Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swat students took note of several atypical chalkings that cropped up over the course of Ride the Tide last Thursday petitioning on behalf of Professor Horacio Chiong Rivero. Along with a published letter in the Phoenix, the various chalkings around Kohlberg and Parrish asked the administration to reconsider its decision to deny tenure for Chiong Rivero, who has taught at the College as Assistant Professor of Spanish for the past six years.
Strong feelings abound among students of Chiong Rivero; sophomores Rachel Adler, Erin Floyd, Claire Galpern, and Roseanna Sommers, the four main signatories of the published petition which included the signatures of 98 other students, expressed sincere endorsements of the professor’s work within and outside of the College as well as his interactions with students past and present. In particular, Sommers, Galpern, Floyd, and Adler attested to having “had the privilege [of experiencing] first-hand his exceptional teaching and warm, caring personality,” adding that “Professor Chiong Rivero stands out to us as especially invested in his students’ well-being and academic successes.” Other students, advisees, and alumni also maintained similar evaluations of Professor Chiong Rivero, extolling his abilities as a teacher.
Galpern and her fellow classmates wondered aloud how Professor Chiong Rivero could be denied tenure after fully meeting scholarship requirements detailed in the heavily quoted Handbook for Instructional Staff, which says that the principle conditions for reappointment with continuous tenure “are teaching and scholarship [with] other contributions to the College community and…service in the larger community also considered.”
A formal letter of concern sent by Galpern to the Provost and Board of Managers further enumerated this inconsistency, “raising questions about the transparency of the reappointment process” and the “legitimacy of institutional discretion, premised on its commitment to represent the student body’s best interest.” Students took the action on behalf of Chiong Rivero a step further with a full-fledged chalking campaign and banner to draw more attention to the issue as the appeals process took place.
Professor Chiong Rivero said through email that he was “deeply moved by this strong support and encouragement from all students.” Chiong Rivero says he is appealing the decision largely out of a commitment to his students and a desire to continue teaching at the College. He also believes that the College should “value and promote diversity in all facets, which in my case includes the diversity of race, national origin, academic discipline, and the academic freedom of expression and ideas.”
Aside from gratitude for the stepped-up initiative on his behalf, Chiong Rivero expressed a strong belief that his students’ protest highlights “a need for complete transparency and objectivity in tenure review cases.” Chiong Rivero went on further to emphasize “the importance of seriously including students in the tenure review process…in a fair and open process in which their voices and opinions are heard and actually counted.”
Student opposition in the form of letters and chalkings has caught the attention of higher administrative officials; however, Provost of the College, Connie Hungerford, says that the administration “doesn’t specifically know how they will factor into the review.” The timeline for the appeals process is also murky. Provost Hungerford affirms that the process will be “moved as promptly as possible” but also acknowledged that “there isn’t a deadline.”
Thus far, the situation seems to have reached an awkward stalemate between all parties involved. Spanish section head Professor Aurora Camacho de Schmidt stresses “all proceedings are confidential, and it is important for all involved that they be so.” This privacy clause seems to be preventing students eager for an explanation from receiving answers from the administration. Camacho de Schmidt was also quick to point out that “letters from students are always taken into account” in deciding tenure. She then went on to underscore that the Committee on Tenure and Promotion (comprised of Professors, the Provost, and the President) “based on a full dossier, ratifies or overturns a decision and sends its own recommendation to the Board of Managers.”
Ultimately, Chiong Rivero hopes the College will align principle, perception, and practice and reconsider his case on the basis of his professional and scholarly work: “I think that it is important for the College to ensure that both the perception and the practice of the tenure process and review are invariably transparent and consistent.” He, again, stressed the importance of legitimately including student feedback in the process: “they want their voices to count and to be validated by the College, as do I.”