For many staffers in College Houses & Academic Services, it was the latest in the long line of sexist and culturally insensitive comments from their boss, Martin Redman: the so-called “Africa comment.”
In October 2014, a group of college house deans met for one of their periodic meetings with Redman, the executive director of CHAS, where he briefed them on why resident advisors had seen their work-study grants by Student Financial Services.
The RAs were not actually supposed to have gotten work-study jobs, but some of them had mistakenly gone against protocol, including one particular RA who had apparently been sending the work-study money home to his family.
Attendees expected Redman to give the student, who is black, a break for the honest mistake, and some spoke up in his favor.
What Redman said next floored those in attendance.
“Well, I’m not in the business of sending money back home to Africa. Too bad for him,” Redman reportedly said in an account confirmed with seven employees who either attended the meeting or heard about his comments shortly after. Students had occasionally sent money home to their families, staffers later explained, but the manner in which Redman stated his thought was racially insensitive, they said.
Off-color remarks like these appear to be a staple of Redman’s tenure at CHAS and far from irregular. In interviews with nearly two dozen former and current house deans, faculty fellows and CHAS staff members, The Daily Pennsylvanian uncovered a pattern of continued disregard for his staff’s discomfort with Redman’s language.
“He tends to always blurt out the worst possible thing you could ever imagine someone saying,” said a faculty fellow who has worked with Redman.
Outraged by behavior they perceived as offensive, at least seven former or current CHAS staffers, including four house deans, say they have spoken to Penn’s Division of Human Resources about Redman. Some have taken their case to the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs. Beyond a weeklong leadership training, none of them said Redman was disciplined in any way.
The portrait they and their colleagues describe is of an administrative unit central to the student experience that is beset with frustration over a leader many regard as sexist at worst and woefully insensitive at best.
Since Redman arrived at Penn in January 2011, eight house deans have either left their positions to pursue opportunities outside of Penn or in another University department. It is not clear that all departures were linked to Redman and at least one likely was not: Ryan Keytack left his post as Rodin College House dean in February 2015 after earning a promotion to director of four-year houses and residential programs within CHAS.
One former CHAS employee, John Merz, took his concerns directly to Redman’s boss, Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein, in an April email he sent days before quitting.
“Another issue I have is with Marty Redman,” he wrote. “He is abrasive, condesending [sic] and outright rude to most of the people he interacts with in CHAS. He, for a lack of a better term, is a workplace bully.”
In one glaring instance, Redman reportedly made a comment about Penn President Amy Gutmann’s Jewish religion that staffers found inappropriate, three sources familiar with the comment said. A spokeswoman for Gutmann did not return a request for comment.
“Marty is one of the most un-self-aware people I’ve ever worked for,” said a former house dean who, like many others interviewed for this article, asked not to be named to avoid retaliation from Redman. “Just totally clueless — the worst supervisor I’ve ever had.”
Through a spokesman for the Office of the Provost, of which CHAS is a subsidiary department, Redman and Winkelstein declined to comment for this article. The spokesman said in a statement, “Given the highly sensitive nature of these issues, which touch on the specific details of multiple individual employment situations, it will not be possible for Vice Provost Winkelstein or Marty Redman to comment for the article, either in person or in writing.”
A new hiree
Months before any staffer had voiced a single complaint about him, Martin W. Redman III was just a name on one of many applications for the position of executive director of CHAS.
The position was a new one, established in the fall of 2010. CHAS originally formed in 1998 as a way to standardize the college house system at Penn and had been run since April 2002 under the leadership of a faculty director and administrative director.
“I was often frustrated in the early days of when I was dean and when I was chair of the math department, if you wanted to do something with the college houses, you had to do it 11 times,” said Dennis DeTurck, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the faculty director of CHAS.
Since at least 2006, CHAS has fallen under the purview of the Vice Provost for Education, who oversees the vast, interconnected web of undergraduate and graduate schools, research hubs and student services. When the Office of the Provost decided in favor of adding an executive director, the Vice Provost for Education at the time, biology professor Andy Binns, tasked his subordinate, Executive Director of Education and Academic Planning Rob Nelson, with leading the search.
