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Georgia State biology chair removed minutes before meeting

“No one in our department had any idea this was coming,” Matthew Grober, director of undergraduate studies at the department of biology, said. According to Grober, Eric Gaucher, the previous chair of the department, was notified that he would be replaced minutes before the faculty meeting. 

The biology department’s faculty meeting took place on April 26 at 3:30 p.m., where it was announced that Geert De Vries would replace Gaucher as the new chair of the biology department. The decision was made by Sara Rosen, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who declined to comment on the situation. 

“The change was a personnel matter, and therefore, I will not discuss it,” Rosen said.

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Gaucher said he was hired two years ago because the biology department was searching for a new director, he was also led to believe the department would be forming their own school.

“Georgia State attracted me away from Georgia Tech under the idea that I was going to be the director of the new school of biology,” Eric Gaucher said.

In his two years at Georgia State, Gaucher tried to implement programs that would make his department stronger but faced alleged “pushback” from the upper administration. The administration said the department didn’t have to become a school anymore, despite hiring him to help create one in the first place. 

The department’s resources were also being taken away, but they were still expected to flourish. Gaucher found this strange because when he was told there would be resources so the department could grow into a school.

“At some point, we kind of reached a tipping point whereby I was getting essentially ‘handcuffed’ by the upper administration to make progress and change when, in fact, I was given fewer and fewer resources and expected to grow, which is almost impossible,” Gaucher said.

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Gaucher said he began voicing his concerns and pressuring the upper administration in attempts to get the necessary resources and conditions so his department could function properly. He said he also began speaking with other faculty about Dean Rosen and her inability to support the sciences efficiently. 

“It got to the point where she, the dean, was unhappy with me trying to be vocal and question her leadership,” Gaucher said.

Thirty minutes before the faculty meeting on April 26, Gaucher was called into the dean’s office for a meeting he said lasted about five minutes.

“I was given a piece of paper that said that I was being released [from] my duties as, ironically, director because I was supposed to be the director of the school of biology,” he said. “[The school] did a nationwide search for this position, but I was being released [from] my director duties, and then an administrator was going to be assigned to be the new head of biology.”

The decision for the change seemed to come as a surprise for the faculty who attended the meeting. Grober said that this is an example of the way Georgia State makes decisions for its students. He sees Georgia State is a “top-down institution,” meaning the administration makes decisions for the faculty and professors make decisions for the student body. 

“And what the students get is what the administration tells students they will be getting, generally speaking,” Grober said. 

Although Gaucher was not allowed in the meeting, he said wasn’t the only one feeling defeated. Gaucher describes what took place as very emotionally charged and chaotic. The department had been struggling for a number of years due to a lack of leadership, and after taking away a leader they’d grown accustomed to, the faculty felt distraught and ignored, he said.

“I don’t know if her hands are tied or if she was forced to take resources away from biology, but that was never conveyed to us that she would just take away our resources without telling us,” Gaucher said. 

According to Gaucher, Dean Rosen doesn’t want to be transparent due to fear of how faculty and the student body will react, as well as her desire to be promoted to provost.

The biology department was assigned a new leader just as abruptly as one was removed, and according to Gaucher, the faculty is apprehensive about trusting him because he was assigned. No one was able to give feedback about him acquiring the position as they normally would.

“The faculty don’t feel like they have a voice, and they fel like this burden is being put upon them by the upper administration,” Gaucher said.

This structure impacts everything, including how chairs of departments are appointed or replaced, according to Grober. The biology department is home to about 2,600 enrolled students and is only one department in the CAS that needs specific classroom spaces and resources. 

“We have to have large lecture halls, labs, maintenance of labs, staff, teaching assistants, and to make this work, you plan with the administration,” Grober said.

The administration includes those who decide on how resources are divided among the departments, and the chair of the department plays an important role in that process. Now that the chair has been replaced, Grober said many of his peers are waiting on instructions on how to operate moving forward.

“It’s a lot of uncertainty, and uncertainty is not good for productivity,” he said.

According to Grober, the decision had been so sudden that the new chair did not immediately have his own office space and had been meeting with faculty in a local coffee shop. 

Gaucher believes the problem the biology department was facing was a lack of leadership and vision, making his removal ironic. However, Gaucher is still looking forward to his teaching position at Georgia State.

“Being a faculty at Georgia State is a worthy endeavor,” Gaucher said. “This is a great student population, the university is growing very rapidly, and so from that perspective, it’s not the end of the world for me because I get ‘demoted to just being a regular professor. Being a professor is a great job.”

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