No Confidence

160-plus instructors signal their disfavor with HSU president



As the academic year draws to a close this week and droves of parents flood to town to collect their scholars, some of these visitors, leafing through a copy of Humboldt State University's newspaper, theLumberjack, or, perhaps, this newspaper, might be troubled by a certain full-page ad.

The ad, which first appeared in last week's Lumberjack — fittingly, in the Sports section — features a bold headline that leaves one with no doubt that a pitched battle has begun: "A Petition of Past and Present HSU Faculty Affirming No Confidence in President Rollin C. Richmond."

Below the heading, in parentheses, lies the taunt: "(addressed to the California State Senate, Assembly, Secretary of Education & Governor, & the CSU Chancellor & Board of Trustees)." It is not, that is to say, addressed to the local institutional establishment, but rather shoots long to land squarely at the state muckety-mucks' feet.

Followed by that are assorted statements attributed to President Richmond. And then there is a brief statement in explanation of the petition's existence that begins, "Out of grave concern for the future direction of our university, and for a variety of reasons too numerous to list and too notorious to require further documentation here ..."

But it's what comes after all of that which most astonishes: the signatures of 160 former and current HSU instructors, including some rather prominent ones valued for their expertise in, say, economics (Steve Hackett) or for turning a poetic phrase (Jerry Martien), for just a couple of examples, as well as a number of department heads and more than 40 professors emeritus. And, since the ad first ran, several more have signed on, reports a faculty member. The signers span the range of disciplines.

For perspective: According to latest stats, provided by Paul Mann of HSU public relations, the university employed 518 instructors in 2007: 242 lecturers and 276 tenured/tenure track faculty.

There's been a long lead-in to this moment, one faculty activist explained to the Journal last week while begging that he not be quoted — he didn't want to steal the show. He said the whole ball got rolling last September at a meeting of the Academic Senate during which a number of faculty said they wanted a vote of no confidence in Richmond. The Senate demurred, after which a faculty member started a blog in which he polled instructors about their degree of confidence in the president. "The majority of the faculty said they had no confidence," said our source. The Senate met again, and then sent out its own poll in October. Again, "no confidence" seemed to prevail.

Richmond could not be reached for comment late last week — Mann said it's best to provide him with 48 to 72 hours advance notice if one wants him to get a comment from or arrange an interview with the President. But Mann had this to say in an e-mail:

"As Rollin and I have told reporters for many months, including at the big campus budget forum early this year (did the Journalcover it?), he and faculty are working together as hard as they can to dissuade Sacramento from cutting the CSU budget — students are going to be hurt more than ever. He, and I believe, the majority of the faculty are united in getting the shortfall fixed, and that's their number one priority. From the day he got here, he's had a reputation for openness (remember the BSS Building donnybrook? — he turned that around) and he talks with faculty all the time. We're in the sixth year of budget cuts and I'm personally convinced the campus is of one mind that the fiscal crisis takes precedence over other issues."

By December, the issue was back before the Senate, which decided not to hold a vote of no confidence, but instead to morph the poll results into a "Bill of Particulars," which it did. The Bill of Particulars has been presented to Richmond, said another faculty member, who added that the president may issue a statement this week.

In the meantime there's this petition, which seems to indicate frustration with the Academic Senate's process.

Late last week, the Journalasked a number of the petition signers for a one-sentence explanation for why they signed. Some didn't respond. One wrote back simply, "I think I've gotten myself in enough trouble for being [No. X on the list] in tiny print. Do you want me to hang a sign on my back with big letters that says FIRE ME?" For most who wrote back, one sentence seemed to be an untenable constraint.

The respondents had many different complaints, but they largely boiled down to one broad issue: In stark contrast to pledges made when he first took the job, Richmond has become unapproachable and imperious, and that has led to bad management of the university's limited budget.

"He doesn't listen to anyone but his hand-picked closest advisors (although he works hard at appearing to), and he has displayed remarkably bad judgment on a number of occasions," wrote Richard Stepp, professor emeritus of the Physics and Astronomy department. Stepp has had an ongoing feud with the administration over cuts to the track and field team, which the former professor had supported financially.

"President Richmond's budget priorities have been developed without the broad consultation that is required of a shared governance institution and there are widespread perceptions across campus that university mission and budget priorities are secretive and done behind close doors," wrote Geography Lecturer Chris Haynes, an HSU alumnus and a 20-year employee of the institution who serves on the board of directors of the California Faculty Association. Haynes said that Richmond's relations with lecturers such as himself — teachers at the institution who are not eligible for tenure — have been particularly poor. One, John Stoob, an emeritus professor of Computer Science, was particularly angry at what he considered a short-sighted decision to terminate the German program: "My specific reason is the administration's steadfast intent to terminate the German major at HSU in spite of evidence that the termination will in fact cost money and not save money," he wrote.

Other petition-signers expanded on Haynes' point about the alleged failure of "shared governance" at the institution, citing the vast expansion of the administrative staff while professors are laid off, or forced to teach to larger and larger classes.

Some who wrote back to the Journal's question sought to share the blame, somewhat.

"While I believe that Richmond's leadership methods and strategies have proven a poor match for Humboldt State, I believe also that we faculty have failed to assert effective alternatives," wrote Peter Kenyon, professor of business. But Kenyon's share-the-blame sentiment only goes so far: "Humboldt's academic qualities have dissipated significantly under Richmond and, for this, he is ultimately responsible."

(See "Town Dandy" for Richmond's response.)


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