The crux of the debate surrounding the plan was whether the elimination of 35 faculty positions would mean the termination of tenured faculty.
In the week leading up to the board’s vote, an unofficial ad-hoc group called the “Faculty Assembly” released the results of an anonymous electronic poll it conducted, which purported to show that numerous faculty members had “no confidence” in Provost Andrew Abela or President John Garvey regarding the renewal plan or the future of the university.
The group sent the poll to 448 people, including ordinary professors, associate professors, faculty emeriti and contract faculty. The 15 faculty who report directly to the provost were not included in the poll.
CUA representative Susan Gibbs told CNA that the university has 391 full-time faculty members, and because some faculty members were not polled by the group, only 376 of those who received the poll could have been full-time faculty members.
38 percent of those who received the survey, 171 people, said they had “no confidence” in Provost Andrew Abela. 176 people, 39 percent of those surveyed, said the same for President John Garvey. Roughly half of those surveyed, 225 people in total, responded to the poll, The Washington Post reported.
A lack of confidence “stems from concerns from faculty across campus regarding the strategic vision and direction of the university, lack of shared governance, and financial stewardship and management of the university’s resources,” Binh Tran, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at CUA and another leader of the assembly, told The Washington Post.
In a statement following the release of the poll, Catholic University said it was “difficult to respond to an anonymous opinion poll” and that it would instead rely on the votes of the elected officials of the Academic Senate and on faculty and student feedback received throughout the proposal process.
“The proposal was developed in consultation with committees of the Academic Senate, which also oversaw a campus-wide consultation widely attended by faculty and students,” CUA said in the statement. “Input from this consultation resulted in additional initiatives and revisions that were incorporated into the final document.”
Gibbs told CNA that while the school’s administration and Academic Senate understands that job elimination is a sensitive issue, nearly all of the eliminations of the faculty positions have been made through voluntary terminations and buyouts, and that the involuntary termination of tenured faculty had thus far been avoided.
“They’re wrapping up a few loose ends and finalizing a few things,” Gibbs said, but “it’s virtually done” and has all happened through voluntary means.
Dr. John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology and ethics and a member of the Academic Senate at CUA, told CNA that while he understood the Faculty Assembly’s initial concerns over tenured positions, he believed those concerns should be allayed by the revised final edition of the proposal.
“I feel like I can see both sides,” he said, since he is a faculty member that was part of the Academic Senate involved in deliberation over the plan.
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“But I can also see the concern generated among the faculty, because as it was initially described, it seemed like it was going to willy-nilly terminate faculty in certain units, whether they were adjunct, contract or tenured faculty, so that in many people’s minds set off alarm bells that the university is arbitrarily firing tenured faculty,” he said.
“I don’t think that was the intention” of the administration, he added, and after hearing the concerns of faculty, students and the broader CUA community regarding tenured positions, “a lot of the ambiguities of that language was cleared up.”
“By the time the Academic Senate approved the proposal, we were told that the provost was eliminating 35 faculty positions, and he had gotten to about 31 or 32 through voluntary retirement or severance. People were not being willy-nilly terminated, and he was confident that he could get the number he needed to make it work financially without having to involuntarily terminate any tenured faculty,” he said. “So in other words, we don’t even need to go there.”
Dr. Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at CUA, told CNA that while he received the electronic poll from the Faculty Assembly, he chose not to participate in it since they are not an officially recognized group.
He added that he “strongly supported” the Academic Renewal proposal, especially after he felt that his concerns about tenure were heard.
“I serve on the Committee for Faculty Economic Welfare, and helped draft my only concern which was to safeguard tenure,” he said. “Once the Provost clarified that tenure would not be harmed, the proposal passed the Academic Senate by a wide margin.”