So-called “populist” anger egged on by some of our ignorant media can be a volatile mix with serious consequences for the functionality of our institutions and their usefulness to the people they serve. One such cautionary tale in our present fragile economic environment is continuing at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
Our previous coverage on January 25, 2008: Three steps behind, and to the right
Add into this mix an effective administrator hamstrung by a majority of the institution’s governing board which was appointed by the previous Governor and which has an agenda that appears to be more concerned about ancillary programs (intercollegiate athletics) and appeasing a vocal minority. Sounds like our current universe, doesn’t it?
Our story continues.
Last week, in a short time frame before the university’s Board of Governors meeting, tenured faculty circulated a petition to other tenured faculty for presentation to the board [Note: I signed and helped circulate the petition]:
Petition to Renew the Contract of President Podolefsky
We, the undersigned, wish to express our deep concern about the ongoing inaction of the Board of Governors regarding the renewal of President Podolefsky’s contract and planning for the future of the university. At this critical time in determining the future shape of the institution, losing a dynamic leader like Dr. Podolefsky would have drastic repercussions. By every measurable indicator, he has executed his duties to the highest standards, and we are extremely dismayed that the Board has chosen to jeopardize the university’s success by neglecting to issue a contract extension in spite of his performance. In order that we may remain confident in the Board’s stewardship of the institution, we ask that it extend Dr. Podolefsky’s contract with all due haste.
[signed by 126 tenured faculty]
The active participation of 126 tenured faculty, as anyone who understands the culture of academic institutions would know, is remarkable in itself.
The ad-hoc committee also submitted this cover letter to the board of Governors:
To: The Honorable Members of the UCM Board of Governors
From: The Ad Hoc Committee for the Petition to Renew the Contract of President Podolefsky
Please find attached a petition and list of 126 names of tenured faculty members who signed copies of this document. (This represents roughly one-half of tenured faculty at UCM.)
Deeply concerned about the uncertain future of the university, several UCM faculty members formed an ad hoc committee and recently began circulating this petition. The tenured faculty members to whom we spoke were overwhelmingly in agreement. We gathered these signatures in less than 3 days and, with very little effort, we met our goal of obtaining 100 signatures. We believe this is ample evidence that our concerns are indeed shared by a very considerable percentage of UCM faculty.
We understand that you have already received evidence of faculty support for President Podolefsky in the form of a Faculty Senate resolution (see attached motion). Passed on January 14, 2009, the Faculty Senate approved a letter supporting the President’s leadership by a 72 percent vote. Last spring, a poll conducted by the Daily Star Journal found that support of the president in the community surpassed 70 percent. Based on the success of our petition and the support for President Podolefsky by the Faculty Senate and the community poll, representatives of the ad hoc committee will be meeting this Thursday (September 17) with Commissioner of Higher Education Robert Stein. We will be seeking his advice on how to move forward when so many of the members of the faculty are in disagreement with the lack of action by the Board of Governors in renewing President Podolefsky’s contract.
Like you, we wish only the best for the University of Central Missouri, and we respectfully ask that you give our petition your fullest attention and consideration.
Members of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Petition to Renew the Contract of President Podolefsky:
So, you may ask, “Who cares?”
The Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal covered the story:
9/17/2009 11:38:00 AM
UCM faculty speaking out for President Podolefsky
Warrensburg – In a matter of a few hours, nearly half of the tenured faculty at the University of Central Missouri signed a petition asking the Board of Governors to retain President Aaron Podolefsky…
The student newspaper covered the story:
Petition circulates to renew President’s contract
Lora Powell: Muleskinner
Issue date: 9/17/09 Section: News
With UCM President Aaron Podolefsky’s contract months from expiration, a group of concerned faculty members have decided to tell the Board of Governors how they feel about the group’s “inaction” regarding the decision to renew his contract….
And then then, in an anonymous editorial posted on their website, the local radio station weighed in [their links are kind of hinky, you may have to search for it]:
9/17/09 – Stop The Spin
…And how many people were intimidated when they voted? How would you like to have someone come up to you at your place of work and ask you to sign a petition that says your boss is doing a good job? I bet that makes for a good work environment.
The bottom line is this: The University is a major employer in our community and is the most recognizable asset our community has. If it begins to fail then our community will begin to fail, so leadership at the top must be exceptional. Who that leader should be is for the Board of Directors to decide. The hierarchy in a perfect world is the faculty teach classes and educate our youth, the professional staff lead their departments, and support staff do things that make the university strong. It is up to the Board of Governors to decide who is best to lead the University…
Stupidity may be inherited, but ignorance is a personal choice.
Where to start?
Tenured faculty, by virtue of their status, have a right and obligation to speak out about the institution they serve. Tenure is not employment for life, it only means that tenured faculty are not employed at will. That is, the institution has to show cause why a tenured faculty member should be dismissed. Administrators and support staff are employed at will and can be dismissed at will.
Tenured faculty tend to have longer careers at a particular institution (uh, it takes a while to get tenure) than academic administrators and many support staff. And tenured faculty are a part of the institution long after the terms of governing board members have passed and gone. Tenured faculty are the one constituency that has to live with the long term consequences of the decisions and actions of others affecting the institution. You had better believe they’ll weigh in when they feel it’s warranted.
Is it possible that non-tenured faculty were not solicited because tenured faculty, who have a say in their tenure, did not want to be accused of “intimidating” junior faculty into signing? That’s probably too subtle for our anonymous radio station editorialist.
The bottom line is that an editorial, unsigned by its writer and resplendent in its ignorance, purports to express the populist will and the define the proper role of faculty as serfs. Big mistake. Big. Huge.
And that, in a nutshell, is a microcosm of our present universe.
Three steps behind and to the right, indeed.