The English faculty rallies to support colleague.
By Wally Perez
In the reversal of an earlier decision, President Robert Vela appointed English Chair Mike Burton chair of a combined new department, one of 12 the college will shrink to in fall.
Burton originally was not included in a list of 11 chairs selected April 8.
Vela said the English faculty’s support influenced his decision.
Members of the English department met with Vela and other administrators to provide their perspective on the English chair position.
Vela said the English faculty met with him as a group on their own accord to voice their concerns about the positions.
“Whenever a group gets together to speak their minds, it’s always going to make an impact in some way,” Vela said.
Vela told faculty he would reflect on the information and consult with the search committee.
English Professor Jane Focht-Hansen and almost the entire full-time English faculty met with the committee, which included Vela, Dr. Jothany Blackwood, vice president of academic success, and Conrad Krueger, dean of arts and sciences, April 29 to show support for Burton.
Burton has been an instructor at this college 34 years and English chair for five years.
The official announcement for the hiring of the last of the 12 chair positions was released to faculty May 3 through email.
As the new chair, Burton will oversee English, journalism and photography, humanities, EDUC 1301 and 2301, INRW and Mexican-American studies.
The other 11 chairs were previously chairs for their departments. Seven others will be relieved of their duties as chair in August.
Though Burton was previously passed over as chair, he was told by Vela early in the process that he could reapply.
“They seemed hesitant whether or not I understood what new rules were going to be implemented and what was required of me,” Burton said.
Burton was then notified the college executive team would open the search externally, which didn’t happen, Vela said.
Vela said they kept the search internal and conversations were necessary to make the right choices.
“I think I’ve been successful as a chair, so you could say I was disappointed that I wasn’t chosen at first,” Burton said.
Burton found out he had been chosen May 2 after meeting with Vela and Blackwood.
Any issues or concerns they had were resolved during the meeting, Burton said.
“There was overwhelming support for me from the English faculty; they went to Vela to make sure they were taking a good look at candidates and showed their support for me.”
Focht-Hansen said the department voiced their support for Burton during the meeting and their concern about an outside hire having to adjust to the position and faculty.
“We just let them know that we care about Mike (Burton) and he’s a fine leader who has the ability to communicate with everyone,” Focht-Hansen said.
“He has the human element that shows he cares, as well as academic concerns that show he wants what’s best for students, faculty and the department.”
It was important that the college administration know how the department feels about him, Focht-Hansen said.
Vela said all chairs who have been selected rightfully deserve the position.
“I believe they will lead our institution to success,” Vela said. “I have no doubt that we made the right decisions.”
Burton said Vela showed wisdom to take some time to think about the position, let the smoke clear and let voices be heard.
“He didn’t let the process cloud his judgment,” Burton said.
Burton said there were no hard feelings regarding the initial decision.
“I’m happy to be reappointed, I’m happy for the department and I’m happy for Vela for taking the time and thinking about the decision,” he said.