AAUP Report Denounces Suspension of Idaho State U. Faculty Senate

May 26, 2011

The Idaho State Board of Education violated basic principles of academic governance in voting in February to suspend Idaho State University's Faculty Senate, the American Association of University Professors argues in a report released today.

The report, based on an investigation by AAUP staff and endorsed by the organization's Committee on College and University Governance, also accuses Idaho State University's administration of responding to its long-running conflict with the Faculty Senate over matters such as academic reorganization by taking several actions that directly violated accepted principles and standards of shared governance. Those included "severely restricting" the faculty's role in academic governance over the last several years, "suppressing faculty dissent," and persuading the state board to vote to suspend the Faculty Senate and direct the university's president, Arthur C. Vailas, to devise a replacement for it.

The report expresses little faith in the interim faculty advisory structure that Mr. Vailas established in place of the Faculty Senate, saying "what currently passes for shared governance on campus is a conglomeration of administratively appointed and administratively dominated task forces, committees, and ad hoc groups accountable not to the faculty but to the administration."

It also accuses the administration of ignoring a provisional faculty senate set up as part of the new governance structure, and denying it access to an office and other needed university resources, in response to the faculty's election of people who had served on the previous, disbanded faculty body to 15 of 18 seats on the interim faculty body.

"Faculty senates exist to convey the views of the faculty on important academic matters," Gregory F. Scholtz, director of the AAUP's department of academic freedom and tenure, said in a written statement issued along with the report. "Abolishing the senate," he said, "means abolishing the faculty's voice."

The AAUP appears likely to take up the report and vote on sanctioning Idaho State when it holds its annual conference next month.

A spokesman for the Idaho Board of Education, Mark Browning, on Tuesday said the board would not comment on the report.

'Biased and Unbalanced'

Idaho State University's administration, which was provided an advance copy of the latest report by the AAUP, issued a statement on Wednesday that said the document "is biased and unbalanced and contains critical flaws."

Although President Vailas was allowed to provide a written response to an earlier draft of the AAUP report, the university said in its statement on Wednesday that the association "did not directly contact a single person" at the state board or within the university's administration in its investigation.

"AAUP representatives seem to have selectively interviewed those persons who embrace the viewpoint advocated by AAUP," the statement said. "It raises the question as to how there can even be a pretense of an objective analysis when the organization/administration being investigated is never afforded the same opportunity to provide information during the investigative phase."

The university's response disputes the AAUP's criticisms of the provisional governance structure. It argues that under the new structure, "there are various committees and councils that are carrying out university business in an efficient and effective manner," and that the Idaho State Board of Education, as the university's governing board, has the right to determine "what constitutes a legitimate agency for the functioning of institutional governance."

The response also accuses the AAUP of having a conflict of interest in its investigation because the association has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Idaho Supreme Court on behalf of Habib Sadid, an engineering professor who was fired by the university after he filed a lawsuit accusing administrators there of retaliating against him for publicly criticizing their policies.

Philip L. Cole, an associate professor of physics at Idaho State who was chairman of the since-disbanded Faculty Senate and was chosen to serve as chairman of the provisional senate by those elected to it in April, said on Wednesday that the AAUP report "reflects what happened quite accurately" and called it "a case study of what can go wrong when meaningful faculty input is not taken into account."

"It is a very sad thing to come to this point," Mr. Cole said. "There have been many times when things could have been resolved, but that takes respect on both sides."

Dimmed Hopes of a Resolution

The AAUP report suggests that the university and AAUP representatives acting on behalf of Idaho State faculty members had been on the verge of finding common ground in early May.

In his May 2 response to an earlier draft of the AAUP's report, Mr. Vailas had expressed confidence that the provisional faculty senate would be able to devise a constitution for the university spelling out a governance structure that would meet AAUP standards. The AAUP had responded on May 6 with a letter telling the university that "the issues that are the subject of the report should be resolved" if the association's governance standards were met.

That day, however, the recently elected members of the provisional senate passed a resolution characterizing their election as an endorsement of the senate's powers under the old governance structure. The AAUP report says the university administration responded by refusing to recognize the provisional senate's action, and it rejected the newly elected senators' request to restore the senate's travel budget for state board meetings and the senate's access to its old office and Web site.

The AAUP report challenges the state board's assertion that it dissolved the old Faculty Senate as a last resort because the senate and the university's administration were at an impasse. The impasse, it says, "followed several years of struggle and conflict brought about in large part by recurring patterns of administrative high-handedness."

"Rather than allow the senate, other duly constituted faculty bodies, or faculty-selected representatives to participate appropriately in important decision-making processes concerning the organization of the university and the shape of faculty governance, the administration repeatedly, and over the objections of the faculty's representatives, chose to make these major decisions based on the recommendations of task forces and committees selected by the administration and dominated by administrators," the report says. It argues that faculty members voted no confidence in President Vailas and in the university's provost, Gary A. Olson, because the democratic ballot was "one of the few means left" to express their views.

"Despite the recent election of a provisional senate," the report says, "what currently passes for shared governance on campus is a conglomeration of administratively appointed and administratively dominated task forces, committees, and ad hoc groups accountable not to the faculty but to the administration."