Bennington's President Is Assailed
Faculty, Students Vote 'No Confidence'
The Board of Trustees of Bennington College will hold a special meeting this morning to consider its course of action in the aftermath of two separate votes of "no confidence" in President Gail Parker '64 taken by the college's faculty and students last week.
Merrell Hambleton, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said yesterday that she hopes "some accommodation" will be reached at the meeting, called after an overwhelming majority of faculty and students announced last week that they would no longer carry on administrative business through Parker.
The virtually unanimous "no confidence" votes were taken last Wednesday, after the Bennington faculty was presented with a report on the future of the college which had been drafted by an appointed committee without outside student or faculty input.
The report calls for sweeping changes in the organization of the college, including the elimination of nearly one-fifth of Bennington's full-time faculty positions, aimed primarily at easing the institution's growing financial problems.
Harry W. Pearson, an Economics professor at Bennington and a spokesman for its faculty, said yesterday that the ad hoc committee on future directions, which consisted of three faculty members, Parker, and several Bennington trustees, presented the faculty with "what amounted to a fait accompli." He added that a committee memo attached to the report charged the faculty with "implementation of the report, and not deliberation" of its contents.
"The no confidence vote last week was to express our outrage at the procedures followed by the president and the committee," he said. "We now refuse to discuss the situation until the board sits down and discusses it with us."
Parker, 32, is a former assistant professor of History and Literature at Harvard. In the summer of 1972, the trustees of Bennington named her president and her husband, Thomas D. Parker '64, former Allston Burr Senior Tutor in Winthrop House, vice president of the college.
Parker became the first woman president of the 45-year-old institution, which had first admitted men only two years earlier. She remains the youngest woman president of any college in the United States.
Pearson said that the faculty, in voting to bypass Parker in all future administrative dealings, was "deeply concerned" about the president's "apparent feeling that the faculty and students are incapable of serious consideration of the problems of the college," and her resultant "ignoring of outside input."
He added that the vote represented the culmination of a "growing feeling" on the part of students and faculty that Parker has isolated herself from the college community.
Diane Welebit, a senior and president of the Bennington student council, expressed agreement with this sentiment last night.
"She [Parker] has completely withdrawn herself from the community in all her dealings with everybody here," Welebit said. "I really haven't felt her presence at all since I've been here."
Pearson said that student and faculty actions in the near future would focus on "effectively communicating our feelings to the Board, through the dean of the Faculty and the Board Chairman."
He said the faculty would not immediately seek Parker's resignation, although "it is impossible to see how we can operate for long this way, conducting the day-to-day business of the college through the board of trustees."
Parker has been unavailable for comment since the vote was taken last week. However, her husband said yesterday that "the report is basically a good one," and that the charges of "repeated contempt" leveled against his wife were "simply not true."
"The whole issue of the report being a fait accompli was a thing which arose in the anger of the moment," he added. "People were infuriated by the talk that the board of trustees liked the report before it was submitted to the faculty--besides, the trustees are not a group of right-wing fascists."
Of the charge that his wife has isolated herself from the Bennington community, Parker said, "She's simply doing what any president does--she's spending a lot of her time on the road raising money."
"Anybody, students or faculty, can come into her office and see her any time," he added.
Allegations like those being directed at the Bennington president are unprecedented in her otherwise brilliant academic career, most sources agreed yesterday.
One student who had been enrolled in Parker's freshman seminar at Harvard yesterday called her "extremely accessible," and "a phenomenally encouraging person who provided my formative academic experience."
Alan E. Heimert, Cabot Professor of American Literature, who served as Parker's undergraduate tutor and supervised her doctoral research here, said last night that he was "very surprised" by the no confidence vote.
I can't imagine Gail withdrawing," he said. "She always seemed extremely popular and accessible."
At the time of the Parkers' Bennington appointments Parker commented in a Crimson interview, "I think Bennington was looking for someone--some ones--who seem to be able to take a job where there are controversies with students and to behave in a way that can be seen as candid."
"While it would be naive to feel that there aren't going to be frustrations at Bennington, I think they will be on another scale--not the kind where you can't sit down and talk to your adversaries," her husband added.
Pearson said yesterday that "it hasn't always been this way" with Parker.
"There was obviously very strong support for her at the time of her appointment," he said. "There was a real honeymoon, but that suddenly ended.