State Board of Education Suspends Faculty Senate at Idaho State U.

February 17, 2011

In an apparently unprecedented step, the Idaho State Board of Education voted on Thursday to suspend the Faculty Senate of Idaho State University and instructed the university's president to put in place an interim faculty advisory structure.

In a statement released after its vote, at a meeting in Boise, the board cited an impasse between faculty leaders and the president, and said its action was "the most reasonable action to take at this time."

The board acted after hearing an update from the university's president, Arthur C. Vailas, on a controversial reorganization plan that includes changes in faculty governance. At the meeting, board members  questioned Mr. Vailas about the possibility of their working through "the current stalemate" over the proposed changes.  They also heard from Phil Cole, chair of the Faculty Senate, about faculty members' concerns with the reorganization plan and with Mr. Vailas's honesty and his ability to communicate well with them.

Mark Browning, the board's chief communications and legislative affairs officer, said afterward that it became clear to board members that "there was no movement on either side. There was an impasse."

The senate had accused Mr. Vailas of rushing to carry out the reorganization plan, among other grievances, in a resolution expressing no-confidence in the president that was approved last week.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, said he knew of no previous example of a board of education shutting down a faculty senate. The Idaho board's action "sends an aggressive and immensely regrettable message to the faculty," Mr. Nelson said in an e-mail to The Chronicle. "Now negotiations need to be conducted under a shadow of intimidation."

In a statement released after the meeting, Mr. Vailas said the faculty would "continue to have a significant voice" in university governance at Idaho State.

The state board has given Mr. Vailas until its next meeting, April 20 and 21, to present "a new faculty-governance model" for review and until its meeting toward the end of June to present a final model.

Mr. Browning, said that it "remains to be worked out" whether and to what degree" current Faculty Senate leaders would be allowed to participate in the new governance model. He added that the board's actions should not be viewed as "punitive against any one person" or toward the current senate. The state board has never taken this sort of step before, Mr. Browning said.

Mr. Cole, the senate chair and an associate professor of physics, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.