Faculty Senate meeting discusses ‘plan of action’ and faculty voice

At the Faculty Senate meeting held last Thursday, the Senate along with Provost Mark Braun, President Ohle and two other members of faculty addressed the growing climate of unrest and concern in the community regarding the President’s administration and the recent intensity that has grown as a result of GustieLeaks.

The Faculty Senate passed a motion to present a letter to President Ohle articulating their concerns with his leadership, the detrimental effects they have experienced and their request for him to leave his position as president at the end of this academic year. The resolution is separate from the one passed last October and makes a more direct call for the President’s immediate resignation. The resolution states:

“[W]e as a community find ourselves demoralized and debilitated by a leadership approach that has taken the college into grave crisis. We are deeply concerned about the financial health of the institution and the wellbeing of all its members,” the letter stated. “We have reached a point where lack of trust and confidence in your leadership over the span of four years precludes the college from moving forward in its educational mission under your leadership.”

The letter went on to state: “[W]e, the Faculty Senate, respectfully yet earnestly request that you step down as President of the College at the end of the academic year 2012-2013.”

The President, present at the meeting, accepted the letter and assured the Senate that he would treat it with “serious consideration.”

If he does not choose to resign himself, only the Board of Trustees hold the ability to satisfy the Faculty Senate’s request.

Ohle informed the Senate of the Board’s plan to evaluate the office of the presidency as well as the president, himself, in the spring, but the Senate demanded a clear “plan of action” in response to the faculty’s repeatedly stated concerns.

Discussion followed as the President suggested a Board representative come meet with the Senate to present their plan of action. Faculty Senate Chair John Cha responded in opposition to this format, stressing that there was a need to improve board and faculty communication that could be enhanced through a two-way dialogue.

Instead of the Board presenting the Senate with a plan, Cha desired a platform to present faculty concerns to ensure the Board’s complete understanding of the faculty’s position and experience under the President’s leadership.

With more discussion of direct Senate/Board communication and the subject of an agreeable timeline for the Board’s decision, Professor of History and LALACS Sujay Rao proposed a statement to the Board of Trustees.

“The Faculty Senate asks the Board of Trustees to present a clear plan of action, no later than the end of January,” Rao said.

He continued by stating that if no plan is forthcoming by the Board, the Faculty Senate will feel compelled to create a plan of action of its own to address the growing unrest in the community.

The Senate then moved to a discussion of a way to broaden the dialogue surrounding the issues raised. Vice Chair of the Faculty Senate Mary Solberg stated the need for the Faculty Senate to now, more than ever, be concerned with representing the full faculty.

“Especially at a time of crisis,” she said. “And I do believe this is a crisis for this faculty and for the college.”

This concern with “representing the whole” came as a response to the claim made by some members of the administration, including President Ohle, that the Faculty Senate does not represent the concerns of the whole faculty.

In The Weekly’s prior interview with President Ohle, he stated on more than one occasion that the apparent unrest is the result of a few members of the faculty who disagree with the decisions he has made.

Provost Mark Braun voiced similar concerns about the Senate’s ability to speak for the entire faculty of which he feels there are several who disagree with the Senate’s overall position regarding President Ohle’s leadership.

“I can assure you that there are colleagues who are concerned about the Faculty Senate,” he said at the meeting.

Although he conceded that those who disagree with the Senate’s position may not be the majority, he said those who disagree should still be heard.

“All I’m saying is the voice is there,” Braun said.

Professor Alisa Rosenthal, who is not a Faculty Senator but was present at the meeting, responded to Braun.

“The Senate has done everything short of contorting itself,” she said regarding how the Senate has repeatedly sought to make sure it accurately understands and reflects the views of the whole faculty.

“The President and Provost have tried, and continue to try, to make it appear that the concerns expressed are those of a small minority but there’s absolutely no any evidence for that position. In fact, all the evidence leads to the opposite conclusion.”

Some at the meeting pointed to the results from the annual Faculty Opinion Surveys of 2011 and 2012 as an indicator of the majority opinion regarding the President.

Percentages showing majority dissatisfaction with the President’s performance remain consistent from year to year. For instance, almost 40 percent in both 2011 and 2012 voted as they ‘Strongly Disagreed’ or ‘Disagreed’ with the statement ‘I believe the President has done a good job this year’ compared with 15 percent in 2011 and 19 percent in 2012 who ‘Strongly Agreed’ or ‘Agreed.’

The numbers communicated even greater dissatisfaction when faculty were asked if they felt ‘The President had communicated effectively.’ Those who ‘Strongly Disagreed’ or ‘Disagreed’ were 59 percent in 2011 and 56 percent in 2012.

When asked if ‘The President has been responsive to my concerns,’ the faculty responded again at about 40 percent ‘Strongly Disagreeing’ or ‘Disagreeing’ in both 2011 and 2012.

It should be noted that in every question asked, those listing themselves as either ‘Neutral’ or having ‘No Opinion’ appear in rather significant percentages compared with the whole. This neutrality or lack of opinion further complicates the results as it leaves a large portion of the faculty rather ambiguously defined in their view of the President’s leadership.

Still, the survey results clearly corroborate the Faculty Senate’s claim that the majority of the faculty are dissatisfied with the President’s leadership.

Results pertaining to the faculty’s satisfaction with the overall performance of the Faculty Senate appear in good standing as well. All survey responses in this category revealed a consistent majority of satisfaction with Senate leadership. (Please reference the graphic on Page 1 for the full 2012 survey results pertaining to both President and Faculty Senate leadership). Those wishing to view the entirety of the results may access them on the Gustavus website: https://gustavus.edu/facultysenate/documents/FacultySurveyResults2011-2012.pdf.

Regardless of percentages, the Senate will move forward with plans to hold a dialogue with the rest of the faculty in order to engage more people in the discussion and make sure they have a comprehensive understanding of the faculty’s position. It was agreed that the Senate would compile discussion topics and then host a forum with the larger faculty in the coming weeks.