New School Faculty Members May Hold No-Confidence Vote in Bob Kerrey

December 09, 2008

Senior faculty members at the New School, extremely disturbed by the abrupt departure of the New York institution’s provost, will meet on Wednesday afternoon in a hastily called session of the Faculty Senate, and may hold a vote of no confidence in the president, Bob Kerrey, the former U.S. senator.

A call for such a vote on the leadership of Mr. Kerrey — under whom a string of provosts have served since he became president, in 2001 — is “certainly a possibility,” said Arjun Appadurai, an anthropologist at the New School. “There will be serious discussion about what action to take among the recent developments.”

In an e-mail message to the university on Monday, Mr. Kerrey announced that the provost, Joseph W. Westphal, would be leaving his post immediately to serve on President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team for the Department of Defense. Mr. Westphal, a former chancellor of the University of Maine system, agreed that he could not both handle “this historic mission and devote the time necessary to the provost’s office,” Mr. Kerrey’s message said.

Mr. Westphal, who was to serve a two-year term, was provost for barely three months.

“We still don’t know all the facts, but clearly there was nothing routine about this,” Mr. Appadurai said. “Five provosts in the time that he’s been president — that’s remarkable.”

Mr. Kerrey, a former Democratic governor and U.S. senator from Nebraska, wrote that he planned to serve as the New School’s provost until a new one was hired — a move that professors see as a way to diminish their role in governing the institution.

“To my knowledge, that is completely unprecedented,” said Mr. Appadurai, who served as provost at the New School for about two years before resigning, in 2006. Mr. Kerrey’s contract at the New School runs until June 2011. —Audrey Williams June