Idaho State University Slammed by AAUP for Treatment of Faculty in New Report

June 6, 2011

We’ve written in recent months about Idaho State University (ISU), where faculty-administration relations have been at an impasse since around the time when the ISU Faculty Senate was suspended by the Idaho State Board of Education (SBOE). FIRE asked ISU President Arthur Vailas to defend the university’s treatment of its representative faculty body, traditionally an important part of shared governance at ISU. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), not surprisingly, has pressed hard for the faculty at Idaho State as well. Vailas’ responses have not persuaded the AAUP that all is wellquite the opposite. The AAUP recently issued a 14-page report highly critical of the ISU administration (PDF available here).

As Peter Schmidt of The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote of the report on May 26:

The report, based on an investigation by AAUP staff and endorsed by the organization’s Committee on College and University Governance … accuses Idaho State University’s administration of responding to its long-running conflict with the Faculty Senate over matters such as academic reorganization by taking several actions that directly violated accepted principles and standards of shared governance. Those included "severely restricting" the faculty’s role in academic governance over the last several years, "suppressing faculty dissent," and persuading the state board to vote to suspend the Faculty Senate and direct the university’s president, Arthur C. Vailas, to devise a replacement for it.

The AAUP’s press release on its report also highlights some of the more recent developments to take place at ISU since the suspension of the senate:

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.

A letter from Barbara Adamcik, Associate Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at ISU, stated that the provisional senate would not be seated until the fall, leaving the body in limbo until then without a constitution and bylaws, or even access to its old office space. (The ISU administration had immediately changed the locks on the Faculty Senate offices following the SBOE vote to suspend the body, even though the vote was taken in another city.)

This circumstance suggests that, at a time when faculty grievances are at their height, there are no established procedures for the senate to hear them (though ad hoc procedures were described by Adamcik in her letter). The administration even, for a time, suspended the ISU Ombuds office, a third-party office often effective in hearing faculty grievances and meant to be free of bias or conflict of interest. According to the ISU Voice blog, ISU Ombudsman John Gribas was notified that his position was suspended until the provisional faculty senate completes its constitution and bylaws. ISU at least thought better about that decision, however, and restored the Ombuds office within a few days.

A final note: Schmidt’s article notes that the AAUP may vote to sanction Idaho State at its annual conference, which takes place in Washington, D.C., beginning Wednesday, June 8. FIRE may have more to report about ISU at this time next week.

Schools:  Idaho State University