The search ended up being narrower than expected, said two members of the search committee who asked for anonymity to speak frankly to the DP about deliberations that are typically kept confidential.
“We didn’t get a very robust pool of candidates,” one search committee member said. “Of the people we interviewed, Marty had the most experience.”
According to the two sources, members of the search process decided to not hire any internal candidates, even though some applied.
“We definitely decided against internal candidates--mainly because the obvious candidates were the House Deans, and relationships among the House Deans (also between House Deans and CHAS) were rather delicate,” said the second source, who asked to be identified as the “student representative” on the committee, in an email.
Binns and Nelson did not respond to requests for comment.
Redman had been let go from Dartmouth College a few months earlier after his position as dean of residential life there had been eliminated in a string of staffing cuts. He knew Pennsylvania higher education well as an administrator at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. and understood the Ivy League through his years at Dartmouth.
In application materials sent to Penn on Sept. 23, 2010, obtained by the DP, Redman described his vision of a diverse, academically focused residential college system for Penn to rival the legendary dormitory systems at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth.
“Throughout my career I have the good fortune to guide the work of an incredible staff dedicated to helping diverse populations of students achieve their educational and social goals. I am proud of what we accomplish together,” Redman wrote in his letter of intent.
But Redman was not an academic, something that initially worried search committee members who still remembered the academic-first vision of CHAS set forth in 1998 by founder David Brownlee, an art history professor.
Redman’s experience dealing with tough unions at Dartmouth worked in his favor among the search committee, the two sources said.
CHAS has always had difficulty establishing a standard operating procedure with Facilities and Real Estate Services, the arm of Penn that deals with building maintenance and operation, said the first member of the search committee.
At Penn, separate administrative units like CHAS and FRES operate relatively autonomously. The level of maintenance service FRES can provide the staffers in CHAS and their residents depends on the budget allotted to FRES by Penn Business Services, the purchasing arm of Penn.
“He had some experience at Dartmouth with dining unions. We said, ‘We’ll leave the academics up to us and let him be the kind of tough guy,’” the source said. “He’s got kind of a swagger. He will not back down.”
As for any initial worries about Redman’s salty personality, the source said:
“I did tell somebody before he started, ‘Look out if he ever turns it on us.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”
A ‘clueless, white boy’
At Penn, Redman ran headlong into the web of traditionalism and decentralization that are staples of the University. As a non-academic working in a department that had previously been dominated by faculty input, he quickly butted heads with staffers, according to multiple source accounts.
“On a scale from supportive to confrontational, he’s probably more toward the latter more of the time. And part of it is a personality thing,” DeTurck said. “Part of it is he probably experienced some of that same frustration having to explain the same thing [over and over].”
While staffers all acknowledged the difficulty of navigating the bureaucratic quagmire Redman inherited, nothing excused for them his tendency toward aggressive, troublesome remarks.
In an exchange confirmed by six people who witnessed it, Redman reportedly said in a meeting that a staffer in Fisher Hassenfeld College House who went on maternity leave had decided to become a “real mother.”
“That was really offensive to all people who’ve had children and couldn’t afford to take longer maternity leave,” said a former house dean who was at the meeting.
At another meeting, he said Director of IT Services Marilyn Spicer had a “slender figure,” according to four sources who either witnessed it or heard about it shortly after. At a separate gathering for all CHAS staff, he said she “knew him better than his own wife did,” three employees said. Spicer did not respond to a request for comment.
“He made women feel uncomfortable,” said a former CHAS staffer who worked with Redman for years.
“If we want the community we tell the students we want, we have to deliver,” said Jorge Santiago-Aviles, the faculty director of Kings Court English College House, when informed of Redman’s reported comments. “If not, we let the students down.”
DeTurck noted how a professional environment can exist where staffers are free to joke with each other and occasionally push the envelope in terms of off-color jokes and innuendo. For such an environment to exist, there needs to be mutual respect and understanding.
“My impression is that that spirit and atmosphere is often missing in CHAS,” he said. “And it makes me unhappy.”
Longtime staffers, who had been at Penn when Brownlee and a cadre of faculty created CHAS, grew frustrated and tense under Redman’s leadership.
