VMI English Professor Speaks About Resignations

Jul 11, 2013

We told you recently nearly all the professors in Virginia Military Institute’s English Department had quit.  Hear now from one of the profs still there.

Kurt Ayau is one of the few who remains in VMI’s English Department but he’s already let the administration know of his intention to resign, too.  A VMI spokesman says the profs quit after the dean announced a curriculum change, focusing more on writing and less on literature.  But Ayau says that was just the tip of the iceberg.  The impetus for the change in curriculum he says, was a 2011 faculty evaluation.

“We all seemed to have done really badly as teachers across the board here, we said, ‘Wow’, we were all surprised.”

Ayau, who taught composition at VMI for nearly a quarter century, and his colleagues asked for completely inaccurate information to be removed from their evaluations-a request that was granted in years past but this time they were told the evaluations couldn’t be changed.   So they took their concerns to the Inspector General and sought advice from an attorney.  The professors were called to a department meeting right before Christmas where the dean read a statement.

“If we weren’t cordial and we didn’t work together, this could be construed as insubordination, and that insubordination would be grounds for dismissal for cause.”

Ayau claims in February of last year, one of the professors was fired while she was on medical leave.  Then two months later, he received an email informing him the curriculum was being changed, effective this fall.  He says no one was consulted before getting the email and 18 months is too short of a time to completely overhaul the department.  In addition to the one that was fired, Ayau says two professors left with severance agreements containing a non-disparagement clause and four quit to take new jobs.  He had hoped to stay at VMI three more years.

“But then, more stuff happened this year and I said standing at the stove in the kitchen, and I said, ‘That’s the last straw.  I can’t take it.  I’m not going to do this. That’s the last time I have been treated so shabbily’.”

After scrambling and failing to find another teaching job, Ayau decided to cash out his retirement and IRA and buy himself some time.