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Idaho State University Suspension Of Faculty Senate Unjustified

By Gregory F. Scholtz

In February, the Idaho State Board of Education (which governs public higher education in the state) voted unanimously to suspend the faculty senate at Idaho State University, on the recommendation of ISU president Arthur C. Vailas, and directed the president to “implement an interim faculty advisory structure.” In justifying its decision, the board referred to an “impasse” between the administration and the senate following several years of conflict over issues of academic governance that culminated in a faculty vote of no confidence in Vailas one week before the board meeting. When Vailas did not provide the Association adequate justification for the decision to suspend the operation and bylaws of the faculty senate, the general secretary authorized the preparation of a staff report on the situation.

The report, now published on the AAUP’s website, finds that the decision to suspend the Idaho State faculty senate was not justified and that the activities of the senate and its leaders have served the teaching and research mission of the university, rather than having subverted it, as the board’s dissolution of the senate would imply. The report concludes that, “in severely restricting the faculty’s decision-making role in academic governance over the last several years, in suppressing faculty dissent, and, finally, in abolishing the faculty senate and with it the last vestiges of shared governance on the ISU campus,” the administration and the state board of education violated the principles set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.

When the administration held elections for a “provisional senate” in April, as directed by the state board of education, the ISU faculty voted to restore most of their former senate representatives, and the provisional senate at its first meeting elected almost all the members of the suspended senate’s executive committee. While assuring the AAUP that “ISU is set to move forward” with an “approach to faculty governance” that will accord with AAUP-supported standards, the Vailas administration has declined to recognize the initial actions of the provisional senate and has refused to relinquish the keys to the senate office, to permit the senate to communicate by e-mail with the faculty, and to restore access to the senate website. In the meantime, what the administration has characterized as faculty governance is being undertaken by a number of administratively appointed task forces, committees, and ad hoc bodies that report to the administration, not to the faculty.

In June, delegates to the AAUP’s annual meeting voted to sanction Idaho State University for substantial noncompliance with generally accepted standards of academic governance.

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