“Prior to the installation of the Executive Director, I felt that my creative work, my intelligence, and many contributions to the department were deeply appreciated and respected,” former CHAS Associate Director of Communications Sue Smith wrote in a statement to the DP. “All of that changed. For me, it became a daily struggle just to be recognized as a seasoned, credible and yes, opinionated professional.”
Three former house deans who filed individual complaints about Redman to HR said separately that the representative they met with excused his actions as those of an “old-school, clueless, white boy.”
“He’s so sexist,” said one of the house deans who met with HR. “He would always have a qualifier when he talked about women. He would always have to explain as if it were some big revelation that women could be smart.”
Merz, the former CHAS staffer who emailed Winkelstein about his concerns with Redman, had worked at Penn in College House Computing for close to a decade before Redman became executive director. Almost immediately after Redman’s arrival, Merz said he felt deeply uncomfortable in his presence.
“I feel like he was homophobic,” Merz said. “Everyone can tell I’m gay. Some people can hide it really well. I’m not that person. I definitely felt like there were times he treated me that way because of this.”
Around nine months after Redman started as executive director, Merz filed complaints about him with the Office of the Ombudsman, a department where staff can confidentially seek conflict resolution advice.
In February 2012, Merz said he spoke to Susan Curran, the director of human resources for departments within the Provost’s Office. Curran reportedly praised Redman’s leadership and dismissed Merz’s concerns. He began seeking out another HR representative, Kathy Swartz, who reportedly told him “Marty is on our radar.” Curran and Swartz both did not respond to requests for comment.
After two of his colleagues quit on the same day in October 2015, Merz petitioned his immediate supervisor, Marilyn Spicer, and Redman to receive extra pay to compensate for extra work. His conflict, detailed at length in a where he used the pseudonym “Lewis,” resulted in a bitter exit from Penn soon after sending that email to Winkelstein in which he called Redman a “bully.”
In an interview last month for the article about College House Computing, Redman responded to Merz’s characterization.
“Sure, if that’s somebody’s opinion, I’m not going to say no,” Redman said. “I would generally say that’s not who I am and it depends upon the circumstance.”
An untimely restructuring
In May 2012, Redman invited five CHAS staff members, all of whom were members of an underrepresented minority group, to participate in a special “360 review” administered through HR and managed by an independent consulting group, where their colleagues and family members are interviewed intensively about them.
The intrusiveness of the program, which solicits input from all directions of the organization about specific employees, sent staffers into a frenzy. After introducing the program in the spring, Redman announced in the fall that he intended to complete the program himself before any of the five staffers did it.
During an awkward meeting where he publicly read the largely negative responses gathered during his 360 review, Redman shuttered the program, according to seven employees who attended the meeting. Four of the five people he initially picked for the program have since left Penn.
HR invited house deans to speak about Redman after the 360 flap and he ultimately attended a weeklong leadership training. His outreach to employees picked up after then, employees said, though for many, Redman had already exhausted their patience.
Whatever goodwill remained evaporated in April 2014 when Redman restructured the office in a move that eliminated the jobs of three longtime staffers in the CHAS central office: Sue Smith, Pamela Robinson and Leslie Delauter, who has since returned to Penn in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
The restructuring was a necessary professional move, employee sources said, to accommodate a change in philosophy at CHAS that divided houses into three types: freshman, four-year and upperclass. To oversee these three types of college houses, Redman introduced three new director positions.
Longtime staffers were let go with close to no input from the rest of the office and blindsided with the news.
Smith, who had worked in CHAS since its inception, said in an email to Vice President for Human Resources Jack Heuer that she was informed of her termination in a meeting called “under the guise of hearing about a promotion for my assistant.”
Smith sent the email in July, “as part of the grieving process” of leaving Penn, and never received a response from Heuer.
She described her introduction to Penn as a new staffer in 1986 and described, point by point, the emotion of being let go in such an abrupt way from the place she loved.
“This type of stealth, ‘surprise’ dismissal has no place at such a great University. It’s not in the Penn spirit,” she wrote.
“Something as simple as wearing a Penn sweatshirt seems impossible now.”Comments powered by Disqus
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