Facebook group praises professor, sends wave of student letters to administrators

Tony Gorder

Tony GorderEditor-In-Chief

Students created a Facebook group to show support for tenured biology professor Scott Pedersen after an attempt was made over the summer to formally terminate his contract.

“When I heard about Dr. Pedersen’s plight, I wanted to react in a way that would help him,” Sara Pepper, a 2010 biology graduate, said. “I knew there were others out there who would want to help if they knew about it.”

Pepper and Kirsten Kimbler, a senior biology major, created the Facebook group “Support for Dr. Pedersen!”

“Within the first week we had over 500 members,” Kimbler said.

The group, which now has a total of 763 members, posted the mailing addresses of SDSU President David Chicoine, Provost Laurie Nichols and Barry Dunn, dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, among others.

Kimbler and Pepper instructed members to write those listed on the page but stressed keeping things positive.

“Even though we were upset, we didn’t want any administration bashing,” Kimbler said.

“I knew positive support would have a larger effect,” Pepper said. “You always have to have a professional tone. … By keeping it professional, it was able to help more.”

The main goal of the group, according to the creators, was to show Dr. Pedersen and administration the student support for him.

“Dr. Pedersen is a great professor and has affected many students’ lives,” Pepper said.

“He’s like a father figure to all of us,” Kimbler said.

Provost Nichols said the student support was effective.

“[The student letters] had a very big impact. I read every one of the letters,” Nichols said. “It’s good to hear from students.”

Pedersen himself commented about the group in a written statement.

“I was over-whelmed by the flood of letters, kind words of support, and student involvement with the Facebook page this summer,” wrote Pedersen. “… I was emotionally blind-sided by the great value that students (past and present) have placed in our anatomy program and my efforts therein. It is therefore with great humility that I offer my most sincere thanks to all that got involved. … Given the student efforts over this summer, I can only surmise that the administration has a renewed appreciation for the value that students place in the quality of their instructors.”

The specific charges and reasons for the attempted termination and how they came about are unknown. Personnel issues are confidential, and the university cannot comment. Pedersen would not give specific details but alluded to the nature of the reasons in his written statement.

“It has always been my sincerest hope that students will critically evaluate the flood of data, society pressures and the philosophical implications of the many (often sensitive) issues placed before them each semester 8212; issues that each will undoubtedly wrestle with again and again in the future.”

Pedersen wrote. “However, some students may well perceive new/different viewpoints as adversarial to their own thoughts and feelings. Opinions contrary to their own may be deemed wrongful or unwarranted. Academically, this is frustrating.”

Bill Adamson, president of the SDSU chapter of the South Dakota Council of Higher Education, said charges of insensitivity about religious issues were reasons for the attempted termination.

“… the charges did not have convincing evidence,” Adamson said.

Whatever the reasons, Pedersen did not make it to the full first step of the termination process, coming to an agreement with university officials.

“We found a solution that would satisfy everybody’s needs,” Pedersen said. “[The provost and I are] on the same page, and everything seems back to where it has been.”

“We’re so pleased he’s with us at SDSU,” Nichols said. “He’s an outstanding professor.”