Faculty leaving ASU in greater numbers

 

UPDATE: Chancellor Ken Peacock on Wednesday released a statement about the Faculty Senate's vote of no confidence in the provost. Following are excerpts; the full statement can be viewed by clicking on the link at the right of this web page.

"Until now, I have chosen not to publicly comment on this situation out of respect for the unencumbered process of shared governance and to allow myself time to evaluate the information you have shared with me through your conversations, letters, emails, phone calls and the results of the faculty morale survey," Peacock said.

"That being said and upon learning of the Faculty Senate's actions, I want to be clear and unequivocal in my response. I have complete confidence in and unwavering support for provost and executive vice chancellor Lori Gonzalez ... Since arriving on campus, provost Gonzalez has tirelessly met challenges, many of which existed long before her arrival, with great professionalism and dedication.

"Some of you have identified areas of concern, and provost Gonzalez and I remain committed to working on them. Even though the university continues to enjoy many successes and initiatives for which we are proud, there is always room for improvement."

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The Appalachian State University Faculty Senate on Monday narrowly voted "no confidence" in Provost Lori Gonzalez by a secret ballot tally of 22-21.

The vote took place at a special called meeting of the senate, which initially considered the matter in closed session March 18 after receiving a petition from 88 tenured faculty members asking for votes of no confidence in the provost and also in Tony Carey, vice provost for faculty affairs. According to the university, 467 ASU faculty members are tenured.

The petition raised concerns about due process, academic freedom and faculty governance at ASU.

"Many faculty feel that academic freedom has been violated," said Ruth Ann Strickland, government and justice studies professor, to the senators at the Monday meeting. "I am not a problem person, and I find it abhorrent that those who signed the petition have been characterized as such."

As provost, Gonzalez is the executive vice chancellor and head of the Office of Academic Affairs. She took the post in fall 2011. Gonzalez responded to the vote on Tuesday.

"Over the course of my career, I have been required to make hard decisions and deal with difficult circumstances," Gonzalez said. "In the days ahead, issues remain that we need to address together with trust and collegiality. I look forward to a discussion with senate about their concerns and working with the chancellor and campus community to shape our vision for the future."

Carey said on Tuesday that he has no comment.

In a university setting, votes of no confidence are symbolic acts demonstrating a loss of support for a leader. But top university appointments ultimately rest with the board of trustees.

On the motions, 21 senators voted "confidence" and 22 senators voted "no confidence" in Gonzalez, while 17 senators voted "confidence" and 26 senators voted "no confidence" in Carey.

Outside of the meeting, about 50 faculty and staff members stood or held signs in support for the provost; a similar showing appeared at the March 18 meeting.

Strickland and Department of Communication Chairwoman Janice Pope were each given five minutes to speak for and against the motions.

"This is not a fair, open, collaborative way we do business. To me this shames the process of faculty governance," Pope said to senators. "I will grant you -- (Gonzalez) has made mistakes. I have made mistakes. You have made mistakes.

"I think that if you all care about your university, then you will consider that we will work together," she said. Speaking earlier Monday, Pope said she believed petition signatures were "cherry-picked," noting that no faculty member in her department was approached except for the two who serve in the senate.

In a statement to senators, Matt Robinson, a government and justice studies professor who helped organize the petition, said, "Dozens and dozens more (faculty) expressed support but did not sign for one reason or another, including fear of reprisal."

Following Strickland and Pope's remarks, the senate narrowly approved a motion to once again discuss the matter in closed session, with Chairman Andy Koch breaking a 19-19 tie.

Faculty at ASU have expressed concerns about the provost's actions since Gonzalez placed sociology professor Jammie Price on involuntary administrative leave in March 2012, after several students complained about comments she made and a pornography-related documentary she showed in class. Price was later allowed to return to the classroom but required to engage in several corrective actions, including the creation of a professional development plan.

The national Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a March 19 letter to ASU Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Steinback asking the board to set aside actions taken against Price, including a required professional development plan, and to recognize that Price's involuntary suspension constituted a serious sanction.

The petition alludes to more than one case, however: "There has been a pattern of disregard for academic freedom by the ... administration named below, (a) in the case of actions pertaining to specific individual faculty members and (b) forcing strict adherence to syllabi, forbidding criticism of the administration in the classroom and the expression of personal opinions and failing to support instructors under fire from unfair allegations."

In statements to campus last year, Gonzalez agreed that faculty must be free from interference in the pursuit of research and scholarly activity but that faculty must exercise academic responsibility in the classroom.

Robinson said in his statement that he agrees that academic freedom comes with responsibility but that he felt a no confidence vote was justified because of "how poorly Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Carey have interacted with faculty" and because of cases where due process was not followed.

Faculty members also protested the provost's decision last fall to implement an anonymous whistle-blowing hotline, EthicsPoint, which Gonzalez later delayed in response to concerns.

The petition says EthicsPoint establishes procedures contrary to the Faculty Handbook. Faculty members took issue with the possibility of being disciplined based on an anonymous complaint without the ability to confront their accusers, but Gonzalez said ASU would investigate and discipline only if sufficient evidence was discovered that corroborated the complaint.

Donna Lillian, a senator representing University College, said she feels the vote on confidence in the provost is premature, noting Gonzalez has not yet served at ASU for two full years, and that she would prefer to participate in ASU's normal review process.

"I would like to see us focusing our energies on responding to what the General Administration and state General Assembly are asking of us -- not in-fighting against each other," she said prior to the meeting on Monday.

Lillian also expressed concerns about a lack of transparency: "It seems to me that if concerns can't be voiced publicly, then they probably shouldn't be voiced."

Others characterized the movement against the provost as being dominated by faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college at ASU. Gonzalez came to ASU from the University of Kentucky, where she was dean of the College of Health Sciences.

Some faculty at ASU feel the provost has diverted a greater proportion of resources from Arts and Sciences to the university's new health college than from other colleges, which Lillian acknowledged.

"Certainly there's a perception," she said. "I haven't seen numbers to back that up."

While most of the senate's discussion centered on the provost, senators briefly discussed the vice provost in open session prior to the confidence vote.

Theatre and dance senator Ray Miller and Lillian defended Carey as being clear, fair and an advocate for faculty. Senators Jill Ehnenn of the English department and Karl Campbell of the history department said that while they respect him as a thoughtful and generous colleague, Carey has violated due process and academic freedom and failed to support faculty.

Chancellor Ken Peacock's office indicated the chancellor would release a statement about the vote on Tuesday.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story stated that sociology professor Jammie Price was later reinstated after being placed on involuntary administrative leave. Price was allowed to return to teaching but was required to engage in several corrective actions.

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