No Confidence Votes at Cal State

Faculty unhappy with leadership styles, priorities of presidents at Sonoma and Sacramento State.
May 30, 2007

Spurred by a coalition of frustrated professors, 73 percent of faculty members at Sonoma State University who responded to a referendum have registered no confidence votes in their president, Ruben Armiñana.

Part-time lecturers and full-time professors were asked to evaluate the president's leadership, and nearly 7 in 10 eligible voters cast ballots. The vote comes just weeks after faculty members at another Cal State institution, Sacramento State University, sent a similar message about the performance of their president, Alexander Gonzalez. Roughly 77 percent of voters (about two-thirds of eligible faculty took part) there disapproved of Gonzalez.

In both cases, professors fault presidents for "underfunding" the academic budget and making decisions without consulting them.

"What these votes have in common is that we are saying that we find troubling presidents who have an autocratic style, particularly when there are limited resources," said Susan Moulton, a professor of art history at Sonoma who helped create the Faculty for Administrative Accountability, Confidence and Trust group, which organized the vote. "With top-down decision making, budgets shifted so that the business side was taking the lion's share of resources and the academic mission has suffered."

The system's Board of Trustees said following the votes that it continues to support both Gonzalez and Armiñana, calling them "effective and engaged leaders."

At Sonoma, more than 40 professors -- some of whom are active in the Academic Senate -- formed the accountability group this spring around the concern that Armiñana is moving the university in the wrong direction. The group's resolution says that, among other things, the administration has failed to:

  • Provide enough resources to support faculty scholarship and research.
  • Add class sections to enable smaller class sizes and keep up with growing enrollment.
  • Develop an effective strategy to deal with an inherited deficit.
  • Practice its stated interest in shared governance by consulting the faculty on important academic issues.

"There's been a starvation of the educational side," said Peter Phillips, a professor of sociology at Sonoma and a member of the faculty group.

Specifically, faculty there are upset that as enrollment has grown along with money provided by the state during Armiñana's tenure, the funds haven't gone toward a proportional increase in full-time faculty. In the meantime, group members say the president has spent too much money adding administrative positions and funding building projects that don't directly relate to the academic mission of the university.

The group says that from 1992-3 to 2005-6, state funding to the campus increased by 69 percent, yet money for instruction only increased by 36 percent. At the same time, administrative and finance costs increased by 88 percent, according to the group. A Sonoma spokeswoman did not respond to messages for comment on the faculty group's analysis.

Noel Byrne, a professor of sociology who helped found the faculty coalition, said when Armiñana began 15 years ago during a time of declining enrollment, the president unwisely added administrative positions and dug the university into a financial hole.

The faculty group has asked the Academic Senate to hold hearings on the president's leadership, and it wants an independent audit of the funding use and budget priorities. The group is calling for faculty representatives to serve on all administrative committees with policy and budget-making powers. It is not calling for the president's resignation.

"Our concern is that there needs to be a rebalance. Teaching and learning have to be the primary missions," Moulton said.


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