POCATELLO — An organization that defends academic freedom and shared governance at U.S. universities has removed sanctions that have been in place for more than eight years against Idaho State University.
The American Association of University Professors published a report in May 2011 detailing its decision to issue sanctions, highlighting several concerns about the ISU administration’s dealings with its faculty.
On Saturday, delegates to the 105th annual meeting of the AAUP voted unanimously to lift the sanctions.
“Your cooperative efforts in the spirit of academic shared governance have led to this happy outcome,” Gregory Scholtz, AAUP’s director of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, wrote in a Monday letter to ISU.
During the same meeting in which ISU was removed from sanctions, Vermont Law School was added to the list, keeping the total number of sanctioned institutions at six.
Elmira College, located in New York, was added to the list in 1995 and has been sanctioned for the longest period of time.
The turmoil that resulted in sanctions under former ISU President Arthur Vailas culminated in February 2011 with the State Board of Education suspending the operation and bylaws of the ISU Faculty Senate. The board authorized Vailas to create an interim faculty advisory structure.
ISU implemented a new constitution in December. Furthermore, the university has a new president, Kevin Satterlee.
In a press release, Satterlee said he’s continually impressed by the dedication of ISU’s faculty, and he believes the university and its students benefit when administrators and faculty work “collaboratively, inclusively and transparently.”
“Idaho State University administrators and faculty are working hard to build a positive and productive relationship based on the tenets of shared governance,” Satterlee said in the press release. “It is my hope that we continue to work together to build a relationship built upon trust and mutual accountability.”
Incoming Faculty Senate Chairman Rick Wagoner credits Satterlee, with fostering a positive and optimistic atmosphere on campus.
Wagoner believes the university’s removal from the list of sanctioned universities will help significantly with recruiting new faculty.
“It’s a very big thing. It’s very important, and how positive it is I really don’t think can be overstated,” Wagoner said.
Wagoner, who is a professor of higher education, has served on four search committees to fill vacant positions, and three or four candidates asked questions about the sanctions.
Wagoner said AAUP was directly involved in establishing the modern concepts of academic freedom and shared governance at U.S. colleges and universities, and its opinion carries a great deal of weight among members and nonmembers alike.
“To have them sanction a university that will cause a very large portion of people involved in higher education to really think seriously, ‘Will I be willing to work at a university that has been sanctioned?’” Wagoner said.
For about a century, Wagoner said the U.S. model of higher education has recognized faculty have authority regarding teaching, curriculum and research, and a university’s constitution protects those roles.
In the spring, AAUP sent representatives to campus to meet with local AAUP members, members of the Faculty Senate and Satterlee, and those meetings paved the way for the sanctions to be lifted.
The AAUP report explaining the need for the sanctions concluded conflict between the faculty and administration trace back to the fall 2008, when the administration proposed new policies and procedures many faculty viewed as infringing on their responsibilities for faculty and personnel matters.
Tensions mounted a year later when the administration proposed to restructure the university by combining seven colleges into five, seeking to save $2 million in the face of state budget cuts.
Faculty members argued the administration gave little deference to their opinions in drafting the restructuring plan. Vailas reportedly described the faculty governance system as “cumbersome” and “dysfunctional.” In turn, the 80 percent of the faculty voted no confidence in his leadership.
The State Board of Education dissolved the Faculty Senate and constitution at Vailas’ urging.
“Less than five minutes after the board vote was taken, campus security officers changed the locks on the senate offices and surrounded them with police tape,” the AAUP report reads.
The report found the State Board and ISU administration “acted in direct violation of widely accepted principles and standards of shared governance.”
“The senate, which had been created through joint effort, was eliminated unilaterally, and the faculty’s elected representatives have been summarily dismissed from office by the same unilateral action,” the report concluded.
Wagoner said ISU had already commenced with work to restore its constitution before Satterlee took office, but his arrival helped the “pieces come together in a positive way.”
Looking forward, Wagoner believes the Faculty Senate’s big concerns have all been addressed, and the focus will be on “reinforcing all of the positive things that have happened, particularly over the past 12 months.”