[Vision2020] Faculty Governance Threatened at Idaho State University

nickgier at roadrunner.com nickgier at roadrunner.com
Wed Sep 22 08:42:01 PDT 2010

Good Morning Visionaries:

I just returned from my "Southern Tier Tour," an annual visit to BSU, CSI, and ISU on behalf of the faculty union. Faculty Senate officers briefed me on the threats to faculty governance and I was able to write up the article appended below.  In addition to appearing this morning in the DNews, it will also appear in the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello. The full version is appended as a PDF file. 

There is actually an Idaho campus in more turmoil than ISU's.  The night before I was to knock on faculty doors on the campus of College of Western Idaho, my contacts called me and said that I should not do so.  One faculty member described the campus as a "Southern plantation."  

The board was appointed by Gov. Otter so one would fully expect that its members would have paleolithic views of labor relations.  The board issued a faculty handbook but promptly withdrew it, fired dissident faculty, and starting dissing the Faculty Senate.  The omsbudsman was fired after a year of trying to mediate between faculty, the president, and the board.

The application for a CWI union charter is almost complete, and the union will try to protect the faculty as far as it is possible.



In 1889 the founders of our great state gave the "immediate government of the University of Idaho" to the faculty. Faculty self-governance became a reality on American campuses in the 1960s with the establishment of faculty senates across the country. In 1968 the newly constituted UI Faculty Senate was formed to fulfill this essential duty. 

When I started handling grievances for the faculty union in the 1970s, I discovered that some departments were holding secret files on some employees. I researched union contracts and drafted an "open files" policy, which, after being vetted by several committees, was sent to the Faculty Senate where it passed with no objections.  I negotiated the final wording with assistant vice-president Galen Rowe and then President Richard Gibb approved the policy.

This constructive process of shared governance has flourished on campuses all across the nation. University administrators have trusted their faculty to initiate policy on a wide range of academic and personnel matters and they have used their veto power rarely and responsibly.  

In stark contrast to the principle of faculty self-determination, Idaho State University is heading in the opposite direction. A report of the Institutional Governance Advisory Committee begins by asserting the absolute authority of the president. This turns traditional institutional governance on its head.

Desiring to shed ISU of the "constraints of timeworn structures" and "reduce faculty service burden while increasing the breadth of faculty input," the authors propose four new faculty committees, which would report directly to the ISU president. 

We assume that the president will appoint the faculty on these committees, and the role of democratically elected senators would be reduced substantially. Particularly troublesome is the fact that the Faculty Senate will not have direct authority on scholarship and curriculum matters.

The authors of the report are in error when they charge that the ISU Faculty Senate believes "it has the authority to approve or veto decisions made by the President."  Only the upper administration and the State Board of Education (SBOE) have veto power, and on the two issues cited in the report, the senators were responding to new administrative and faculty workload proposals with which they disagreed. This was their duty and right, not a claim to new power.
In the fall of 2009 ISU President Arthur Vailas believed that the senators were interfering in personnel matters when they voted to uphold—by a vote of 19-5—a faculty appeal board decision supporting engineering professor Habib Sadid. The appeal procedures--just like those pertaining to tenure and promotion--are under the senate"s direct authority, so there was nothing irregular about senators voting to affirm the appeal board’s 4-1 decision.	

In the spring of 2010, following time-honored democratic procedures, the ISU faculty gathered petitions for a campus wide vote that overwhelmingly rejected Provost Gary Olson’s plan to reorganize the university. When the faculty vote was ignored, a second petition drive led to a vote of non-confidence in Olson.  With 66 percent of the faculty voting, 295 voted no confidence, 95 voted for Olson, and 41 chose to abstain. Without any attempt to work out differences with the faculty on these essential matters, Vailas sent the reorganization plan to the SBOE and insisted that Olson stay on as his right-hand man. 

The authors of the report state that the reason for the proposed changes is that the current system is not "responsive, effective, efficient, or flexible as it could be in providing advice and timely recommendations."  There are certainly problems that need to be addressed (there are obviously too many committees), but I suspect that the real reason is that President Vailas has actually found ISU professors far too responsive and effective and voicing their opinions.  In my experience UI presidents have respected the faculty voice and the traditional procedures in which it has been expressed, but it is clear that Vailas has not.

The report notes that the ISU Faculty Senate does not have a constitution as do its counterparts at BSU and the UI.  It therefore recommends that such a constitution now be drafted.  I believe that ISU faculty should take this opportunity to reassert the traditional principle of faculty self-governance.

The ISU report will be discussed at the next SBOE meeting in Lewiston on October 13-14.  If board members accept the recommendations of the ISU report, they could very well become new board policy for governance on all Idaho campuses. This should never be allowed to happen.

UI Professor Emeritus Nick Gier is the president of the Higher Education Council of the Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFT/AFL-CIO.  
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