Academic Warfare: Admin vs Faculty

Clash Between Chicago State U. and Its Faculty Leaders Redefines Hardball
By Peter Schmidt
Many higher-education institutions experience internal fights over governance, but Chicago State University’s administration and its Faculty Senate are going at each other in ways that their counterparts elsewhere have not thought of before.
Among the innovations spawned by the escalation of their long-running war: Chicago State’s administration has sought to use Illinois’s open-records law to extract from the Faculty Senate details of a faculty vote this year on changes in the senate’s constitution. The records request—an attempt to find evidence that faculty members had been disenfranchised in the voting process—puts the public university in the unusual position of asking state lawyers to try to pry information from one of its own advisory bodies.
Citing the Faculty Senate’s refusal to voluntarily provide administrators with the election information they sought, the university’s Board of Trustees last month took the drastic step of denying the Faculty Senate recognition and declaring the recent changes in the senate’s constitution to be void. The Faculty Senate plans to meet this week anyway, and its leaders are accusing the trustees of having an ulterior motive for their recognition denial—a desire to silence a Faculty Senate that has been a thorn in the administration’s side.
The open-records request is still pending before the state attorney general’s office. The administration asked the office to review it after Phillip A. Beverly, the Faculty Senate’s president, failed to offer a formal response.
The recent developments leave the future of the Faculty Senate, at least as it is currently composed, in doubt, and appear to have only inflamed tensions between the administration and the faculty’s leaders.
“I have been here 23 years,” Mr. Beverly, an associate professor of political science, said in an interview last week. “This is probably the worst we have ever been.”
Thomas Wogan, a university spokesman, last week argued that the administration’s relations with its faculty remained good. He blamed the conflict on the Faculty Senate, which has about 45 members, and said it had been hijacked by a small number of faculty members who “want to grind their political ax” against the administration and turn the senate “into their own soapbox.”
“Their motivation is, increasingly, to tear down the name of this university,” said Mr. Wogan, who argued that “all of this puts shared governance at risk.”
Speech Concerns
The latest skirmishes at Chicago State are part of a broader power struggle, dating back well over 10 years, that has pitted the Faculty Senate against the board and administration of the financially troubled institution.
When the board picked the university’s current president, Wayne D. Watson, in 2009, the Faculty Senate denounced the selection process as rigged in favor of unqualified political insiders, and unanimously voted to urge the state’s governor to remove the board’s members. Relations between the two sides have remained poor, and the senate has hit Mr. Watson with two no-confidence votes.
In an interview last week, Patrick C. Cage, Chicago State’s general counsel and vice president for labor and legal affairs, characterized much of the faculty opposition as a backlash against tough decisions to turn around the institution and keep it from losing accreditation.
“We believe the president is moving the university forward,” Mr. Cage said, “but in the process toes get stepped on from time to time.”
Faculty Senate leaders, for their part, say the administration has provoked their resistance through mismanagement and heavy-handedness.
The current clash over the Faculty Senate’s elections hardly represents the first time that the university’s administration and board have been accused of seeking to silence their critics. In a verdict upheld by a state judge in August, a jury this year ordered the university to pay $3-million to a former senior legal counsel who had claimed he was fired, in 2010, for complying with faculty members’ open-records requests seeking evidence of financial misconduct by Mr. Watson and other officials.
In a lawsuit filed in July, Mr. Beverly and Robert E. Bionaz, an associate professor of history and corresponding secretary of the Faculty Senate, accused the university’s board and top officials of violating their First Amendment rights by seeking to restrict their ability to speak out against the administration on a faculty-operated blog. The administration has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
Balloting Issue
The dispute over the Faculty Senate’s voting process and constitution centers on the senate’s efforts to amend the constitution to change how the senate’s seats are apportioned, from department-based to discipline-based. It is seeking the change to prevent faculty members from being disfranchised by a 2011 university reorganization that consolidated some departments. Its initial effort, three years ago, to amend the constitution was challenged by the administration as violating the senate’s own rules. So it held an election this year to try to defuse that challenge.
The administration’s open-records request seeks to obtain ballots from the election and other information, such as the identities of the officials who counted them. The senate has refused to provide that information voluntarily, saying that no faculty members had complained to it about the election process and the administration has not named anyone left out.
Officials of the American Association of University Professors last week said they could not recall any previous instance in which a public university’s administration had tried to use an open-records law to get information from a faculty senate. Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, a nonprofit Illinois organization that assists in open-records requests, said she had heard of public-school-board members’ using the state’s open-records law to obtain information from schools but had never heard of the law’s being used similarly by higher-education officials.
Mr. Bionaz of Chicago State’s Faculty Senate last week denounced the administration’s open-records request as “incredible overreach.”
In a written statement issued last week, Anthony L. Young, chairman of Chicago State’s Board of Trustees, said the board had found it necessary to strip the Faculty Senate of recognition until questions related to the election were resolved because the board “has an obligation to ensure that all duly constituted university organizations are operating in an appropriate manner.”
Mr. Beverly last week accused the board and the administration of having ulterior motives. “They wanted,” he said, “to find a way to dissolve the senate so that they could find a faculty body that was more amenable to its nonsense.” The AAUP last month sent the university’s board and administration a letter arguing that its denial of recognition to the senate violates principles of academic governance.

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