By Matthew Acosta and Christie Counts, Oct. 10, 2023
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of Cal Poly Pomona Jennifer Brown was removed from her position Oct. 2.
The unexpected dismissal marks the fifth change in the provost position since University President Soraya M. Coley arrived on campus in 2015. The provost position at CPP has had Martin denBoer, Sylvia Alva, Iris Levine, Jennifer Brown and now S. Terri Gomez in an eight-year span.
The Office of the President announced to faculty and staff in an email that Brown is replaced by Terri Gomez as provost, providing little detail about the reasons behind the decision. The only mentions Coley made about Brown in the email statement was she will return to the classroom in fall 2024, and she thanked Brown for her service to CPP.
Brown received communication about her removal directly from Coley in an eight-page performance evaluation handed to her in person Sept. 17 and was fired the following day. Brown has since filed a Management Personnel Plan Reconsideration to have the administration review her firing.
“Overall, before addressing each concern, I feel that the series of expectations of me are changing and that I am being treated differently,” wrote Brown in an email response to the eight-page letter.
The university is currently unable to comment on Brown’s departure due to the situation involving personnel matters.
Brown began her role as provost April 1, 2022, holding the responsibility of overseeing all nine colleges, more than 400 staff members and a budget of $126 million at the time.
One of Brown’s main goals during her tenure at CPP was to empower deans and faculty in order to enact a trickle-down effect to influence student success both in the classroom and in their future careers.
“It was really trying to take this every day, being impactful and doing what I could do to be the best for students, faculty and staff and balancing what the president and the Chancellor’s Office need, want and expect and what our faculty and staff need, want and expect,” said Brown.
In a LinkedIn post, Brown highlighted her hiring of six deans during her 18 months as provost and left words of hope for their futures even as she was fired from her position.
“All of the academic affairs leaders will help to shape the future of CPP- they lead with compassion, and they will break the mold!” wrote Brown.
Brown focused many of her efforts early on in her stint as provost to establish relationships with the current academic infrastructure along with learning where CPP needed the most help.
“I focused my first year in stabilizing leadership and making sure we could have leadership within the colleges, which means I had to make some tough decisions and some things I could not attend to,” said Brown. “We had a cabinet retreat and the cabinet agreed that the best thing the provost could do in their first year was to stabilize leadership.”
The loss of Brown as provost is another move by CPP administration that will add another interim title to the university. This turnover, according to Brown, ends up hurting those who are integral to any university, faculty, staff and students.
“It’s hard to get people to move toward initiating anything if you don’t know if that person is going to be there,” Brown said. “The progress of the institution stagnates even with its best attempt to want to move forward. It doesn’t help our faculty, staff and students.”
CFA Chapter President, Psychology Chair and Professor Nicholas Von Glahn explained the surprising turnover of Brown is indicative of a lack of consistent leadership, which affects their morale overall as a staff.
In the wake of the unexpected removal of Brown, and Coley refraining from divulging the reasons behind this decision, many on campus are left grappling with the lack of information about what led to yet another significant personnel change.
“For reasons we can’t know or don’t exist, I don’t know which, it is uncertain why she is gone, you know it’s a difficult position,” said Von Glahn. “It has been pretty uniform from the faculty I talk to, there might be other faculty opinions, my circle isn’t infinitely large, but I know from faculty, generally, we find it unfortunate that she is gone.”
Von Glahn explained that while Brown was provost, she listened to faculty and addressed the issues brought to her attention to the best of her ability.
“I always felt heard by Dr. Brown,” Von Glahn said. “I always felt that she actually articulated what I was saying, like she actually understood my point even if she didn’t agree with it either personally or in her role. I can’t say that for a lot of people.”
Von Glahn, who served as union president and senate chair last year, witnessed Brown work with fellow administrators and faculty and pointed out the absence of any apparent wrongdoing or misconduct that would warrant a firing during the middle of the fall semester.
“She was working incredibly hard last year, and I know President Coley can’t say why she dismissed Provost Brown,” said Von Glahn. “I understand it’s a personnel matter. It’s very difficult because I have heard nothing about any malfeasance or anything she has done wrong that would rise to level for a dismissal.”
Wide-ranging implications for both student and faculty ensue when there is an administrative turnover and lack of communication. Key positions, such as deans, provosts or presidents can introduce a level of uncertainty and disruption to an institution.
“What was the reason? I understand the president can’t talk about personnel matters,” said Von Glahn. “I am just surprised that I haven’t heard anything about why it happened. I never heard anything bad about her. That’s why I am so shocked and dismayed.”
Western Association of Schools and Colleges reviewed CPP and issued a commission action letter in February 2020. Within the letter, it stated one of the issues the institution is required to respond to before the visit this fall semester regarded filling interim positions with permanent staff.
“Develop and implement a sustainable approach to fill interim leadership positions with permanent staff and faculty. The campus community, including students, will benefit from a comprehensive communication strategy that establishes clarity of purpose and invites engagement with these new roles or departments. (CFR 3.1, 3.6),” the WASC report stated.
WASC will be performing a review this semester and evaluating CPP’s performance in addressing the issues listed in the commission action letter.
Cynthia Peters, the interim associate director of media relations, noted there has been many high level administrative transitions in the CSU including 19 vice presidential transitions and 12 presidential transitions since 2021.
“In many cases, leaders departed from CPP to assume higher level responsibilities at other institutions or retired,” Peters said.
Brown will return to the classroom for the first time in eight years, but for now she looks forward to spending time with her daughter and focusing on her health.
“Good will always win, speak up for what you believe in, find your north star so that when you have to make tough decisions you can make them with clarity, with confidence and with integrity,” said Brown as an outgoing statement to CPP faculty, staff and students as provost.
Feature Image Courtesy of Tom Z.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Brown was handed a five-page letter June 29 before her termination as provost; however, she was handed an eight-page performance evaluation Sept. 17 and was then fired Sept. 18. This article has also been corrected to show Gomez will be the fifth provost since 2015.
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