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Faculty to hold no confidence vote for university president

Interim provost faces censure after op-ed piece controversy

POSTED November 10, 2009 11:12 p.m.
A question now lies before the more than 300 members of the California State University, Stanislaus general faculty: ‘Do you have confidence in CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani?’
The CSU Stanislaus Academic Senate, the official representative body of the general faculty, approved holding the vote of no confidence on Tuesday by a 42-3 margin, with two abstentions. Should the faculty be found to hold no confidence in Shirvani, the vote would have no binding effect but could undermine the president’s authority and lead to his eventual departure.
“Frankly, this is one of the saddest days for my career,” said CSU Stanislaus Professor of Accounting and Speaker of the Academic Senate Steven Filling, following the vote. “I have no joy in what we do, nor do I think do any of you (senators). I think it is a necessary step for our university, but I do not think it is a happy step.”
Academic senators stated the vote of no confidence was not in reaction to recent state budget cuts or the cancellation of Winter Term. The ballot, they said, was brought about by the lack of shared governance, the deteriorating working relationship between Shirvani and faculty, and Shirvani’s seeming lack of understanding of the CSU system.
Professor of Economics and Speaker-Elect Kelvin Jasek-Rysdahl attributed the vote to Shirvani’s “lack of attention to the mission and vision of the California State University system and of the Stanislaus campus,” as other senators pointed to an Oct. 18 editorial by Shirvani, published in the Chronicle for Higher Education. In that article, Shirvani described a college education as a “privilege” — not a right — and advocates a focus on larger classes, a reduction of specialized graduate programs, and for professors to spend more time teaching and less on governance and committee work.
While recent cuts aren’t a direct cause for the vote, Shirvani’s handling of the cuts may be. Shirvani’s lack of openness to budgeting suggestions from faculty was an oft-cited concern among Academic senators.
Ken Schoenly, professor of Biology and past chair of the faculty budget committee, pointed out that CSU Stanislaus seems harder hit than other CSU campuses due to what he terms as “careless” spending. CSU Stanislaus lost 16 percent of their full-time faculty in the recent cuts, or three percentage points more than the CSU average.
“There has been an ongoing pattern of financial mismanagement coupled with a continuing resistance to telling the public how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Schoenly.
That mismanagement extends to the hiring of administrators, according to Randall Brown, professor of Management. Rather than promoting from within — as had been past practice — Shirvani has opted to conduct hiring searches. Brown estimated that each outside hiring amounts to five to seven courses cut, in terms of cost.
“The extraordinarily high turnover in key administrative positions while Shirvani has been president has increased costs significantly and limits the university’s ability to respond effectively to the challenges it faces,” Brown said.
While Tuesday’s decision is solely a faculty issue, a group of students in attendance voiced their support for the vote of no confidence as well. They directly attributed the 144 canceled classes, the loss of Winter Term, and increased tuition costs to Shirvani’s leadership.
“This is all nothing short of the privatization of education in our opinion,” Alejandra Juarez, representing student groups CSU Stanislaus Students for Quality Education, CSU Stanislaus Socialist Organizer, and CSU Stanislaus Right to Education. “… We say it’s enough.”
Messages left Tuesday evening with CSU Spokesperson Kristen Olsen for comment were not returned by the Journal’s deadline.
The balloting process will last seven days, running from Nov. 12 to 19. All full-time general faculty, a body comprised of professors, librarians, counselors, coaches, and academic administrators — including Shirvani himself — will be entitled to cast votes.
The ballots themselves will be simple, including only the query whether or not each faculty member does or does not have confidence in Shirvani. None of the four Academic Senate committee recommendations that led to the vote will be included with the ballot, so as to avoid biasing voters. All rationale will be available online or in print for interested parties, however.
Shirvani is not the only administrator who has earned the attention of the Academic Senate. Senators also held a first reading for a motion censuring Interim Provost Herman Lujan for what Filling termed “demonstrably misleading statements” made in a Nov. 4 editorial, published in the Journal.
Lujan stated in the editorial that 95 percent of CSU Stanislaus instructors teach seven months of the year and are paid for 10, which professors argue is blatantly inaccurate. Professors stated that they work as per the terms of their hiring agreements, and work as hard or harder than any other CSU professor. Academic senators also argue that Lujan’s claim that a “majority” of students lose financial aid dollars by skipping Winter Term was inaccurate, as their research states that at most 40 percent of students currently forego some financial aid.
According to Filling, Lujan did not respond to a formal Academic Senate e-mail asking what his intention was in writing the editorial. Lujan also declined to respond to the editorial before the assembled Academic Senate, stating only that he, “used the facts to which I was given access to,” in writing the letter to the editor.
“If that is the best info you had at the time, I wonder why you didn’t avail yourself of the other information that has been so heavily discussed on this campus for the past six months,” Filling said.
The resolution under consideration by the Academic Senate describes censure as a way to express disapproval short of a resolution of no confidence. A possible vote of no confidence in Lujan was also on the agenda as a discussion item, but the topic was not broached before time ran out on the meeting.
Action will be taken on Lujan’s possible censure at the Nov. 24 Academic Senate meeting.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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