Mentor program director fired after department restructuring

The director of the University Studies mentor program was fired from her position last week, and says she plans to file a grievance with the Portland State faculty union because of her termination.

The director of the University Studies mentor program was fired from her position last week, and says she plans to file a grievance with the Portland State faculty union because of her termination.

Candyce Reynolds, who has been the program’s director for the last nine years, will hold her spot as the mentor program director until June 30. After that, an interim director will replace her for one year, according to an e-mail from Sukhwant Jhaj, the director of University Studies.

Reynolds, who has tenure at PSU, said she plans to continue teaching at the university after she leaves the program.

Neither Reynolds nor university administrators would divulge the reasons for her termination. Reynolds, 60, said she received no indication that her job was in jeopardy before Thursday, Jan. 31.

“I was fired from this position on Thursday, two days after Sukhwant issued an announcement for the interim director of mentor programs to the UNST (University Studies) core faculty,” Reynolds wrote in an e-mail to the Vanguard.

Reynolds said that she plans to file a grievance with the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the full-time faculty union. Reynolds declined to disclose further details about her grievance or the specific details given by university administrators when they let her go.

Jhaj announced plans to replace Reynolds’ to faculty and mentors in a Friday evening e-mail. Jhaj wrote that University Studies will appoint an interim director of mentor studies for one year. After that year, individual faculty members would rotate into the position–each filling it for three-year terms–in accordance with recommendations of a University Studies Council from three years ago.

The Portland State mentor program is a focal point of the university’s general education program, University Studies. The mentor program pairs 45 undergraduate and 37 graduate students with faculty members to help the faculty teach hundreds of freshman and sophomore students subjects such as critical thinking and writing.

The mentors receive a tuition remission for their work, which consists of assisting professors with their classes and leading smaller, hour-long seminar-style classes on their own.

Reasons for restructuring

The change to the structure of the mentor program stems from a process that has been underway for years in an attempt to increase student retention, according to Shawn Smallman, the vice provost of undergraduate studies and curriculum at PSU.

“We’re really trying to focus on student success right now with the program,” Smallman said of the changes currently underway in University Studies.

The mentor training and the program’s goals and objectives will be examined by a campus workgroup, he said. Smallman said that he could not comment on the specifics of the Reynolds’ situation or her suitability for the interim director position.

Jhaj’s e-mail Friday praised Reynolds’ contributions to the program over the years, and said that she would be welcome to continue working as a full-time faculty member.

“[Reynolds’] compassion and her commitment to her students are well known and her reputation as a scholar in the area of student learning has been an important aspect in the development of the program,” Jhaj said in the e-mail.

Jhaj was not available for comment Monday, having left for vacation on Friday, according to his office.

Mentor concerns

Over the weekend, mentors e-mailed one another, trying to reconcile Reynolds’ absence from the program and how University Studies’ imminent restructuring could affect them in the future.

Kim Heidenreich, a peer mentor and University Studies Council member, wrote in an e-mail that she is concerned about the leadership a director could provide to the program during a three-year term.

“Working as closely and as personally with mentors as [Reynolds] does–and has for years–I am skeptical of the idea that even the most ‘qualified’ candidate will be able to see things from the perspective of the mentor and give the best advice to a mentor so they can, in turn, do their job well,” Heidenrich wrote.

Heidenrich, who has been a member of the University Studies Council since fall of 2006, said she was completely surprised at the department’s plans for leadership change.

“This rotational model, apparently, was suggested many years ago by the original UNST Council, but since the last academic year [’06-’07] [sic] while I have been on the council, I have never heard this idea discussed–I would go as far to say that it wasn’t even on our radar,” Heidenreich said.

Twenty-five tenured positions will be added to University Studies over the next three years, Smallman said, and at least eight of those spots will go to current PSU professors.

Roy Koch, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said that while he is pleased with Jhaj’s leadership in the University Studies transition, he said he expected “some disagreements about how to get from here to there, but we’ll be much happier when we’re done with this process.”