A national organization that represents university professors has released a report concluding the Idaho State University administration has violated traditional standards in recent decisions regarding the institution’s Faculty Senate.
As a result of its investigation, the American Association says it’s likely that it will sanction ISU, a negative distinction the group has only given to a handful of higher-ed institutions.
The 14-page AAUP report takes exception with the State Board of Education’s Feb. 17 decision to suspend the ISU Faculty Senate at the request of ISU President Arthur Vailas. The suspension came a week after ISU faculty gave Vailas a vote of no confidence.
The AAUP report is also critical of the Vailas administration for appointing members of bodies and committees whose representatives are typically voted into those positions by faculty.
“The concluding section of the report finds there have been serious violations of normative governance standards,” said Gregory Scholtz, director of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance.
The AAUP’s nine-member Governance Committee will now review the report and make a recommendation for between 300 and 500 AAUP delegates to vote on during the organization’s annual meeting set for the second weekend in June. If the delegates find the Vailas administration to be at fault, ISU will join a list of only four other higher education institutions sanctioned by the AAUP for failing to meet standards in governance. ISU would be the largest institution on the list that currently includes Antioch University in Ohio, Lindenwood College in Missouri, Elmira College in New York state and Miami Dade College in Florida.
The Idaho State Board of Education was not available for comment Wednesday regarding AAUP’s report.
ISU officials did provide a written response, contending that the AAUP has a bias that was evident in the manner in which it conducted its investigation. Furthermore, university officials downplayed the significance of an AAUP sanction.
The Vailas administration’s response likens the AAUP to a “major faculty union” and notes that according to data from 2008, the organization’s membership totaled 48,000, only 2.8 percent of the nation’s total 1.7 million post-secondary faculty.
“The truth of the matter is what constitutes a legitimate agency for the functioning of institutional governance is determined by the governing board. In the state of Idaho, the governing board is the Idaho State Board of Education,” the Vailas administration’s response reads.
ISU officials reason the AAUP showed its bias even before starting the investigation through its friend of the court brief in support of former ISU Professor Habib Sadid, who has filed a lawsuit against the university alleging he was fired for exercising free speech critical of the Vailas administration.
The Vailas administration response also points out that the AAUP failed to interview either the administration or the State Board of Education in its investigation.
“It is not unreasonable to conclude, therefore, that if AAUP had truly been interested in conducting a balanced ‘investigation’ they would have made attempts to conduct interviews/meetings with the administration,” the response reads. “Apparently they had no problem in finding time to speak with members of the suspended Faculty Senate.”
Scholtz acknowledges the university’s concerns about the lack of interviews with the State Board and administration “have some credibility.” He explained that when AAUP sent a draft of its report to the principal parties, the Vailas administration responded with a 20-page letter, which addressed AAUP’s concerns at length.
That response was incorporated into a revised version of AAUP’s draft report; the Vailas administration, however, noted many of its main points were relegated to footnotes.
Scholtz said, “The questions we had were for faculty, not the administration. We were pretty certain of (the administration’s) positions on most issues. When we got their written response, I didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen before.”
Typically, the general secretary of the AAUP appoints a committee of AAUP members to conduct investigations into allegations of governance violations. Committee members often make site visits to gather information. In this case, Scholtz said the investigation was done by the AAUP staff, and no site visits were made.
“I think if we had sent an investigating committee, the chances of our getting a report done even before the fall would have been rather slim,” Scholtz said. “Also I think the feeling was among the staff members that the facts of the case were pretty clear and relatively uncluttered.”
No interviews were done for the investigation, but a staff member did send a few questions to faculty members. Scholtz said media reports about ISU were utilized, as were university documents and Faculty Senate documents. He added that a website where ISU Provost Gary Olson posts letters also served as a rich source of information.
Scholtz said a sanction by his organization would serve as “a black mark” on ISU.
“It indicates at least in this particular area the institution is not meeting the industry standard,” Scholtz said.
He said it’s tough to comment on how faculty in general regard a sanction when they conduct job searches, noting only that he personally would never seek a job at a sanctioned institution.
“We can’t force ISU to do anything. It’s more or less an indication that in the eyes of a certain segment of the academic community what has happened has deviated from the professional norms,” Scholtz said.
Based on more recent developments — including the fact that the university won’t allow its provisional Faculty Senate to commence work on new bylaws until the fall — Scholtz said any hope of ISU avoiding a sanction likely evaporated.
“I would suspect that the (AAUP) governance committee will not be so favorably inclined after what’s happened in the past few weeks,” Scholtz said. He added that he sees no problem with ISU’s existing bylaws the way they are written and can’t fathom why the Vailas administration and State Board are demanding they be replaced.
ISU officials counter that they have never been granted an opportunity by the AAUP to respond to the latest developments involving the provisional senate.
“AAUP apparently is willing to overlook its own guidelines and find unacceptable the university’s provisional model when the model doesn’t conform to AAUP’s notion of faculty governance,” the Vailas administration response reads.