Graduate Students

New School Faculty Senate Votes No Confidence in President Bob Kerrey

December 10, 2008

In a nearly unanimous vote this afternoon, senior faculty members at the New School approved a motion of no confidence in the institution’s president, Bob Kerrey. The university’s trustees, however, apparently were unmoved by that vote. The trustees also gathered today, at a regularly scheduled meeting, and the university released a statement afterward saying they had unanimously expressed confidence in Mr. Kerrey’s leadership.

The faculty vote took place at an emergency closed-door meeting of the Faculty Senate. According to a summary of the results — released by Jim Miller, a professor of political science who is a co-chair of the senate — 74 faculty members voted for the no-confidence resolution against Mr. Kerrey, two voted no, and one abstained. Faculty members also overwhelmingly voted no confidence in the leadership of the institution’s executive vice president, James Murtha.

Mr. Kerrey, a former governor and two-term U.S. senator from Nebraska, had no previous experience in academe when he became the college’s president, in 2001, and some faculty members were uneasy with his management style early on.

The immediate trigger for today’s meeting, however, was the abrupt departure of the New School’s provost, Joseph W. Westphal. In an announcement on Monday, Mr. Kerrey said that Mr. Westphal — the fifth provost to serve during Mr. Kerrey’s tenure — was leaving to serve on President-elect Obama’s transition team. Mr. Kerrey added that he intended to serve as provost until a replacement could be named.

Faculty members opposed the concentration of power in the president’s office, and expressed dismay over the high turnover rate in the provost’s office.

A “statement of concerns” approved by senior faculty members at the meeting said, in part, that they were “appalled by the abrupt and unexplained dismissal” of Mr. Westphal, who had served in the post only three months. Mr. Westphal, the statement said, “represented a welcome transition toward better academic leadership and a greater openness in shared governance with the deans and faculty. We reject the appropriateness of President Kerrey unilaterally appointing himself the acting chief academic officer of the university for an interim period that is likely to last months if not years.”

Mr. Kerrey told The New York Times that he did not “fear any vote the faculty could take,” and he noted that those at the meeting were a small portion of New School’s 333 full-time and 1,733 part-time faculty members. —Audrey Williams June