Patty Limerick Speaks on Her Dismissal from CU's Center of the American WestHistorians in the News
tags: Patty Limerick, western history
Patty Limerick, co-founder and longtime faculty director of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center of the American West, says her firing last week continues to shock her, especially as she had been planning to step down soon anyway.
“This has been a process that did not come with transparency, forthrightness and clear and steady communication. Whatever the opposite of those terms are, that’s what it has been,” Limerick said in an interview. “You know, we’ve had decades of very solid support from the university leadership and there was a reason for that, because—I’m not sure if this is a little bit of vanity or just accuracy—I’ve done everything imaginable for years here to build trust between a university-based organization and the general public. I’ve done and I do it instinctively, and because until recently I’ve really loved higher education. But this is not holding up so well.”
Adding to the turmoil: all five members of the center’s executive committee have resigned from their roles in protest, writing in individual resignation letters of their esteem for Limerick and her achievements, including her MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship and her more recent election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Limerick is well-known for helping usher in a new era of interest in the American West and reframing narratives about it via her books, including The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, and her public engagement.
The committee members also expressed concerns about lack of due process for Limerick.
Limerick told Inside Higher Ed that she took stewardship of the center’s funds most seriously, and that she made clear to employees that her birthday party—which she paid for herself and which was held at her neighbor’s home—was not mandatory. When she asked an employee to check her credit card statement, she also said, it was to see if a charge pertained to a professional association membership fee.
Regarding the other examples of alleged impropriety, Limerick said she was effectively being criticized for doing what she’s always done as a center director: leveraging her personal and professional contacts and expertise to promote applied history regarding the American West and generally build bridges between academe and the public.
“When I went to give a talk in a small town, I didn’t just give the talk and leave—I stayed, went to dinner. I was there the next day. I visited, and it was totally reciprocal education,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s going to happen again—to do that thing where you blend your scholarly reputation to the cause of building trust and ties with the university … Nobody should try that again. Because that is going to be misunderstood. There is going to be a lack of boundaries between your personal world and their professional world.”