A special follow-up visit from a collegiate accreditation firm found California State University, Stanislaus has made significant progress addressing leadership, program review, and learning assessment issues which arose during the accreditation process, according to those present at the visit team’s exit meeting on Nov. 8.
But some faculty members say the university hasn’t gone far enough in addressing what they considered the most serious concern – a hostile relationship between CSU Stanislaus faculty and administrators.
“I think that (Western Association of Schools and Colleges has) accepted that we’re making efforts for improvement, but I think it’s also acceptable to say we have not made that sort of improvement in faculty’s working life,” said CSU Stanislaus Gender Studies department director Betsy Eudey, who attended the WASC Special Visit team’s exit meeting.
“I think you can see many people are still unhappy, but they’re saying at least some action is being taken,” Eudey said. “But getting better and good are two different things.”
According to CSU Stanislaus spokesman Dave Tonelli, the WASC Special Visit team seemed pleased with the steps taken by the administration, but noted that the university would wait for a written report before reaching any conclusions. He also noted that truly addressing the long-standing divide would take the continued participation of both sides.
“It’s very consistent with what we found in our own self-study,” CSU Stanislaus spokesman Dave Tonelli said of WASC’s findings. “We’ll keep working.”
Faculty, administration long at odds
Strife between the CSU Stanislaus faculty and administration – in particular, President Hamid Shirvani – dates back years. In November 2009, 90 percent of faculty participated in a vote of no confidence in Shirvani; 91 percent of voters said they had no confidence in his leadership.
At the time, faculty cited a lack of shared governance and a hostile working relationship as the source of the disconnect.
Administrators said faculty leadership was “resistant to allowing the university to evolve into a larger and more mature academic institution,” and that “faculty leadership was concerned more with elaborate processes and less with good decisions that fit the mission of the university and its needs,” per a university report on the issue.
The in-fighting rose to attention again when the WASC conducted a regularly scheduled Educational Effectiveness Review in June 2010, as part of the college’s reaccreditation process. CSU Stanislaus received high marks and had its accreditation extended nine years, but the visiting team documented three areas needing further attention: improving learning assessment across all departments; more regularly reviewing programs with outside assistance; and, “long-simmering tensions between faculty and the senior administration.”
“While the commission joins the team in being careful not to ascribe blame to either faculty or administration for the divisive environment that characterizes the campus at this time, it does, however, view the administration to be primarily responsible for fostering a climate of trust and for designing the initiative and circumstances that will provide a resolution to this problem,” WASC President and Executive Director Ralph Wolff wrote following the initial visit.
University response multipronged; faculty response mixed
To respond, the university took a “series of substantive actions” to address a “relatively complex situation,” according to Provost James Strong.
“You can’t fix something like that in one year, but I think we’re on the road to fixing it,” Strong said.
A Trust Restoration Planning Committee was formed, consisting of both faculty and administration representatives. That group drafted a series of recommendations which affirm the faculty’s role in recruiting peers, developing extended education programs, establishing governance committees, and determining which faculty should advance professionally.
President Shirvani also met regularly with faculty members, part of a new transparency initiative which calls for open budget meetings, notifying faculty of the rationale behind decisions, and consulting with faculty on those decisions.
The university conducted research to document the effectiveness of those changes, drafting a self-study report. That report touches on the improvements to program review and learning assessment, but focuses on the relationship between faculty and administration.
“I think the report is a very fair and evenhanded reflection of the conflict,” Tonelli said.
Of 28 respondents to the quantitative portion of the self-study survey, 18 had a generally negative view of the actions, while 10 had a generally positive view. When considering open-ended responses, “even (the generally positive group) held a generally negative view of the progress achieved to date,” the report reads.
But both the report and CSU Stanislaus administrators note that, as short as a year ago, the responses would have likely been far more overwhelmingly negative. And most faculty were generally supportive of continuing the administrative outreach, per the report.
“Overall, the picture that emerges is one in which some progress has been made in restoring the climate of trust,” the report reads. “However, this progress has been limited almost entirely to the earliest stages of the trust restoration process: facilitating information sharing and encouraging open discussion.”
‘Disappointing’ WASC response, say some faculty
The WASC Special Visit Team’s acceptance of the administration’s efforts wasn’t a surprise to some faculty, despite hopes for a strong response.
“It was disappointing, as expected,” said Al Petrosky, chair of the Department of Management, Operations and Marketing, who attended the WASC exit meeting.
According to one faculty member who declined to be identified, it seemed like at least one member of the visit team “had his mind made up before arriving.”
John Sarraillé, a Computer Science professor at CSU Stanislaus and Stanislaus Chapter president of the California Faculty Association, said WASC essentially told faculty to “buck up.”
Despite WASC’s findings and administration efforts, some faculty members remain unconvinced that Shirvani can heal the rift between faculty and administration.
“Having closely observed the policies, leadership style, and behavior of President Shirvani since his arrival in fall 2005, I am convinced he is incapable of effectively addressing this issue,” wrote Stephen Stryker, chair of the Campus Self Study Team for Reaccreditation from 2005-2010 in a letter to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed. “The president treats all of those around him with arrogance and disdain and dismisses anyone who even hints of possible alternative ideas, constructive criticism, or polite disagreement; this toxic attitude extends to faculty governance, staff, and members of his own senior administrative team.”
But as faculty and administration work to mend the divide over the years to come, professors said they will continue to work hard to keep the strife from affecting students.
“We’re functioning; we’re just struggling while we do it. We just have to keep working,” Eudey said.
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