On Tuesday, August 26th—the day before freshman orientation—University Librarian Pat Tully was suddenly and unceremoniously fired. Tully has been at the school since 2004; she began as interm university librarian in 2009, before being promoted to Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian on March 1, 2010.
In an email to the faculty listserv last Tuesday, September 2nd, Tully explains the administrative disagreement behind her firing. As she did not sign any severance contract requiring her silence, we are luckily able to understand her side of the story. This is not a privilege afforded to us or many other teachers and administrators who are let go or fired—especially those who are, by all means, a respected and much-loved part of the school community.
Wesleying has acquired a copy of the letter, which was posted in full online, and has placed it below. We have also confirmed the authenticity of this letter as it was sent to the faculty. The University declined to comment on matters of personnel. Wesleying also reached out to Tully for further comment on the situation, as well as looked into University policy behind employment termination.
We will continue looking into this matter, as well as other recent firings, in the coming days.
Updated (9/9/14 11:04 PM): The email’s authenticity has been confirmed.
Updated (9/9/14 11:18 PM): Corrected dates of employment: Tully began working at Wesleyan in ’04, not ’09.
Updated (9/9/14 11:24 PM): Added full transcription of the email text below.
Updated (9/10/14 12:13 AM): Tully’s letter was sent out on September 2nd, but emailed via another faculty member, as Tully’s Wesleyan email address had been discontinued.
Updated (9/10/14 8:32 AM): After reaching out to the University’s contact for media relations, we were denied comment, with the explanation, “The university doesn’t comment on personnel matters.” This information has been added above.
Updated (9/10/14 10:50 AM): A similar invitation for comment from Ruth Weissman was met with the same response: “In the interest of protecting employees’ privacy, as a matter of principle, we do not comment on personnel matters.”
Updated (9/16/14 1:35 PM): After reaching out to Tully, she clarified some points about her termination, saying that the University “did nothing actionable” in her case due to her “at-will” employee status, although she believes her “long-standing disagreement with the Provost” was the unwritten reason. We have replicated the email, from Monday, September 15th, below.
Thank you for getting in touch with me. In the open letter I pretty much said everything I want to say publicly about the circumstances leading to my termination. My intentions in writing the letter were to describe the termination process as I experienced it, and to point out that there have been other staff who have recently left Wesleyan who may have experienced the same process. As you know, librarians and many other staff and administrators are ‘at-will’ employees, who may be terminated at any time with or without cause. So the University did nothing actionable in my case in terminating my appointment immediately without citing a cause. (Almost certainly the reason for my termination was my long-standing disagreement with the Provost—as mentioned in my letter—but this was not cited as a cause.)
I also hoped to spark a discussion about how termination practices at Wesleyan affect the terminated employee, to be sure, but also the people left behind at the University. Especially in a liberal arts institution like Wesleyan, it is essential to create and foster a community that is safe, open and respectful—not only among students and faculty, but among and between them and staff and administrators at every level in the organization. Such a community is a realization of the liberal arts ideal—a community of free people working toward a common vision and mission. It would be great to have a campus discussion of how to adapt personnel and other practices to better foster this ideal, even if they are not always in line with HR practices elsewhere.
So now you’ve read my complete rant on the subject. That’s all I have to say; I hope it is helpful.
Take care and have a great fall semester!
Tully’s original email:
In recent years brief announcements have been made on the departure of experienced and dedicated Wesleyan staff and administrators. Some have left with no acknowledgement at all. Since I have not promised to stay silent about the circumstances surrounding my departure, I thought I’d let you know what happened, strictly from my point of view.
Since Ruth Weissman’s ascension to VPAA in July of 2013, she and I have disagreed, sometimes sharply, about the role of the University Librarian and the library at Wesleyan. Ruth and I also have very different ideas about how to lead people effectively in an organization. Both of us tried, at various times, to resolve these differences, but our efforts seemed always to be at cross-purposes. On August 21 the situation deteriorated to such an extent that I drafted a letter of resignation, but friends persuaded me not to submit it.
That same day Ruth scheduled a meeting for us on Tuesday, August 26. At the appointed time I arrived at her office, prepared to discuss the latest issue in dispute. Ruth closed the door, saying this would be a short meeting; she was terminating my appointment and someone from Human Resources was in the next office to talk to me. She then ushered me out.
The HR person asked for my keys and ID then walked me to my office in Olin, where I packed up my personal belongings while the HR person explained that I had the option of resigning my position or being terminated. We would meet he next day so I could inform them of my decision. The HR person then helped carry my possessions to my car.
At Wednesday’s meeting with HR I was asked if I was going to resign or not. I reasoned that either way I would owe and explanation to potential employers—either the circumstances of the termination, or why I resigned with no other position to go to. I asked HR whether, if I chose to resign, the University would contest any application I might make for unemployment. The HR person left the room, came back, and remarked that the University was not required to offer me the option to resign. But if I did resign and signed a release, I would receive and extra two-week’ pay and healthcare coverage through September 15, and the University would not contest any unemployment claim. Nevertheless, I made the decision not to resign but to be terminated. That was it, and I left HR and Wesleyan.
I don’t know whether this is exactly what happened to other staff and administrators who have suddenly ‘left Wesleyan.’ I know that this experience has left me shocked and deeply worried about my colleagues in the library. I was very relieved to hear that Diane Klare was named as interim University Librarian—she is a smart, supportive and skillful librarian who has the confidence of her colleagues in the library as well as that of Wesleyan faculty and students. However, these abrupt departures are very destructive of staff productivity, efficiency and community. It can seem both to those who have gone and to those who remain, that staff are regarded as instruments to be used and discarded, not as people to be inspired to use their talents and creativity to their fullest extent for the good of Wesleyan. This attitude is not consistent with the liberal arts ethos Michael Roth so eloquently describes in his recent book, Beyond the University. It is not only a disservice to Wesleyan’s staff, who are enthusiastically dedicated to fulfilling the Wesleyan’s mission, but also to Wesleyan students who may model their future leadership practices on this example.
I will miss you all, and the crazy energy of Wesleyan’s amazing students, faculty and staff. I’ve loved working at Wesleyan, and leaving is a sad ending to this chapter in my life. Reading the messages about my departure on the faculty forum list has been like reading my own eulogy—it is lovely to know that I am held in such high regard, and I’m sick about how I’ve found out that my efforts have been appreciated. I wish you all the best, and thank you for ten eventful, challenging and exciting years at Wesleyan.