Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Tale of Two Universities: Faculty Governance and No Confidence Votes at Penn State and the University of Illinois

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan, left, talks with Chris Kennedy, chairman of the university's board of trustees, at a basketball game earlier this month. Kennedy says the board backs Hogan's leadership of the school's three campuses. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune / February 5, 2012)  From Jodi S. Cohen, 130 top scholars call for U. of I. president's ouster: Trustees chairman says board backs school leader, Chicago Tribune, February 29, 2012

The issue of shared governance at the nation's top public universities has long been understood to form a close link to academic freedom and the excellence of these institutions.  See, Larry G. Gerber, "Inextricably Linked": Shared Governance and Academic Freedom, Academe Online, May-June 2001.  In some jurisdictions, faculty involvement in shared governance of the university is written into law.  See, e.g., Arizona Revised Statute: ARS 15-1601B (PDF).

Sometimes shared governance structures comes under stress.  That appears to be the case at two prominent American public universities.  At the University of Illinois, the issue concerns the role of the top administrative official, who retains the confidence of the university board of trustees.  At Penn State, the issue concerns the role of the Board of Trustees, who retain the confidence of the university's top administrators.  In both cases,the university faculties sought to move aggressively at assert a role in shared governance beyond the ordinary course expectations. 

At the University of Illinois, the faculty acted independently of the Faculty Senate:
More than 125 of the University of Illinois' highest profile faculty members have said they have "no confidence" in school President Michael Hogan and have called for his removal.

Their letter, sent Monday to the board of trustees, is the faculty's latest clash with the beleaguered president, whose standing began unraveling earlier this year when his chief of staff and top adviser resigned after anonymous, inflammatory emails sent to a key faculty group were traced to her computer.

Hogan has been president for less than two years, brought in to heal a campus bruised by an admissions scandal. Instead, he is now embroiled in an internal crisis that has preoccupied the state's flagship public university. He has clashed with faculty over student enrollment strategies and what some are calling an arrogant leadership style.

"In our view he lacks the values, commitments, management style, ethics, and even manners, needed to lead this University, and his Presidency should be ended at the earliest opportunity," the letter states.

The faculty members contend Hogan has lacked financial discipline; usurped duties usually assumed by the campus chancellor; tried to bully faculty and the chancellor on enrollment issues; and generally has had a "failure of ethical leadership," a criticism levied by the Urbana-Champaign faculty Senate earlier this month.

The 130 faculty members who signed the letter make up about two-thirds of the named and endowed professors and chairs on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Their titles indicate they are some of the most accomplished scholars in their fields, key to attracting students, other faculty and funding to the university. (From Jodi S. Cohen, 130 top scholars call for U. of I. president's ouster: Trustees chairman says board backs school leader, Chicago Tribune, February 29, 2012).

 Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesPenn State's board of trustees felt it had no other option other than to fire Joe Paterno. From Mark Schlabach, Joe Paterno failed his biggest decision, ESPN Archive).

At Penn State, the University Faculty Senate recently considered and failed to adopt a motion expressing no confidence in the university board of trustees.  The action produced  a letter in explanation of the purpose of the no confidence vote that throws a light on both the reasons for a reluctance to move against the board of trustees and the reasons why the faculty came close to doing so formally.  
On Tuesday, Jan 24, 2012 the University Faculty Senate (UFS) of the Pennsylvania State University rejected a motion of no-confidence in the University’s Board of Trustees (BoT) by a vote of 31% for, versus 69% against the motion.  We were in the minority and voted in favor of the motion.  Though in the minority, our reasons for voting as we did are, for us, sufficiently compelling that we find it necessary to make them public in hopes of improving governance at Penn State.  Our reasons reflect our own opinions as faculty senators and do not represent others—even others in the minority.  By publically stating the reasons for our vote, we in no way mean to imply any disrespect for those who voted in the majority.  Furthermore, our lack of confidence is not in the individuals who comprise the BoT’s current membership.  Rather, it is primarily because the current structure of the BoT and its rules for governance exposes the University to future risk stemming from communication break down and insufficient information for decision making.  Moreover, our lack of confidence is based in our opinion that both structural and operational limitations renders the BoT incapable of fulfilling its role as the body charged with “complete responsibility for the government and welfare of the University and all the interests pertaining thereto including students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

The essence of the structural and operational limitations is that the BoT's standing orders state that the authority for day-to-day management and control of the University is to be delegated to the President, who may further delegate or consult with the faculty and student body.  This delegation requires that the BoT rely on the judgment and decisions of those it has delegated authority to and must receive “thorough and forthright reports on the affairs of the University by the President or those designated by the President.”  The BoT also is required to “judge the performance of the President.”  All fine and well, except all official faculty and student communication to the BoT must go through the President.  The conundrum for the BoT is profound:  on the one it needs to evaluate information provided by the President, but on the other, their sole “official” source of information is that same person or his/her delegate.  Through many instances of University governance, this situation is not problematic, but as the crisis of last November illustrates, this leaves the BoT ill-prepared for crisis management and University governance.  Where are the checks and balances?  Who oversees what the President reports back to the BoT and how does the BoT verify what the President chooses to bring forward?

