A Petition Is Circulating to Keep Physics Professor Christina Othon on Campus

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It’s no secret that Wesleyan has a problem holding onto great professors (see: our 2014 article on Professor Sarah Mahurin2012 article about tenure, and 2011 article on our hiring stats and issues). The lack of transparency surrounding why we can’t seem to keep anyone appears to be another issue entirely. Chances are if you’ve been here for a while, you’ve seen at least one phenomenal professor be denied tenure and/or not asked back, only to have the department say that the prof just “wasn’t a good fit.” What the F does that even mean?

Right now, students, led by Nisha Grewal ’17, are fighting to keep Assistant Professor of Physics Christina Othon, who’s been at Wesleyan since 2010, on campus. You can sign the petition HERE and check out the Facebook page supporting Professor Othon staying on campus HERE.

Here’s Grewal’s petition, which garnered over 100 signatures by early afternoon on Thursday:

Dear President Roth:

We are writing to appeal the decision not to renew Professor Christina Othon’s contract. Professor Othon has been a wonderful teacher, advisor, mentor, and role model. We, the students of Wesleyan University, do not want to lose such an excellent scholar-teacher that so encapsulates the Wesleyan liberal arts tradition.

Personally, I have sincerely enjoyed getting to know Professor Othon over the past two years that I have been at Wesleyan, and I can speak both to her ability to educate and her ability to mentor students. Her dedication to serve underrepresented minorities in the sciences is invaluable and not easily replaced. Professor Othon is one of the only professors I have had at Wesleyan who makes the effort to check in with students. Her generosity with her time in the midst of her research and teaching responsibilities is worthy of recognition. Her efforts are instrumental to the success of her students, especially in an introductory course, where students come from different academic backgrounds. When I started at Wesleyan, I had less physics experience than many of my classmates. However, Professor Othon looked past my lack of experience and saw my work ethic and my passion for physics. She encouraged me to persist and happily reviewed concepts with me outside of class. Her door is always open and she is known to be understanding and approachable. Professor Othon is responsible for a great deal of the retention within the Physics Department.

Professor Othon believes in every single one of her students. She takes different academic backgrounds and capabilities into account when planning lectures, homework, and exams. While her courses are very challenging, hard work and determination make it possible to succeed.

Furthermore, Professor Othon is constantly trying to improve her teaching and her courses. After the end of the semester, Professor Othon asks students for feedback, demonstrating her desire to design the course around the needs of her students above and beyond the normal teaching evaluation model. As such, Professor Othon reconfigured the weekly discussion sessions upon finding that they were not helpful to many students. After reviewing course evaluations, Professor Othon took it upon herself to personally lead discussion sessions to give students individual attention and to ensure that no one was falling behind. She is a tremendously giving person and truly wants to help every student succeed.

As an advisor, Professor Othon always takes the time and makes the effort to check in with her mentees. When discussing my academic plan or career options, she listens to my needs and concerns. She has been incredibly helpful in making a course plan that is suited to my interests and intended career path. On her own time, Professor Othon emails her students with links to opportunities and internships. She makes it a point to check in with students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, demonstrating her genuine care. She is very supportive, and we know we can count on her if we ever need advice. Professor Othon has been more than my professor and my advisor: she is a role model and an admired colleague in the Physics Department.

In the Wesleyan Physics Department, there are not many female students, and it is incredibly reaffirming to have a female professor who we can look up to. As the first female professor in the department, among her many academic and research duties, Professor Othon has taken the added responsibility of supporting women in physics. Furthermore, she has exhibited invaluable community leadership in her support for underrepresented students in the sciences. Last semester, she was the advisor to a student forum I was co-leading on Women of Color in STEM. Furthermore, she is a huge advocate of the Society for Underrepresented Students in STEM, and was a major supporter of the campus-wide forum on the experiences of marginalized students in the sciences.

This year, Professor Othon led the team to bring the 2016 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics to Wesleyan. With Professor Meredith Hughes, she applied for and earned many financial grants and awards for this conference in an effort to include more students in the event and bring a diverse collection of speakers. For a year and a half, they proceeded to successfully organize and lead a large-scale conference, on top of their responsibilities aa professors. The CUWiP conference was a wonderful learning and networking opportunity for young women studying physics, and provided us with a chance to hear from and meet other esteemed women in physics in a variety of careers. It is so important for female students to see successful women in their field to make the pursuit of such a career less daunting and more tangible.

Professor Othon’s initiative and passion for social justice has helped Wesleyan’s community by supporting women and underrepresented minorities in science fields, especially students like me who simply needed a bit of encouragement to strive for their full potential. She makes Wesleyan’s Physics Department a more welcoming and less intimidating space. Her devotion to her work and her support for students has made all the difference.

We the students of Wesleyan University want Professor Othon to stay at Wesleyan. We fully support her and demand she be placed in a tenure track position.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Nisha Grewal