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May 15, 1975 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1975-05-15

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Poge Six


Thursday, May 15, 1975


Report on the Cobb affair:

At the beginning of ts month,
the University's Affirmative Ac-
tion Committee released a 46-
page report on the literary col-
lege (LSA) deanship crisis. The
report provided a detailed ac-
count of the so-called "Cobb af-
fair", and reaffirmed The
Daily's accounts of the admin-
istration's rejection of Jewel
Cobb, the black woman educa-
tor unanimously selected by the
Regents last January to head
Unfortunately only limited edi-
tions of the report have been
made available. In the inter-
est of providing the campus
with complete information on
the deanship crisis, The Daily
has excerpted the major por-
tions of the so-called "Cobb re-
port" for reprinting here. Not
included are the report's events,
chronology and appendices, due
to space requirements. Both sec-
tions, we believe, are adequate-
ly summarized in the report's
findings and recommndations.
Today's issue includes the re-
port's findings. Tomorrow's
Daily includes the recommenda-
April 4, 1974-January 31, 1975
prepared by the
1. The LSA Deanship Advis-
ory Search Committee
The Deanship Advisory Search
Committee was created on April
4, 1974 by President Robben
Fleming. This Affirmaiv Ac-
tion Committee believes that the
four-part charge to the Search
Committee was excllent, and
that response of the Sarch
Committee to all aspec+s of its
charge was essential. However,
the Affirmative Action Commit-
tee has received no evidence
that the charge was carried out
fully. No written response to
the four elements of the charge
was ever made.
ONE OF the charges given to
the Search Committee at t h e
time of its creation was to "pre-
pare specifications of qualities
and experience to be sought in
the new dean." Professor Burks
advised this Committee t h a t
"President Fleming gave us his
criteria for a good dean of
LS&A" at the time when t h e
Search Committee first conven-
ed to commence its work. The
Affirmative Action Committee
did not receive information as
to the specifics of the unwritten
criteria which President Flem-
ing discussed at that time.
(Search Committee ch irman)
Prof. (Arthur) Burks said to the
Affirmative Action Committee
that he did not recall whether
President Fleming said a n y -
thing about "research and schol-
arship" at that meeting. Pro-
fesorship Burks stated, "Presi-
dent Fleming said that on r
Committee (the Search Com-
mittee) should not look into the
tenure question, but should leave
it to him to approach the de-
partment involved." The Af-
firmative Action Committee
does not know whether Presi-
dent Fleming mentioned a cri-
terion concerning administrative
experience in a complex institu-
tion as necessary for the dean-
Subsequently, after its meet-
ing with President Fleming, the
Search Committee developed a
list of eleven criteria to be used
in considering nominees for the
appointment to the deanship.
One of the criteria agreed upon

'It would appear that from Cobb's
perspective, she was never accorded
the courtesies that traditionally ac-
company professional negotiations of
these sorts. When Cobb was first con-
tacted by Vice President Rhodes, she
was not told that she would be wel-
comed or given his support if she
came to Michigan . . . Neither Flem-
ing nor Rhodes appeared to Cobb to
be genuinely interested in successfully
completing the negotiations.'

Jewel Cobb

Frank Rhodes

by the members of the Search
Committee was that a nominee
"must have had class oom ex-
perience, and interest is and un-
derstanding of research a n d
scholarly work." Professor
Burks stated that these criteria
along with the others agreed
upon, were essentially the same
as those previously stated by
President Fleming to the mem-
bers of the Search Committee
during their first meeting.
THE SEARCH Committee de-
cided, pursuant to its list of
criteria, that any of th. three
final candidates, (Connecticut
college) Dean Jewel Cobb, Dr.
David Danelski (of Cornell), or
Acting Dean Billy Frye, "would
make a good dean of LSA" and
they were accordingly recom-
mended on the final list submit-
ted to President Fleming. It is
difficult to understand how the
Search Committee could feel
that it had fulfilled its charge
without submission of a written
report, and how the President
and Vice President for Acaden-
ic Affairs could have accepted
a non-written report from the
Search Committee. This is es-
pecially true in relation to the
criteria which were used as a
basis for the search and mea-
surement of the candidates
against these criteria. Neither
President Fleming nor V i c e
President Rhodes was ever
made aware of the criteria used
by the Search Commi'tee to
measure the qualifications of
the prospective candidates for
the LSA deanship position. In
fact, neither the President nor
the Vice President ever inquir-
ed of the Search Committee
members about the list of cri-
teria that had been used to
judge the nominees for the dean-
ship position. These facts are
important because they suggest
that there was no cleat and
common understanding between
the President and Vi.e Presi-
dent for Academic Affairs and
members of the Search Commit-
tee with respect to the criterion
of "research and sciolarship"
and that of administrative ex-
perience in a complex institu-
The "research and scholarship
criterion is significant because
Dean Cobb was subsequently
denied tenure in the Zoology De-
partment because of alleged de-
ficiencies in her research and
scholarship. - More importantly
it was this tenure denial which
eventually caused the Univer-
sity to discontinue its negotia-
tions with Dean Cobb. The ad-
ministrative experience criter-
ion is important because t i