In particular, we feel the failure of the BoT was illustrated and continues to be illustrated, in part, by the following actions and/or inactions:

Lack of open communication and apparent unpreparedness during University crisis.  During early November 2011, we were deeply troubled by the lack of communication by the BoT with their stated interested parties:  faculty, staff, alumni, and students.  However, the standing orders of the BoT, noted above, ensure that this lack of communication was both likely and could occur again.  As we noted, the BoT’s standing orders only provide for official communication to vested parties of faculty and students through the President—there appear to be no official communication channels for staff or alumni other than election of alumni to the BoT.   Furthermore, the lack of preparedness for crisis response is unacceptable, but is all but guaranteed under current operating procedures, and greatly endangers the welfare of the University.

Lack of due process coupled with invocation of “moral responsibility” for removal from posts at the University.  In the words of one Trustee, Coach and Professor Joe Paterno was removed from his post, in part, due to an apparent lack of “moral responsibility.”  Yet, currently there are no such grounds for dismissal of tenured faculty from their posts in any of the policies the University maintains that govern these matters.  There are many troubling aspects of this.  Firstly there is the ad-hoc adoption of moral responsibility clauses for dismissal.  Whose morals?  How applied?  How much of a moral responsibility must we discharge?  Who decides?   Is following University policy a failure of moral responsibility?  Are we morally responsible to ignore University policies?  If so, in which situations?  Our  sentiments are reflected in a current faculty senate motion that will be voted on in March which reads, “That no employee, faculty member or other agent of the University be required, as a condition of employment, to adhere to standards of conduct that are not specified by rules, regulation, or legal requirement. Failures of moral obligations alone should not be made on a basis of evaluation or job performance.  The Human Resource and other appropriate University regulations should be amended to reflect this requirement.” 

Then there is the misrepresentation (or misunderstanding) of the University's procedures for dismissal of tenured faculty.  Penn State’s HR 76 policy lays out in detail the process to be followed.  One could argue that Joe Paterno only was removed from his post as coach—however, the BoT’s actions gave the impression that he was fired from Penn State (at least initially) and that impression was permitted to persist for some time. 

Violation of current standing orders in University governance.  In the second half of November 2011, the BoT quietly removed the interim title from President Erickson.  While we thank Dr. Erickson for his patience and fortitude during this difficult time, the standing orders state “in the selection of a President, the board shall [emphasis added] consult with representatives of the faculty and the student body.”  In other words, the Board's own standing rules were violated – by the Board-- with the appointment of President Erickson.  This is not a reflection on President Erickson, who must have one of the most thankless tasks a Penn State president has ever encountered.  The importance of the role of President cannot be understated—he/she is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the University and is the only official communication channel between the University interests and the BoT.  Given the importance of this role, and the consultation required in its appointment, the fact that this was not done further undermines any remaining possibility of confidence in the BoT.

As we move forward, we urge the BoT to re-examine their standing orders, by-laws, and charter and revise and remove the communication bottleneck that hinders the Board's own governance duties.  But at a minimum, we urge the BoT to follow its own standing orders for University governance and, in particular, familiarize itself with the policies for internal governance which delegates the approval and supervision of academic programs and curricula to the faculty.  We also urge faculty senate to re-explore its by-laws to ensure that our responsibilities to shared governance are reflected in our procedures and operations.

We applaud the efforts of alumni groups to restructure the BoT (last restructured in the 1950s).  We hope their efforts will result in a more streamlined BoT with less government appointees and more elected members who represent all of the University interests:  faculty, staff, alumni, and students.

In closing, we want to restate that our vote of no confidence was not about individuals; rather it was about the institution of the Board of Trustees.  Based on our review of the standing orders, we feel that trustees with the best interest in Penn State will find it difficult to prevent or respond to future crises under the current structure and operating procedures which are inherently contradictory and contain few, if any, checks and balances.  We are Penn State—we can, and must do better. (From Letter to R. Ericson from  C.G. Mahan and V. W. Brunsden, dated Feb. 2, 2012).

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