Grawemeyer Hall on UofL campus | Photo by Joe Sonka

This post has been updated the percentage of African-American education professors and how that compares to the full faculty. 

University of Louisville’s education dean will step down mid-semester, but she’s expected to stay in the university’s larger education vision.

Ann Larson, who has led the college of education since 2014, will step down from her current role on April 8, according to a letter to faculty shared with Insider. She has been asked to take on a new role at UofL: special assistant to President Neeli Bendapudi, focusing on helping more local students get to and through UofL.

Larson will “work with school districts, UofL leadership, and business leaders to develop a plan to get more partner district students to, through, and successfully beyond their UofL degree,” according to a letter from Provost Beth Boehm sent to faculty Friday.

An interim dean is expected to be announced “soon,” Boehm wrote.

Ann Larson

Larson’s departure comes amid lingering concerns over the education school’s faculty diversity and climate. Larson was slated for a five-year contract review in the coming months.

UofL spokesman John Karman said he didn’t believe the role switch was tied to climate issues, but that university administration is “definitely aware” of faculty concerns and is working to remedy them. Larson was not available for comment Friday, Karman said.

Earlier this year, Boehm told UofL’s board of trustees that the College of Education and Human Development’s faculty diversity was not keeping pace with the larger university.

While UofL had seen its overall faculty body become slightly more diverse since 2013, CEHD seemed to have fewer black professors. Around 6.7 percent of education professors were black in 2018, whereas around 8.2 percent of those in College of Arts & Sciences identified as black, per university data. Roughly 6 percent of all UofL faculty are black.

A letter sent from a group of professors to UofL administrators and shared with Insider labeled the loss as their top concern in a field of intertwined issues signaling a racist undercurrent in the CEHD.

Dubbed a “faculty exodus,” over half of the 21 faculty members who have left the education school under Larson were black, they wrote. “This rate of faculty attrition in general, and of faculty of color in particular, is alarming,” the group wrote.

The departures could be tied to racial and gender discrimination under Larson’s leadership, they argued. In one situation, they allege Larson dismissed repeated concerns over a chair who “makes disparaging comments, discourages promotion opportunities, and underutilizes women faculty in clinical, limited contract appointments.”

Morale in the CEHD has become “increasingly low,” the professors wrote. Due to the alleged issues, “the CEHD is far from thriving and barely functioning.”

Similar anonymous notes began arriving at administrative offices in Grawemeyer Hall in August 2018, Boehm wrote to CEHD faculty in a January letter obtained through an open records request. She said she began “developing a plan” to address the issues, which she noticed as early as 2004 in the faculty senate.

She began conducting exit interviews with the professors who had left both the university and the CEHD specifically. In her January presentation to trustees, she said many reported as having left for better opportunities. Only “a few” cited climate issues.

To address climate woes in CEHD, Boehm brought in an outside consultant specializing in leadership development and “transformative change” called the Nebo Company. Nebo representatives would provide workshops and small group discussions to talk about climate, Boehm’s letter read.

In February, Insider requested more information regarding Nebo, including any contracts with UofL, but the request has not been acknowledged despite a follow-up. Kentucky’s open records law requires at least an acknowledgment, if not a full response, to records requests within three business days.

“There will be no simple solutions, and it will take the hard work of all to honestly and in good faith work toward a culture of which we are all proud and where all feel valued and can work collegially to fulfill the college’s and the university’s missions,” Boehm wrote.