. The search was projected to take three months but was extended when community members began to raise concerns over the adequacy of the search committee and process. HR posted the position in September and then stopped the process after receiving complaints.

When news broke that the faculty representatives were two cisgendered white women with little experience in early childhood development, forgoing the expertise of early childhood development scholars on campus, complaints continued to mount, according to associate professor of Critical Theory and Social Justice Mary Christianakis.

Woolery gave notice of her retirement in July. HR met with the Position Review Committee (PRC) in August to discuss how to replace the position and if any changes to the position should be made, which is standard procedure when employees leave the school, according to Maxwell. The committee is made up of Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Amos Himmelstein, Associate Vice President of Budget Kristi Allen, Chief of Administrative Affairs Marsha Schnirring, Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Kerry Thompson and Maxwell.

Faculty approached Faculty Council (FC) to request faculty representation in the committee, a request which FC then passed on to HR in late August, according to FC president Anthony Chase. HR asked FC to nominate two faculty representatives to the committee. FC submitted its nominations by mid-September. They nominated professor of biology Amanda Zellmer and professor of economics Kirsten Wandschneider.

FC member and professor of economics Bevin Ashenmiller explained that FC meets over the summer to assign faculty to committees based on their requests. By the time FC was asked to submit faculty nominations for the CDC search, many faculty members had already been assigned to committees. This fall, Occidental conducted two searches simultaneously for major campus positions, vice president for student affairs and dean of the college, and vice president for academic affairs, which required large committees for review.

With many faculty members already assigned to committees and a significant number on leave for the semester, Ashenmiller said FC made their nominations based on availability. According to Ashenmiller, FC decided that it would make sense to pick a representative who had used the center and one who had chosen not to, out of the available faculty. Professor Zellmer had sent one child to the CDC and has another on the way, according to Ashenmiller. Professor Wandschneider, who runs the informal Occidental professor moms group, of which Ashenmiller is a member, chose not to enroll her child in the CDC.

According to Christianakis, numerous faculty with relevant expertise were available and even requested to be on the committee, starting in September. Christianakis herself is an editor of “Teacher Education Quarterly,” an international journal, and recipient of the 2012 Alan C. Purves Award for her article, “Children’s Text Development: Drawing, Pictures, and Writing,” recognizing scholarly work that has the potential to make the most impact on practice. Professor of Latino/a and Latin American Studies Jaclyn Rodriguez, an expert in social psychology and inclusive pedagogy practices, was also available.

Ashenmiller said she was not aware of any early childhood experts on campus when FC submitted its nominations.

After the first call was posted, faculty representatives on the search committee decided they needed more information about what qualities faculty and staff wanted in the new CDC director. They then pushed to create a survey to send to the community to collect this information, according to Ashenmiller. This extra step contributed to the delay of the search.

“I thought [the survey HR sent out] was asking strange and inadequate questions because the questions were not informed by research on childhood development,” Christianakis said. “They just seemed odd and bureaucratic to me and focused on the management and running of the center and not on child development.”

HR posted the second call for the position in November. The main difference between the calls was the addition of a preferred qualifications section, which included skills such as “experience with infant care, with a range of child development,” and “ability to foster a safe and warm environment and to work within a diverse community.”

“There’s nowhere in the document that diversity appears other than at the very last point of the preferred skills, like ability to work with diverse families. That’s it,” Christianakis said. “Then they use diversity to say diversity of abilities. That’s not what any childhood expert would say. They’d say ‘range of abilities, different abilities.’ It’s like just throw diversity in to sprinkle it in to make it appear.”

According to Christianakis, she and several other early childhood scholars on campus were recommended to be on the committee through this survey, but these recommendations were ignored.

“Over the years, I had been having conversations with Veitch about [building] a lab school with the child development center, a research place where students could take a class of mine for example and we would do language analysis, etc.,” Christanakis said. “He was supportive of that and he connected me to Maxwell and said let’s see what we can do.”

By the time Christianakis and Maxwell met in March, Maxwell had asked Ashenmiller if she would also join the search committee, to which Ashenmiller agreed.

“The search went really long and the other search [I was on] ended by the time this person asked me [to join the CDC search],” Ashenmiller said. “Also the head of the search [Maxwell] was like, ‘I feel like your voice is helpful because you have a different perspective than the two other people on.’ ”

According to Christianakis, Maxwell told Christianakis during their meeting that all three faculty members had been chosen by FC and that nobody had recommended her as an expert.

Sociology professor Richard Mora felt that the members chosen for the CDC search committee were not representative of the faculty as a whole. He highlighted the lack of representation of women of color and of male faculty as well.

“I just think it becomes important to have different points of view because, especially when you think about what goes into raising children, what goes into developing children’s character or academic development, there’s the academic expertise but there’s also people who have cultural ideas or have other insight,” Mora said.

FC puts together most search committees in July, with the expectation of ad hoc committees throughout the year. Almost all parties agreed that there is room for improvement in the communication and processes between FC and HR. For one, there is no protocol for when staff positions require faculty representation, which Ashenmiller would like to see in the future. Ashenmiller also said she wished the process for CDC search had begun earlier, so FC could elect representatives in when faculty members weren’t so busy, while two other major searches were ongoing.

According to Chase, regular faculty governance has evolved over the years and he is satisfied with the process. Yet, he recognizes that there is room for improvement when it comes to shared governance.

“It’s really in these issues of where there’s an interplay between the administration and faculty — where the administration basically is running the process and we want our voices to be heard,” Chase said. “I think we are doing better but I think this is clearly an example of a case where there should’ve been more consultation and more of a process from the very beginning.”

According to Ashenmiller, FC does not have a list of faculty expertise on campus. Going forward, such a reference could help streamline the process by which FC nominates appropriate representatives.

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