UCSD Fires Teaching Center Director Without Reason; Hires Administrator’s Wife Instead

The Teaching + Learning Commons located on the first level of Geisel Library. Photo from The Commons Facebook page.

More than 70 faculty members are asking for answers after the Director of the Center for Engaged Teaching (CET), Jace Hargis, was terminated from his position this year and the encompassing center was reorganized with a new lead: Carolyn L. Sandoval, the wife of Vice Chancellor Dr. Becky Pettit.

“The administration, without our input or consent, is releasing Jace Hargis, the current director, from his position there without any evidence to support their decision,” Anthropology Professor Dredge Kang wrote to the Faculty of Color Network in an email obtained by The Triton. “I’m not one to advocate for white men in general without reason, but Jace has been instrumental in advancing teaching effectiveness on this campus and numerous sets of faculty letters are going around to support him.”

The Center for Engaged Teaching, housed under the Teaching + Learning Commons in Geisel Library, is the only resource for faculty on campus that provides professors with assistance with teaching and redesigning their course curriculum. In the last year, the Center has hosted 100 workshops for faculty, 12 three-day conferences for faculty to redesign their courses, and provided services to over 500 faculty on an individualized basis.

Strangely, Hargis was terminated without any input from faculty or the eight faculty members on the CET’s Advisory Board, the very people he works for and the very people who are meant to advise the direction of the center.

“So many of us have benefited from Jace’s expertise and collegiality, and the supports that he has created for excellence in teaching have translated to better learning experiences for undergraduates in hundreds of courses across our campus,” said Continuing Lecturer Leslie Lewis, Director of Urban Health and Equity Initiatives for Urban Studies and Planning. “We have serious concerns about the process for changing CET leadership… since no faculty were consulted regarding this decision, which affects student learning so profoundly.”

On February 1, over 70 faculty members, including several Department Chairs, submitted a letter to Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (EVC) Elizabeth Simmons, Academic Senate Division Chair Farrell Ackerman, and Faculty Director of Teaching + Learning Commons Gabriele Wienhausen.

Wienhausen, Hargis’ direct superior, has provided no answer as to why Hargis was terminated and has yet to respond to any request for comment. Despite being paid a yearly salary of $200,358, she has also been unable to explain how services will remain the same if Hargis is removed. Neither has EVC Simmons.

“As the full scope and breadth of the Commons’ mission has been unfolding, we have come to realize that its original organizational structure was limiting our ability to achieve the synergistic environment envisioned for the Commons and the ‘vertical’ integration of its work with students, teaching assistants, and faculty…” Simmons wrote in an faculty-wide email following the appointment of Sandoval. “All currently offered services and programs will continue to be provided by the Commons, without interruption.”

The email provides no concrete reason for the removal, nor does it clarify “synergy” or “vertical integration.”

According to several faculty members, after the letter was released, EVC Simmons contacted several of the faculty that co-signed the letter and asked them to not speak out on the topic or to contradict the EVC’s office.

In the context of UCSD’s continued advocacy for free speech, this is not only inherently contradictory, but also points to a continued trend of campus administration picking and choosing what issues it takes stances on, based on their level of controversy.

Hargis will continue out his position until June 30, as there was no immediate reason for his termination. Sandoval will start her role as the associate director of the Teaching + Learning Commons on May 7, 2018. Wienhausen is set to become faculty director of Commons, maintaining a role as Sandoval’s supervisor. There is no word on how services will not be interrupted, considering that they are reorganizing the center and taking it in a different direction. There is also no word on how this will impact the CET’s Advisory Board.

“This seems like an issue that should matter to students; it is the people, centers, and resources of this campus that create the conditions in which students learn and develop,” Lewis said. “When there are problems, and there are always problems, we should address them.”  

Gabe Schneider is the News Editor at The Triton. You can follow him on Twitter @gabemschneider

Correction: This article was updated on April 2, 2018 at 1:50 a.m. with three revisions. A previous version incorrectly titled Continuing Lecturer Leslie Lewis as a professor. In addition, the original story stated that Hargis would continue in his position until the end of the year. We have added his exact last date of June 30 for clarification. Lastly, Sandoval will be the associate director of the Teaching + Learning Commons, not director as previously mentioned.