Wednesday, October 12, 2016

No Confidence Votes: Still In Style

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the pointlessness of no-confidence votes by faculty against their university administrations. At the time I argued that such votes advance no practical or real purpose, and may in fact be damaging to ongoing discussions about a difficult situation.

In further proof that the readership of this blog is negligible, we get this news from today's Chronicle:
Quincy U. Faculty Votes No Confidence in University's President
The story here is a familiar one: university in difficult financial circumstances, some of which may be attributable to decisions made by the administration (I don't know anything about Quincy, so I'm speculating there; there are certainly outside forces at work as well over which the president has no control). Subsequent budget measures affect things faculty care about, faculty get mad, lash out at the administration.

My own campus is likely to see a rash of these things before the year is out, because this describes our story pretty well, too. The problem with such efforts is not that the faculty are wrong - they usually do have a point. Financial distress is often caused by poor, even disastrous, decisions made by senior administrators. In other cases, the causes may be more complex but administrators have not handled the relationship with faculty well (lack of transparency, lack of openness to dialogue, arbitrary decision-making, etc.) So I certainly get why faculty are upset.

Even when all of that is true, however, the votes are generally a waste of time and energy. It is stunningly rare for a Board of Trustees (or a President) to remove an administrator because of a faculty vote. When those two events correlate, there are usually a lot of other forces pushing that person out as well. The statements presented in these votes often offer a litany of complaints and concerns, but are usually short on ideas for how to solve them. They represent poor negotiating strategy, because they don't signal what the faculty want - and if they did, they would be doing so in a pretty ham-handed way.

I have no doubt that these events will continue to be popular. I also don't expect them to produce anything useful. Which is a shame - all of that time and energy could be put to better use in helping the university improve its circumstances and the lives of its students.