Turn and face the strange change

Hamline professors and administrators grapple with change amidst faculty turnover and sabbaticals.

Lydia Meier, News Reporter

In the ever-evolving reality of COVID-19, Hamline has seen changes that affect the whole community. From professors on sabbatical and retiring, to a new chaplain, Interim Dean of the School of Business and Interim Provost, change seems to be everywhere. 

“Certainly I would say… there have been more faculty departures–and many of those have been retirements–but more faculty departures than in previous years… That turnover’s been significant,” Dr. Ryan LeCount, chair of the Sociology Department said. 

LeCount has taken on the role of Interim Director of the Social Justice Program after the former director, Professor Valerie Chepp, departed. Chepp left Hamline in June 2021, after accepting a position as an Associate Faculty Qualitative Researcher at the Cleveland Clinic.

Professor Matt Sumera spent the summer preparing to take over one of the classes Chepp taught before she left. 

“It’s just been sort of constant change since I’ve been [at Hamline],” Sumera said. “I think every semester there’s been some kind of change, for good and for bad.”

Professor Valentine Cadieux, head of the Environmental Studies program, has also worked closely with Chepp.

“The changes we’re seeing at Hamline are not just at Hamline either; they’re across higher ed more broadly… Which makes it a little easier sometimes not to freak out about change because you’re like, okay, this is like a whole ecosystem that’s changing,” Cadieux said. 

Dr. Beth Gunderson stepped into the position of Interim Dean of the School of Business this summer and notices that change has marked her life in necessary ways. 

“Change is a part of life,” Gunderson, Interim Dean of the School of Business, said. “To think you can avoid change is pretty pie-in-the-sky.” 

Dr. Jeff Turner of the Theatre & Dance Department is witnessing changes as well. He became the chair of the department in the fall of 2020, in preparation for previous chair Bill Wallace’s retirement in the spring of 2021.

“It’s definitely more change… than I’ve experienced in my twenty years,” Turner said. 

The Theatre & Dance Department also lost teaching artist and costume shop supervisor MaryBeth Gagner in August. According to Turner, the Hamline administration decided that they were not going to replace Gagner’s position, which has changed the department.

Additionally, Professor Laura Dougherty of the Theatre & Dance Department is on a three-course release, or what Turner calls a “mini sabbatical.”

Dougherty is not the only professor on sabbatical this year. Cadieux, Art professor Allison Baker and sociology Professor Sharon Preves are all on at least semester-length sabbaticals. These professors will have the chance to catch up on skills, understand changes in their fields of study, conduct research, and pursue further education, Cadieux explains.

Interim Provost Andy Rundquist, who also moved to this position this year from his previous post as Associate Dean of the CLA, explained why students might be seeing more sabbaticals this year. “To be clear, there’s way more sabbaticals this year than last year because we made different budgetary decisions,” Rundquist said. “That’s actually really exciting professional development that Hamline is going to benefit from.”

However, sabbatical leaves, as well as faculty turnover, have left many departments searching for ways to fill the gaps. 

“The pressures of having to do a little bit more with less faculty members is part of that story too,” LeCount said. “Other colleagues at the institution are offering courses that would have been otherwise taught by Dr. Chepp or Dr. Preves.” 

He is grateful for the structures in place that make it easier to deal with these changes. 

The Theatre & Dance Department has hired a new production manager, guest scenic designer and costume designer. 

“We’re just adapting to the new normal and figuring out the best way to serve our students and provide them with exciting opportunities,” Turner said.

Although these changes may seem sudden to students, in many ways Hamline is reaching for new heights.

 “Change is inevitable, whether that’s at Hamline or in the world at large,” Sumera said. “No one is guaranteed any kind of stability anymore in the world, and we can either fight tooth and nail against that, or we can acknowledge that change happens and we can try our best to ensure that what comes out on the other side is productive and helpful.”