A new interim dean began her term Monday at the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences following controversy surrounding the resignation of the college’s former dean in August.
Former dean Neal Van Alfen submitted a letter of resignation to senior UC Davis administrators Aug. 28 after campus Chancellor Linda Katehi began the search for his successor two years prior to the end of his term. Mary Delany, a former associate dean of the college, has been appointed interim dean.
Van Alfen said he was informed of the search for the college’s next dean in early August during a meeting with Katehi. He said Katehi did not give a reason for beginning the search a year before it traditionally begins and said he resigned because he did not want to continue as dean during the recruiting process.
“There was no reason given for her decision,” Van Alfen said. “Normally, if it were the last year of your term, you expect to be replaced.”
Van Alfen served as dean for 13 years and began his third five-year term in 2009.
In protest of the search starting two years before the end of Van Alfen’s term, Jim Macdonald, executive associate dean of the college, also submitted a letter of resignation and ended his term Aug. 31.
“I felt it was wholly unnecessary, and no reason was given to Neal (Van Alfen) except ‘you’ve been dean for a long time,’” said Macdonald. “I feared that if I stayed on, people might mistakenly think I supported the chancellor.”
According to Barry Shiller, interim director of communications at UC Davis, Van Alfen and Katehi had discussed an eventual transition to a new dean, adding that the campus did not pressure Van Alfen to step down.
In a letter to the members of the college community, however, Van Alfen said he felt the premature search signified that the campus would replace him before the end of his term.
During his tenure as dean, Van Alfen oversaw the establishment of new health, food and agriculture research programs and fundraising efforts for several endowed chairs and campus organizations, according to the website for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Adrienne Bradley, a junior at the college, said she was worried that the programs started by Van Alfen would deteriorate.
However, Chase DeCoite, a graduate of the UC Davis college of Agriculture and Environmental Science, said that while Van Alfen was a recognizable face, it is time for the campus to move on.
“I think several people were disappointed and surprised,” DeCoite said. “It might provide the university with the opportunity to find someone with unique perspectives and move forward in a new direction.”
Contact Brittany Jahn and Virginia Hoban at [email protected].
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