Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

I was disappointed that the Foghorn did not take the time to reach out to me for comment before publishing its retrospective of my career as Provost in the February 6 issue (“Petitions, Protests, and Twitter: The Heller Tenure”).  If it had, I would have been happy to correct a number of the article’s factual errors and misleading statements.

A quick review of my curriculum vitae, available on my website, would have shown that my career in higher education began in 1981 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not in 1997 at the University of Michigan.

Reporting that my career as Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State was tainted by “scandal” is nothing short of libelous.  This label used by the Foghorn was based on a single article in the MSU student newspaper regarding the hiring of Margaret Crocco as chair of the Teacher Education Department.  There was nothing scandalous about her hire, which was supported by the search committee and the faculty in her department. She recently retired from MSU after a distinguished five-year tenure as chair, in which she oversaw the achievement of her program being named #1 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for the 25th year in a row.

The reporting on the university’s response to the 2018 Camp Fire also mischaracterized the event.  The university was never closed; classes were cancelled at the university’s various locations as the air quality level reached levels deemed hazardous based on the advice provided to us by medical professionals.  The decision to cancel classes was not made by a single person, but was made by representatives to the university’s Emergency Operations Center, which included members of the university’s Leadership Team and Student Life staff.  The article compared the timing of the university’s decision to cancel classes to that of schools like San Francisco State and Santa Clara University. What the article did not note was that the academic calendars of both of those institutions had academic holidays for the entirety of Thanksgiving week, while USF only closes on Thursday and Friday of that week.  Thus, the decision to cancel classes the week before Thanksgiving had very different implications for the three institutions.

The article reported that “students accused the provost of mismanaging the BASE endowment.”  While some students may have claimed this, the truth is that I had no involvement in the management of the BASE endowment, and a simple inquiry from the reporter would have been responded to with this information.

The article claims that “one of the most contentious elements” of my time on campus included some of my tweets, including one that criticized Senator Warren’s free college program.  The various free college proposals that have been floated by presidential candidates have received support and criticism from scholars around the country, and I am one of those among many.  While some may not like the position, it is a legitimate analysis of Senator Warran’s plan – and one that is shared by liberals and conservatives alike – and is one that I expounded on in more detail in an op-ed I wrote for The San Francisco Chronicle(https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Open-Forum-Elizabeth-Warren-s-free-college-13820087.php). 

The article closes with the statement that “Heller’s next career move was not known.”  Again, if the reporter had taken the time to reach out to me, I would have been happy to share this information.

Donald E. Heller

Vice President of Operations

Professor of Education


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