A large crowd of faculty, students and community members marched throughout campus. The protests were organized in response to the recent termination of the vice provost for faculty affairs and equity, Canan Bilen-Green.
For those unfamiliar, the provost is the second most important leader on campus and in administration after the president. Vice provosts are the next most important.
A prominent concern was how she was fired. Like last year’s budget cuts that saw departments terminated, the decision was poorly communicated. Bilen-Green learned of her abrupt firing about 30 minutes before all of NDSU was notified with an email. It was so abrupt that her family learned of this not from her but because of the email.
The frustration also lies in the fact that she was terminated at all. The termination has coincided with the removal of the position as a part of a reorganization of the provost’s office. However, as evident by the outrage among faculty, many see this as rooted in a much larger problem of the treatment of women in administration.
In records released to the Forum, it was found that Bilen-Green had positive performance reviews, including one from Provost David Bertolini this year. However, she had one incident in 2018 where there was discriminatory conduct involving a faculties leave request. But, that finding of discrimination has been disputed.
Bilen-Green released a statement: “I stand by my record and achievements during my 25 years of NDSU service, including more than a decade as Vice Provost.” Despite the reorganization, there is still frustration about her complete removal from administration.
NDSU President Cook and Provost David Bertolini have since apologized for the delivery of the message. In a statement, they also justified their reorganization of the provost office and other administration changes.
As vice provost for faculty affairs and equity, Bilen-Green oversaw many notable programs, such as Equal Opportunity and Title IX compliance, along with others. Now, there are new administrative roles, including a new vice provost of faculty affairs, instruction and retention. Equal Opportunity and Title XI have been moved from the provost’s office to student affairs. Some have criticized this as these issues involve faculty and are not limited to students.
In their official communication, when asked if Bilen-Green was involved in the decision, they only stated it is a personal matter and wouldn’t comment otherwise.
A History of Alleged Gender Discrimination
Bilen-Green will return to being a part of the College of Engineering faculty. Despite these administrative changes, many faculty still feel that her gender is the reason for no longer having an administrative role.
In President Cook and Provost Bertolini’s statement, they said, “[We] acknowledge how these changes compounded deep frustrations about the status of women leaders on campus.” Yet, there still is anger as many see this as yet another instance of a woman (vice) provost being let go in a disrespectful and discriminatory manner.
There is an alleged difference in the way in which female provosts are let go compared to their male counterparts. Former NDSU Provost Beth Ingram unexpectedly resigned in 2018 under then-President Dean Bresciani. At the time, no reason was given for the abrupt resignation. However, recently speaking with the Forum, Ingram shed light on what happened then.
According to Ingram, President Bresciani repetitively demanded that she resign. She told the Forum, after continuous refusals, “Bresciani told her an article would come out in The Forum that would contain ‘a lot of dirt.’” Shortly after this, Ingram would resign. She backed up her resignation by stating how she needed his recommendation to get a new job and didn’t want her family, who live in the area, to hear about what hurtful things Bresciani would say in the newspaper.
This is in stark contrast to how Bresciani was terminated. After the State Board of Higher Education wouldn’t renew his presidency, he remained president for a full year, followed by another year of sabbatical.
Also, Bruce Rafert, who held the position before Ingram, stayed for a year after announcing his stepping down. He stayed until Ingram was hired.
Additionally, in 2022, under new and current President David Cook, Provost Margaret Fitzgerald stepped down and returned to a faculty position. The reason given was restructuring in administration. But despite this, for many, it is hard to overlook this perceived pattern associated with women administrators.
Protestors Demand Their Voice Heard
On Tuesday, Sept. 26, two NDSU faculty organized a protest where an estimated 50-100 people gathered at the steps of Old Main, the location of the president’s and provost’s office. They then marched around campus before returning to Old Main.
A primary concern of the protestors is for a better and more inclusive decision-making process. They felt frustrated that this consequential decision was made with no faculty and community input. President Cook and Provost Bertolini acknowledged this mistake in their follow-up email.
“They are putting the faculty under an enormous amount of stress,” said NDSU professor Ken Lepper, who is a part of the now-discontinued earth sciences as a result of last year’s budget cuts. “If the faculty are stressed out, we are not teaching as well as we could be,” referring to stress resulting from the fear of possibly being fired unjustly.
Lepper feels, similar to last year’s budget cuts that NDSU still isn’t considering faculty concerns for university decisions.
One NDSU non-tenured professor in attendance at the protest, who wished to stay anonymous, when asked about using their voice to speak out about these problems and how it could hinder their future career and advancements, said, “I felt more confident about that two weeks ago.”
Another professor said that after meeting with Provost Bertolini had nothing to worry about in terms of being able to voice their opinion without repercussion. And that the two organizers would not face any backlash from the administration.
Additionally, for those looking to address their concerns to President Cook or give any feedback, you can use the “share your idea” section on the president’s website at www.ndsu.edu/president/share_your_ideas. Submissions can be anonymous.