North Park University professors say president has created ‘toxic climate’ on breed

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(RNS) – The professor at North Park University, a Christian school north of downtown Chicago, voted against the school president’s confidence, saying it created a hostile environment for students and teachers of color.

Last week’s (October 13) 55-26 vote was against President Mary Surridge, who has led the evangelical school since 2018. In a companion document, the university’s faculty senate detailed “a toxic climate for students, faculty and staff, ”especially those of color. Specifically, the document challenged the inability to hire and retain people of diverse racial backgrounds in leadership positions as well as athletes.

“The big picture is that we have a school that attracts a lot of students of color,” said Rachelle Ankney, Senate faculty chair and math professor. “But we don’t provide an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for these students. It does not prepare the school for long term success.

North Park is home to some 2,800 students and more than half are people of color or mixed race, according to Ankney. But, she said, he struggled to retain these students beyond the first and second years of their studies. A 2020 retention report from SPARK associates noted particularly high exit rates among male student athletes of color in North Park, particularly soccer players: in 2019-2020, 45% of freshman soccer players did not return the following year, compared to 25% of freshmen overall.

Recently, the school has also seen an exodus of staff and teachers of color; the faculty says those who leave were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.

The 130-year-old private university is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church and is a member of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. It shares a campus with North Park Theological Seminary, Evangelical Covenant Church’s only theological school, but seminary professors did not vote on the confidence measure.

The university’s board issued a letter at the start of the Senate vote, saying it was “unequivocally satisfied” with the leadership of Surridge, the first woman to lead the school.

President Mary Surridge. Photo courtesy of North Park University

“It sets the strong strategic course that North Park needs at this point in its history to ensure its long-term viability and it accelerates our forward momentum,” said the letter written by the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors. .

The letter cited one of the largest incoming classes of freshmen and a return to fiscal solvency among its accomplishments. He made no reference to issues of race and equity.

Board chairman David Otfinoski said he was “deeply troubled” by the faculty’s no-confidence vote, even though he and the board support Surridge.

“While we do not agree with the characterization of his leadership and believe that there are inaccuracies in the document prepared for the faculty, we are also keenly aware that there is pain in our community. “he said in a statement.

“We are looking to move forward together, as one North Park,” said the statement from Otfinoski.


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No-confidence votes are increasingly common as faculty and boards of US universities fight for governance and politics.

North Ridge College’s long list of grievances includes Surridge’s hiring of her husband to a senior management position following his retirement as head of the college’s athletic department. They also allege that she violated the university’s governing documents by sacking four full professors without proper consultation with the faculty senate.

Surridge was vice president of advancement at North Park before becoming president, raising $ 63 million for the school, according to the school’s report. website. She does not have a doctorate.

Ankney said issues at the school arose before the coronavirus pandemic and included a student protest in February 2020. The ensuing lockdown postponed any resolution of these issues. This is the first semester that students and faculty have returned to campus in person.

The school board begins Wednesday several days of online meetings. Ankney said she was not yet sure if she would be invited to speak on the board.

The faculty senate invited Surridge to its Monday meeting. Ankney said she did not know if the president would be in attendance.


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