the factor that President Flem-
ing relied upon in recommend-
ing Acting Dean Frye over Dean
Cobb and Dr. Danelski.
In view of the lack of clarity
and the lack of mutual agree-
ment with respect to the criter-
in used by the Search Commit-
tee to judge the nominees, it is
difficult to understand why the
President and Vice President for
Academic Affairs failed to in-
quire about the list of criteria
being used by the Search Com-
mittee. One explanation could
be that President Fleming as-
sumed that his criteria were the
same as those used by the
Search Committee.
ANOTHER possible explana-
tion is that the President asn d
Vice President for Academic
Affairs had a predispositio: to
select Acting Dean Frye a n d
viewed the Search Committee's
role as purely advisory. In this
connection, it is significant to
note that although both the Pre-
sident and Vice President for
Academic Affairs had had con-
versations with Dean Cobb in
June 1974, neither the President
nor the Vice President had a
thorough interview with Dean
Cobb in an efort to measure
carefully her qualifications for
the position of dean during the
time she was a serious candi-
date for that position. These
facts suggest that both the Pre-
sidetn and the Vice President
for Academic Affairs were
strongly in favor of Acting Dean
This conclusion is made sore
plausible by the evidence show-
ing that the Presidentand V'ce
President both felt that Acting
Dean Frye was doing an out-
standing job as acting dean; that
both men knew Acting Dean
Frye; that Vice President Rhod-
es had previously appointed
Acting Dean Frye to serve as
an asociate dean of LSA and
had strongly urged him to as-
sume the position of acting
dean; and that both the Presi-
dent and Vice President felt that
there was strong support for
Acting Dean Frye among many
members of the faculty in LSA.
On the basis of all the evi-
dence, this Committea suspects
that neither the President nor
the Vice President for Academic
Affairs seriously considered the
candidacy of the outside nom-
It should also be noted that
Vice President Rhodes briefly
considered resigning from h is
position after the Regents se-
lected Dean Cobb over Acting
Dean Frye. This Committee dif-
fers on its interpretation of this

behavior. Some members be-
lieve it supports the lack of ser-
ious consideration of D e a n
Cob's candidacy; some feel that
it is not a surprising reaction to
the Regents' rejection of Mr.
Rhodes' first major recommen-
With regard to the third ele-
ment of the charge to the
Search Committee, Professor
Burks stated that:
"The Committee (te Search
Committee) began its task by
soliciting names m various
ways: by advertising, send-
ing open letters to faculty and
students, writing to m a n y
friends of the University, and
by meeting with McKeachie
in his capacity as Chairman
of the last Advisory Commit-
tee for the Rackham Dean-
This committee believes that
more could have been done by
the Search Committee to identi-
fy the views of the LSA faculty
with respect to the deanship se-
lection. For example, the Search
Committee could have consulted
with the Executive Committee
of LSA or the various depart-
ment chairpersons and the like.
This Committee has no evidence
to indicate that such consulta-
tion occurred.
2. The Tenure Request Letter
On January 23, 1975, Vice Pre-
sident Rhodes setn a letter to
Professor Carl Gans, Chairman
of the Department of Zoology,
which read in its en:irety as fol-
"I am writing in connection
with Dr. Jewel Cobb, a copy
of whose curriculum vitae I
enclose. I should be most
grateful to know whether, if
she were to asume an admin-
istrative appointment in the
University, Dr. Cobb w o u l d
qualify for a tenured faculty
appointment in the Depart-
ment of Zoology. This would,
of course, involve no charge
against Zoology Department
budget. I hope that you, and
your colleagues who may be
involved in the review of this,
will respect the need for con-
fidentiality in this matter An
early reply would be m o s t
A similar letter was sent to Dr.
John Gronvall, Dean of the
Medical School, inquiring about
the possibility of tenure fort
Dean Cobb in the Medical
In response to Vice President
Rhodes' letter the Medical
School responded one way and
the Zoology Department re-
sponded another. The Medical
School considered it a serious,
yet hypothetical inquiry; t h e
Department of Zoology viewed

it as a request for a tenure
decision. Vice President Rhodes
said he was essentially asking
for a tenure decision to be made
and, therefore, that Professor
Gans" interpretation was cor-
rect. From these differing re-
sponses a majority of this Com-
mittee concluded that the letter
of inquiry was ambiguous. If
the Vice President was actually
asking for a tenure decision,
he should have insisted upon rig-
orous and scrupulous attention
to procedures which assure due
process. This was all the more
important because Vice Presi-
dent Rhodes recognized the fact
that the Cobb case was a hot one
that was out in The Michigan
Daily. Procedures can be
streamlined but they should not
be significantly changed unless
proper procedures are assured.
University procedures must be
able to stand up against the heat
of the real world. University ad-
ministrators, just as they con-
tinue to support concepts of
academic freedom, including
departmental control and peer
judgment of such things as ten-
ure eligibility, must at least as
vigorously support and streng-
then appropriate procaQures.
3. The Tenure Review Process
Procedures used in the ten-
ure review process to judge
Dean Cobb's competence were
seriously deficient. It is no: ne-
cessary for this Committee to
pass judgment on Dean Cobb's
qualifications as a zoologist in
order to reach this conclusion.
The facts in this case reveal
that the entire tenure review
process was completed within 24
hours. Professor Gans told the
Affirmative Action Committee
that some members of th3 Zool-
ogy Department had copies of
some of Dean Cobb's articles
in their files.
However, this Committee re-
ceived no indication that these
were the bases of the decision
made by the Executive Commit-
tee or that they were used in
the evaluation of Dean Cobb. Ac-
cording to the testimony of Pro-
fessor Gans, the Executive
Committee in the Zoology De-
partment selected only a few
of Dean Cobb's articles for re-
view and excluded others -
without consultation with Dean
Cobb - which Dean Cobb con-
siders to be significant works
of scholarship. Dean Cobb was
never contacted by any mem-
ber of the Zoology Department.
She was never asked to give a
seminar or make a personal ap-
pearance before the faculty
members in the Zoatogy D e -
partment as has bee-i done in
the past with other persons be-

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