October 1, 2002

Dean Lewis Explains Resignation in Letter to College Faculty

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Philip Lewis, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, speculated about the reasons he was asked to resign last July in a Sept. 12 letter to arts college faculty.

Lewis, who has served as dean for seven years, agreed to resign, effective June 30 of next year. He notified faculty and staff of his decision on July 29.

“I offer my account of the problems and tensions solely for the purpose of improving our prospects for a building a positive consensus about the mission of future college administration and deans,” he wrote.

“Those faculty who have had a reaction have thanked me for laying out the issues that the faculty has reason to be interested in,” he said in an interview with The Sun. “No one has confronted me yet with any claims that I have distorted the facts.”

“It was the position of many people that he write it so they could have a better understanding of what had happened,” said Prof. Barry Carpenter, chair of chemistry. “It was not a universal request though.”

According to Lewis, brief disagreements between him and University officials last year concerning his skeptical attitude toward the arts college’s future may have contributed to Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin and President Hunter R. Rawlings’ III decision to ask him to resign.

In particular, Martin objected to Lewis’ emphasis on problems between the University and college administrations in a letter to the Arts and Sciences Advisory Council last October, according to Lewis.

“Although the ensuing feud was brief and the truce we then reached was amicable, I now surmise that the letter and [Martin’s] objections to it constitute the most telling background to her decision to have me step down.”

Another source of contention between Lewis and the administration concerns divergent views on funding for social sciences, according to Lewis. Lewis said he supports improving the strength of traditional disciplines.

“It is clear that my espousal of a traditional realism differs significantly from the provost’s call for a visionary academic agenda generative of new initiatives,” he wrote in the letter.

Lewis also cited disagreements in the area of undergraduate admissions, financial aid and athletics as possible reasons for Martin and Rawlings’ decision to have him step down.

At the beginning of his deanship, Lewis withdrew arts college support for a university-wide plan that would have allocated a certain number of admissions each year to the Dean of Admissions and the Athletics Director.

“At the time, our admissions professionals and I concluded that, on principle, we should not surrender authority over decisions that we exercise on behalf of the faculty and with faculty participation to parties external to the college,” Lewis wrote.

Earlier this year, according to Lewis, Martin told him about the Board of Trustees’ complaints about the college’s stance toward recruitment of athletes.

Rawlings and Martin did not ask Lewis to resign because he disagreed with them over matters of policy, according to Martin.

“I do not believe the interests of either the college or the University are well served by my assessment of the accuracy of his perspectives,” she said. “All our deans express their views with passion and conviction. Our decision came after lengthy deliberations and a conclusion, made with great reluctance, that the working relationship between [Lewis] and the University administrators had broken down and that the breakdown was irreparable.”

A search committee to find a new dean, headed by Martin, began meeting last month.

“The search is moving along expeditiously,” Martin said. “The search committee has already had four meetings and is making excellent progress.”

Lewis became acting dean of the college in July 1995 and was named to serve a five-year term as dean in July 1996. After taking a leave next year, Lewis plans on returning to the faculty in the department of romance studies.

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin