Alan Temes, an idiosyncratic instructor in the health and wellness department, is being let go by Binghamton University, but hundreds of students have signed a pledge in support of the man who goes by the name “talks to trees.”
An online petition created by Johnny Thach, a senior majoring in Asian and Asian American studies, hopes to cause administrators to reconsider a decision that would not renew trees’ contract at BU. The petition has received more than 240 signatures, as of Monday evening.
Thach, who is taking a class with Temes this semester, said that the majority of the signees are trees’ current and former students and their family members.
“My goal was to connect old students and their family members with the whole situation with trees,” Thach said. “Most of them showed a lot of concern and really actively helped me to spread the petition.”
Temes prefers the name “talks to trees” or “trees” and requested that his name stylistically appear in lowercase.
He said he was thrilled Thach started the petition and that he loves the comments on the petition’s page.
“Reading the comments and signatures, it’s flattering,” trees said. “I try to make a difference in their lives, I try to make the learning relevant, and based on the comments that are there I seem to be doing a pretty good job.”
Thach said he created the petition about a month ago, with the intention to eventually bring it to the attention of University President Harvey Stenger.
“When I get enough signatures, what I want to do was set up a meeting with the new president and to explain trees and the whole situation behind [his dismissal],” Thach said. “Maybe we can get the president to realize that maybe this guy is actually worth it. So maybe he stays another semester, another year, or maybe more.”
Thach said he does not have a specific number of signatures in mind, but hopes that people continue to sign it.
“There’s no goal,” Thach said. “500 would be great. 1,000 would be great. As many as possible.”
The petition’s page on www.change.org claims that what makes trees special is his unconventional teaching style, which encourages students to take a holistic approach to wellness, with an emphasis on meditation and discussion.
“I’ve never been in a class that emphasized meditation or just relieving your stress, and I think trees doing that benefitted a lot of students,” Thach said.
The petition also praises trees for being available and approachable to his students.
“He has office hours every day, five days per week,” Thach said.
Trees said that Lisa Hrehor, the chairwoman of the health and wellness studies department, sent him a letter in May 2011 stating that his contract would not be renewed after the spring 2012 semester due to an uncertain economic environment.
The petition for trees said the justification given by the University does not make sense and includes a link to a Pipe Dream article reporting that BU intends to hire 150 new faculty members by the 2015-16 academic school year under the NYSUNY 2020 program.
“I just feel that all of the stuff that is being said about budget concerns and about money, that’s just not relevant to the truth,” Thach said. “If the university is all about quality, giving students a quality education with quality professors, then I question why they’re getting rid of trees.”
Professor trees believes that the reason the University decided not to renew his contract is because of philosophical differences between himself and Hrehor.
“Rationally there’s no other way to explain it,” trees said. “It’s not about the economics and there’s nothing in my personnel file, and there’s never been any issue. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The rift between he and Hrehor, according to trees, began with a decision by the health and wellness department curriculum committee during the fall 2010 semester to change a stress management class taught by trees from a 300-level course worth four credits to a 200-level course worth two credits.
He added that although Hrehor said he could continue to teach the class in the same way as when it was listed as HWS 337, he felt that the change to the class listing misrepresented the class.
“I refused to bastardize the class,” trees said. “Generally a 100 and 200-level course is significantly different in content and rigor compared to a 300 or 400-level class.”
Trees sent an email to Hrehor the weekend after being informed of this decision, asking for an opportunity to argue for the class to be kept in its current form. He said he felt her response to that email marked a schism in their professional relationship.
Hrehor did not respond to phone calls or an email from Pipe Dream.
In February, trees filed complaints regarding his contract with the campus police and the New York State Division of Human Rights and said his complaints are still under investigation.
University spokeswoman Gail Glover acknowledged that ‘trees’ had filed the complaints.
“Beyond that, I can’t discuss a confidential personnel matter,” Glover said in an email to Pipe Dream.