A Question of Confidence
By Graig Graziosi and Justin Wier
A motion was made Wednesday night calling for the Youngstown State University Academic Senate to adopt a resolution of no confidence in the leadership of Provost Martin Abraham.
The resolution was brought to the Academic Senate by Michael Jerryson, assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies. The resolution was amended from a similar resolution brought before the Senate in December. The original resolution targeted the administration as a whole as opposed to specifically Provost Abraham.
The resolution read, “Whereas the Interim Provost’s actions have caused serious damage to the campus community’s trust in the administration’s commitment to shared governance, whereas oversight by the Interim Provost was not exercised in a manner that reflects respect for shared governance; therefore, the Youngstown State University Academic Senate has no confidence in the Interim Provost’s leadership of the campus.”
Issues with Abraham’s selection came to public light at the Academic Senate meeting following his installation as provost where President Jim Tressel’s actions were debated among gathered faculty.
The resolution offered to the Academic Senate specifically cited the proposed — but now abandoned — effort to reorganize the colleges, as well as the coming changes to the Honors College, as examples of “damage to the campus.”
Howard Mettee, professor of chemistry, spoke against the proposal, claiming aspects of the language were incorrect and that the timing for such a proposal was poor.
“This resolution is untimely and incorrect … there was consultation [when discussing the potential college reorganization] … those changes were proposed but not implemented. Now isn’t a good time for this. YSU is in a critical state … we may never [capitalize on recent enrollment gains] if we keep shooting at each other,” Mettee said.
Michael Slavens, president of YSU’s Student Government Association, also spoke against the resolution — particularly its claim that the provost did not include student consultation in the changes he implemented/proposed to implement.
“I would completely disagree that [Abraham] hasn’t included students … he’s been very receptive to students. We always have his ear,” Slavens said.
Jamal Tartir, associate professor of mathematics and statistics, suggested the resolution was too steep a measure to take for the infractions listed.
“Do we really have a vote of no confidence after one mistake?” Tartir said.
Loren Lease, associate professor of sociology, anthropology and gerontology, responded to those defending Abraham by pointing to the language of the document and suggesting that it was not the results of Abraham’s actions that were damaging, but Abraham’s skirting of campus policy to bring matters of major academic significance before the Academic Senate.
“There was no clear reason why our colleges would be split … [neither the Board of Trustees nor Abraham] brought the issue to the Senate,” Lease said.
Deborah Mower, associate professor of philosophy and religious studies, who ultimately did not support the measure, did echo Lease’s remarks concerning the focus of the document.
“This motion is addressing issues of policy … the question here is ‘What is the role of the senate?’” Mower said.
Ray Beiersdorfer, professor of geological and environmental sciences, cited several personal anecdotes, which he said he believes validates a lack of trust in Abraham’s authority.
Ultimately, a parliamentary move by Greg Sturrus, the dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, resulted in the Academic Senate calling for a “roll-call vote,” in which senators are called by name and must give a vote before the present-assembled senate, as opposed to a secret ballot which those in favor of the resolution supported.
The resolution was defeated, with only three faculty members standing to support the measure.
Jerryson said he believes the move created a hostile environment for faculty in support of the measure.
“We have an exceptionally high number of junior faculty and faculty going up for promotion soon, which makes the environment hostile to those who want to vote honestly without possibly hurting their chances at promotion,” Jerryson said. “I’m not disappointed the resolution was rejected but rather by the methods used to reject it. What we’ve seen today is how the administration can take power from the faculty even in the main seat of the faculty’s power, the senate.”
Chet Cooper, Academic Senate chair and professor of biological sciences, believed there was no further exacerbating of the situation.
“The situation was already hostile, as was evident by some of the comments made earlier in the discussion against the provost,” Cooper said. “Ultimately, [the move to a roll call vote] was a parliamentary move. That’s the way parliamentary actions work … we’re at a point where [faculty and administration] need to quit beating up the institution … we need to back each other. The more we push people up, the better.”
Abraham spoke to the result of the vote and the allegations during the meeting suggesting he devalued the liberal arts and humanities disciplines at YSU.
“So obviously I’m gratified by the vote, disappointed too that we had to even have such a discussion. But clearly there are some who feel like more consultation is needed — I’ll take that under advisement. We’ll redouble our efforts to consult effectively with the faculty and the students and ensure that all voices amongst the university continue to be heard,” Abraham said. “There’s no intention to undermine any particular program. All programs are important to the university and the liberal arts and the social sciences. They provide some tremendously valuable activity for all of our students … regardless of what we do moving forwards, liberal arts and social sciences remain the underpinning of a quality education. And I don’t see any way that we can do anything different at the university at Youngstown State.”