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Faculty has ‘no confidence’ in CSU Stanislaus president

Faculty has ‘no confidence’ in CSU Stanislaus president

Members of the California State University, Stanislaus Academic Senate tally the results of Friday's vote of no confidence in President Hamid Shirvani in the John Stuart Rogers Faculty Development ...


POSTED November 20, 2009 9:34 p.m.
The votes have been tallied and the results are in: the General Faculty of California State University, Stanislaus voted overwhelmingly Friday to express no confidence in the performance and leadership of CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani.
The weeklong balloting process drew responses from 264 eligible faculty members, approximately 90 percent of the 300 total ballots that were distributed. A total of 240 votes, or 91 percent of those received, expressed no confidence in Shirvani.
“The turnout was incredibly high,” said Steven Filling, professor of Accounting and speaker of the Academic Senate. “It demonstrates a strong campus consensus that something has to change.”
Twenty-three voters expressed confidence in Shirvani, comprising 9 percent of the vote total, while one voter abstained. Six ballots were not counted as they lacked a signature on the envelope and could not be verified; of those, one expressed confidence while five did not.
The ballot of no confidence was approved by a 42-3 vote on Nov. 10 in the Academic Senate, in response to concerns regarding Shirvani’s leadership. All full-time General Faculty, a body comprised of professors, librarians, counselors, coaches, and academic administrators — including Shirvani himself — were entitled to cast votes.
A call for comment was not returned directly by Shirvani, but the landslide vote of no confidence came as no shock to Russell Giambelluca, CSU Stanislaus vice president of Business and Finance.
“I’m not surprised,” Giambelluca said. “There’s some difficulty in recognizing what has to be done to survive a 15 percent budget cut. Change is hard. Big change is harder.”
Giambelluca characterized faculty around the CSU system as “quick to make judgments” in the current, difficult budgetary time. He stated that votes of no confidence in CSU presidents have not been uncommon over the past year, with Sonoma, Sacramento and Humboldt State all either passing votes of no confidence or being in the process of doing so.
Members of the Academic Senate have stated that the vote of no confidence was in no way related to recent cuts.
“Unfortunately, the timing of this decision may cause those outside of the University to assume it’s a reaction to budgetary pressures or the decision to end Winter Term,” said Lynn Johnson, professor of Accounting and past speaker of the Academic Senate. “In fact, our lack of confidence in Shirvani has been discussed among the faculty since at least 2007.”
The ballot, they said, was made inevitable by Shirvani’s abandonment of the shared governance process, the deteriorating working relationship between Shirvani and faculty, and Shirvani’s seeming lack of understanding of the mission of the CSU system. Shirvani “won’t even talk” to faculty, when he’s supposed to listen to faculty directly except when there’s a clear reason not to, said Economics Professor Elaine Peterson.
“Faculty are ready to work and to sacrifice on behalf of the university, we’ve demonstrated that consistently here for 50 years,” said John Garcia, professor of Social Work. “It will take some time to re-develop trust and good faith in the office of the president, and we await his efforts in that direction.”
Giambelluca stated that Shirvani’s interest lies in communicating with the entire campus community, and that the president tries to reach out to everyone at CSU Stanislaus. He cited several open forums hosted by Shirvani over the past year to improve dialogue within the campus community.
“He (Shirvani) is always interested in working together with groups and moving the University forward,” Giambelluca said. “I think what needs to happen is people need to be able to come forward and have meaningful discussions.”
The vote of no confidence is not a legally binding vote, but could undermine the president’s authority and lead to his eventual departure. Faculty also expressed hope that the vote might either inspire Shirvani to change his approach to governance, or force the CSU leadership to step in.
“We hope that the (CSU) Chancellor (Charles Reed) and the Board (of Trustees) will encourage the president to do the right thing,” said Paul O’Brien, professor of Sociology.
According to Claudia Keith, CSU assistant vice chancellor, the Chancellor’s Office remains in support of Shirvani despite the results of today’s vote, though they have “been aware of a lot of difficulties that the president and the campus have been working through.” Keith stated the Chancellor’s Office did not find merit in faculty claims that Shirvani’s leadership has impaired students’ education and hamstrung the efforts of instructors.
“That’s certainly their perspective and I think we would disagree with that perspective,” Keith said.
The California State Student Association has voted Shirvani CSU President of the Year twice in the past three years, in 2007 and 2009. Keith also referred to widespread business and community support for Shirvani, and lamented the vote, which she attributed to displeasure over recent budget cuts.
“These type of votes are unfortunate, and unfortunately distract from the mission of what the campus is supposed to be doing,” Keith said. “The (CSU) Board (of Trustees) and the chancellor still have full confidence in the president, and these types of votes don’t help the students any.”
Friday’s vote of no confidence is not the first time Shirvani’s leadership has come under fire.
In May 1990, Shirvani resigned from his post as Dean of the University of Colorado, Denver School of Architecture and Planning “under duress,” according to a National Architectural Accrediting Board report cited in a 1991 Denver Post article. Shirvani’s resignation, “was caused by his own actions, which placed him ‘in an adversarial relationship’ with some faculty members and the university administration,” according to the article.
Shirvani took the post of dean in 1986. In three years, the article states that nearly half of the program’s faculty members had left.
The article goes on to state that the UCD architecture master’s degree program’s accreditation was put on probation in response to “internal dissent and political infighting” that arose following Shirvani’s departure. When Shirvani returned to UCD as a tenured faculty member in 1991, his presence on campus created, “turmoil between Shirvani supporters and non-supporters,” according to the NARAB report.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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