To further his ongoing efforts to reach out to students and increase transparency in the wake of Moodygateinterim Dean Valentini held a town hall last night. Deantini held the court in the oaken glory of Havemeyer 309, where he’s given countless lectures and even once had one burst out in song. Seasoned Town Haller Conor Skelding sat in.

Taking a stand.

Over the course of the night, Dean Valentini accomplished the following four things:

  • Explained the mystical decision-making process of the dean and affirming his commitment to a clear system
  •  Refused to speak for Moody-Adams, or really anybody else, or to approximate people’s opinions.
  • Emphasized his commitment to listening to us, and
  • Demonstrated his capacity for being a nice guy by sharing anecdotes, and chatting with speakers about where they’re from.

A few minutes after the intended start of 8 pm, Sam Roth, Editor of the Spectator, opened with a little blurb to the effect that the town hall was intended to address student concerns in a “time of upheaval.” Havemeyer 309 was sparsely filled, with maybe 40% of the lower level occupied and nobody in the wings. So, from approximately 8 to 9 pm, Deantini addressed Sam and CCSC prez Aki Terasaki’s concerns.

The pair started off with general questions, like why Deantini got the job (“because the president asked me to do it”), and whether he thought he could do it (“Yes”).

Roth then touched on interrelations between governing bodies, which Valentini turned into the motif of the entire event. For the duration of the evening, JJV would expound on exactly who makes each decision, and how. Valentini pointed to a strange segmentation in our school: the College has everything it needs to run under its aegis, except teachers, who are under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“Because we have this separation, things can get quite complicated and confused […] It is a history that has been quite contentious, admittedly. I don’t think it is very contentious today, although what happened in August is a cause for concern and worry.”

Aki then asked how the College was maintaining its identity among an increasingly research- and globally-driven university. Valentini told the crowd what it wanted to hear: “The College remains the center of the University.”

Aki also asked how Deantini planned on prioritizing the budget, but JJV basically said that most of it is locked in and not discretionary.

Next up was the wife/conflict of interest question. Deantini was strong and compassionate all at once: “Obviously I wouldn’t consider it a conflict or I wouldn’t have taken this job. But we can have different perspectives on conflict. This isn’t a chemistry exam with a right and wrong.”

He explained her place on the PPC (Planning and Policy Committee) and its place as the faculty’s representative body.

Conversation then moved to the Core, and particularly science’s place within it. Frontiers, ever so popular with students, was put through the ringer.

“Science is an intellectual endeavor which is just as important today as ever. It is an intellectual foundation which [it] is important that students have, it should serve as the rest of the Core does, producing educated people, adults, citizens […] It’s about understanding the intellectual approach taken in science.”

On the waning Frontiers trial program, Deantini admitted “I was the chair of the Committee on Science Instruction which wrote the report, which was not entirely positive. I don’t see how anybody can be entirely positive. I don’t know if it has in its recent evolution overcome the problems in this past review. Right now I am neutral. But my general position is that any course that we require every student to take had better be a pretty good course.”

The final question from Aki: what about increasing class sizes? Valentini explained that the last 50-student expansion will be the Class of 2016, and after that the planned expansion is over. But “that’s a separate issue from the sizes of the classes…obviously we want the classes to be small. I don’t know if there’s a magic number. […] If the faculty tells me this number is best, be it 22, 23, 24, then it is the Dean’s obligation to satisfy those requirements.”

Then JJV got a little spicy: “Maybe Global Core classes should be smaller. But is that really a ‘Core’ if there are 85 classes allowed? It may be hard to reverse size if there are so many options. But I would like to ask students if it is a Core course? If there are eighty-five classes you can take, is that really a Core course?” [Note: the Global Core is definitely something that faculty are revisiting. See Olivia Mann’s recap of Monday’s faculty panel.]

Valentini went on to talk about how the University Senate is a pretty supreme force, and however one feels about the ROTC decision, it ought to have been made at the level at which everybody has a say. That is, the USenate.

He next explained his idea for funded research grants that would pay for students to stay in Morningside for the summer and help a professor with scholarship or research. People seemed into it, and responded enthusiastically.

Then the Spec people were done, and it was 9:06 pm. Other students got up to talk, and Valentini consistently asked them their hometown, and showed off his small talk skills. For instance, New Mexican license plates say “New Mexico, USA,” on account of many Americans thinking New Mexico belongs to Mexico! JJV is from there.

On professors (not) teaching enough Core courses, Deantini expressed concern: “I don’t know why. If teaching these courses is viewed as more time consuming, we need to offer more rewards to faculty engaging in this activity. And we’re already doing that! But it may be that they are declining because they don’t feel that they can make an intellectual contribution to the course […] If everything is completely proscribed, that might make more senior faculty not teach it […] we need to find out what the issues are, understand what governs their decision, and provide incentives to get them to do what you and I would like them to do. They respond the same way you do—they need incentives!”

A student asked for specifics on MiMoo’s issues, and JJV  pretty much declined to comment, only saying that he wasn’t concerned at present of running into the same problems. “Dean Moody-Adams’ email was startling. I liken it to somebody pulling a fire alarm, but you don’t know why. You can’t see fire or smoke, but you know there’s a problem. I won’t be able to say anything to you that will completely allay your concerns. I don’t know; I can’t say how she viewed things. There were discussions she had with the president and VP that I was not at.”

Another student then asked Deantini to compare his scientific background to MiMoo’s philosophical one. He wouldn’t speak to hers, but he did share this bit of his mentality: “The most important thing has always been to me all about process. A structured system in which everyone understands how a decision is going to be made, everybody who has a stake in it gets an opportunity to state their opinion, and the process actually is fair.” He dislikes randomness.

Is the University planning a message explaining MiMoo’s departure? “No.”

JJV then made a challenge for the senior class: give 1% of their income to the school, not for the money, but so he can show the donations to other donors who can throw down $100 million or more. He made a really rousing speech about contributing, and the crowd applauded! He calls it the “3-2-1 Challenge.” He promised a prize for the first class that gets everybody it (ha) to do it with the words, “and [the prize] will be better than a sandwich and a photo with the dean.

A senior next asked about making course evaluations public, to which Valentini answered: “First I will answer as a individual. I believe as an individual that you have the right to see those evaluations. As dean, I recognize there might be a lot of issues I don’t understand, and we are going to figure them out. But if there aren’t, then I will be opposed to the situation, unless somebody can give me a convincing reason.”

Then he got some laughs: “There are some comments in there which I wouldn’t want widely distributed, because they reflect badly on all of us.”

And that was the last question, because the event ended at 9:36 pm! Too early.

Photo by Ryan Mandelbaum, CC ’13