Faculty frustrations voiced

There is a rift between President Philip Eaton and faculty over how the university’s policies should be determined.

Faculty believe that the structures of faculty governance, such as senate and committees, are bypassed and that questions and dissent are not welcome.

Eaton, who says he is surprised by faculty’s concerns, defines the problem as one of broken communication, and he expresses a desire to restore openness.

"It has become clear to me, in ways direct and indirect, that we have not been talking with each other directly and openly and that we have not been listening to one another adequately," Eaton said in a Nov. 21 e-mail to faculty and staff.

The rift, which has developed over many months, broke into public view during a 90-minute faculty and staff forum in Upper Gwinn on Monday afternoon.

During the forum, Eaton received sharp questions and pointed criticism from outspoken faculty who raised questions about Eaton’s handling of the recent accreditation report, the new global initiatives and the relationship between Eaton and Les Steele, Vice President of Academic Affairs.

"President Eaton thinks we need more communication; faculty thinks the structure of decision-making is being bypassed," professor of geography Kathleen Braden said in an interview Tuesday.

Some faculty members believe that the call for communication is one-sided.

"The heart of the matter is that if you criticize the president’s ideas he will hear you, but will not pay attention to what you have said and may respond by cutting you out of the dialogue," professor of English Tom Trzyna said in an interview, echoing statements made in Monday’s forum.

Eaton called the forum after faculty sent a letter outlining their concerns to the Board of Trustees. The letter was written by faculty chair Kathryn Bartholomew on behalf of Faculty Senate, which unanimously endorsed it. The letter was delivered to the Board of Trustees on Nov. 15.

According to the letter, "there has been a breakdown in academic structure which is having a detrimental impact on the academic life of the university, especially in the areas of addressing the accreditation report, initiation of new academic programs, and issues of faculty governance."

The letter also stated, "the voice of academics has been marginalized and diminished."

Eaton responded to the letter in an e-mail to faculty and staff on Nov. 21, saying that a lack of communication and openness "has caused a sense of broken trust in places, and broken trust is incredibly damaging and serious."

Much of the discussion Monday focused on the fact that Eaton, despite numerous requests, did not release the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) accreditation report until Faculty Senate sent the letter to the Board of Trustees. The accreditation process, which monitors the quality of university programs, was completed in April and the report issued by the NWCCU committee in the summer. The president’s action, faculty believed, hindered them from addressing recommendations for improvement, which the university must reply to by autumn of 2008.

One recommendation in the report raised questions about the university’s leadership.

"The Committee recommends that planning processes, including the preparation of budgets, involve appropriate constituencies to include students, staff, faculty, administration, and board members in a more interactive mode of shared decision-making," the report stated.

During Monday’s forum, Eaton called the accreditation report "uneven," though he did not address specifics.

In an e-mail to faculty and staff on Nov. 21, he said, "You must trust me when I say there was never any intention to hold the document in secret or to cover up its findings."

However, faculty voiced strong concerns on Monday.

"There is a six-year plus effort that went into a black hole," associate professor of communication Bill Purcell said to Eaton, referring to the process of producing self studies in preparation for last spring’s accreditation visit. "You are disrespecting us when you are not reporting details to the people who produced the report."

Additionally, professor of sociology Kevin Neuhouser raised the topic of Eaton’s approach to the global initiative and his lack of response to a proposal from the department chairs of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).

Neuhouser had been part of the "group of 30," a committee of faculty, staff and students assembled to discuss globalizing SPU. Neuhouser said he became concerned when the president called small taskforces to pursue specific goals related to the global initiative.

"I felt that the process was moving way too fast and that [the proposed] ideas were not being examined critically," Neuhouser said in an interview Tuesday.

Rather than splitting into four individual taskforces, the CAS chairs suggested convening a single taskforce whose faculty representatives would be nominated by council and approved by senate.

During Monday’s forum, Neuhouser asked Eaton for a response to the CAS chairs’ proposal.

Eaton responded by saying that he needed more clarification of the proposal.

While faculty raised the issue of a break in structure, professor of Christian scriptures Rob Wall said in the forum Monday and in an interview Tuesday that the issue came down to the relationship between the president and Vice President of Academic Affairs Les Steele.

In the interview, Wall said that while the relationship between faculty and Steele was good, there seemed to be a break of some sorts between Steele and Eaton.

"You simply cannot get a whole lot accomplished if you don’t do things in partnership," Wall said.

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Title: Faculty frustrations voiced | Author: Evi Sztajno | Section: News | Published Date: 2007-11-28 | Internal ID: 6162