UMF students contest professor’s denied tenure

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FARMINGTON — Students and alumni of the University of Maine at Farmington met with university President Theo Kalikow on Monday to discuss the recent decision to deny tenure to sociology professor Kristina Wolff.

The main reason cited for denying Wolff’s request is an accusation that she has not has helped weaker students, Kalikow said.

Asked what she meant by weaker students, Kalikow said, “I don’t want to go into this … I’m not going to engage in debate with you or answer questions of that nature.”

The students and alumni offered stories of their own educational experiences. Many students said they consider themselves “weaker” and have received assistance from Wolff during their time at the university.

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“I was a weak student; I actually had a GPA of 0 at one point,” said alumnus Matthew LaRiviere. “I switched my major to sociology, and my classes with Dr. Wolff helped shape my direction and make me a better scholar.”

LaRiviere graduated from the university last spring with a grade point average of 3.17.

Alumnus Jordan Shaw also described himself was as a “weak” undergraduate student. “Dr. Wolff worked with me when I transferred; she was willing to spend several hours advising me and helped me to create an individualized program of sociology/religion. Looking at what she did and her willingness to work with weaker students … losing her would constitute a huge loss to the university,” Shaw said.

UMF senior Rob Sherman left the school for a semester and transferred back, and he credits his return to Wolff.

“We aren’t paying for easy A’s; we’re paying for a challenge,” Sherman said. “We came to UMF because of its academic integrity. We came for rigorous, challenging courses … that’s what Dr. Wolff offers.”

“It’s remarkable how much we share values,” Kalikow said.

“Letting Dr. Wolff go would be detrimental to this institution and particularly to the sociology program,” student Nicole Moreau said.

Kalikow said she was pleasantly surprised by the students’ dedication to Wolff’s cause, and has received letters and other communication from many other students on her behalf. “This level of care and concern for a professor is very unusual, and I appreciate you making sure I know how you feel about this.”

Kalikow pointed out, however, that she has a slightly different point of view and different set of objectives than the rest of campus. “I have to make decisions for our long-term benefit, even if these decisions are not always something that people agree with. I’m struck by the values that we share here of challenge and nurture, and my job is to make that experience available as far into the future as I can affect. You are a testimony to the fact that it’s working,” she said.

While students and Kalikow met, several other students organized a silent sit-in in the hallway outside Kalikow’s office. The entire group stayed in the hallway for 15 minutes after the meeting, even though Kalikow left her office almost immediately.

“Are we going to stay here a long time?” she asked them. “Should we have pizza sent?”

Administrative staff noted that they were pleasantly surprised at the respectful manner of the students’ protest.

Students participate in a silent sit-in outside the office of University of Farmington President Theo Kalikow on Monday. Students also met with Kalikow to share personal stories in a show of support for sociology professor Kristina Wolff.

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