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  Board Unjustified in Axing Faculty Senate

A new AAUP report finds that the action in February by the state board of education to suspend the faculty senate at Idaho State University not only violated fundamental principles of academic governance but poorly served the teaching and research mission of the university. 

On February 17, the Idaho State Board of Education (which governs public higher education in the state) voted unanimously to suspend the faculty senate, as recommended by ISU president Arthur C. Vailas, and directed him 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 President Vailas one week before the board meeting. When the president failed to provide the Association with an adequate explanation for the decision to suspend the operation and bylaws of the faculty senate, the AAUP general secretary authorized preparation of a staff report on the matter. 

The report, approved by the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance, 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 of Idaho State University and the Idaho State Board of Education acted in direct violation of widely accepted principles and standards of shared governance, as 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 its 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 provide its officers with 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 and administratively dominated task forces, committees, and ad hoc bodies that report to the administration, not to the faculty. 

Please send comments on this report to academicfreedom@aaup.org.

—Gregory Scholtz
Director, AAUP Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance