Shared Dissonance

Professors at New Jersey Institute of Technology say speed doesn't justify ignoring the faculty role in selecting a president.

February 1, 2012

Just days before Joel Bloom was appointed last month as president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, three faculty members on the search committee quit, saying that the process was moving too quickly.

Faculty leaders say that Bloom, who was interim president and vice president for academic and student services previously, may well have been the best candidate for the job, but that the search was conducted contrary to university policy. Letters have been exchanged between the Faculty Council and the Board of Trustees, and a meeting is scheduled this week.

Mill Jonakait, chair of the institute’s Faculty Council, said she was told late last year that the search would be wrapped up in 30 days. “We were bemused because it seemed like such a short time for a full national search. We told them that the process was not going according to our faculty handbook and accepted practice,” Jonakait said. According to the handbook, the search committee should invite "promising candidates" to campus to meet trustees and the university community. "At least one session is devoted to meeting with the Faculty, whose input is solicited and considered," the handbook says. Faculty members said that none of this took place.

Matters came to a head on Jan. 4 when the three faculty members walked off the committee. They declined to sign a nondisclosure agreement and were also unhappy about a staff member of the search committee working in the office of the interim president, who was a candidate for the post. Less than a week later, Bloom was appointed president. His term runs till 2014.

“Many faculty members like Dr. Bloom. It is not about the outcome but the irregularity of the process,” Jonakait said. In a letter sent to the Board of Trustees, the council said it hoped to see the damage repaired. “Failure of the board to adhere to the handbook on a matter as important as the appointment of the chief executive officer of the university is considered a breach of that trust and an action disrespectful of faculty involvement in university governance,” the letter said.

But this letter drew a response from the trustees that upset the faculty members even more. In that response, Kathy Wielkopolski, chair of the Board of Trustees, said that the board had the ultimate responsibility and the full authority to determine the mission of the institution. “Shared governance seeks to hear the voices of the stakeholder groups, but never interferes and undermines the authority of the trustees to make decisions,” her response said. “The recent set of events, clearly demonstrates that one stakeholder group, the faculty, mistakenly believed that they controlled the search process.”

Wielkopolski did not reply to an e-mail sent to her and attempts by Inside Higher Ed to reach the trustees through the public relations office were unsuccessful.

Jonakait said she was outraged and saddened by the situation. “The board needs to have a greater appreciation for the precedence of faculty governance,” she said. “We are hoping that with better communication, this kind of irregularity will not happen again.”

The national office of the American Association of University Professors is looking into the situation, said Robert Kreiser, who is associate secretary in the department of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the office. In an ideal situation, he said, faculty members would play a meaningful role in the search process.

“I believe that the chair of the board has a pinched understanding of the role of the faculty in institutional governance.  We have been consulted about it and we have been in touch with the AAUP chapter at the university. We are waiting to see what happens at the meeting,” Kreiser said.



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