New School Faculty and President Remain at Odds
In the two months since Bob Kerrey, the president of the New School, received overwhelming votes of no-confidence from the university’s full-time faculty, he has met nonstop with deans, students, faculty members and trustees and has scheduled a series of dinners with small faculty groups to try to rebuild his support.
But the efforts at reconciliation have apparently not gained much traction, as evidenced by a faculty meeting on Tuesday in which one professor asked the room: “How do we impeach the guy?”
The emergency faculty meeting had been called to “exchange ideas and voice concerns,” but it turned into a large venting session, with professors taking turns at the microphone denouncing everything from Mr. Kerrey’s search for a new provost to what some called his autocratic style.
In one resolution, passed by a unanimous voice vote, the faculty urged the deans of the Greenwich Village university’s eight divisions to “reach out to every trustee” and convey the “strong and continuing faculty sentiment of no confidence” in the university’s current non-academic leadership.
But faculty members acknowledge that they have limited power to force out Mr. Kerrey, a former Democratic governor and senator from Nebraska. The board of trustees holds that authority, and three trustees said privately after the meeting that Mr. Kerrey still enjoyed broad support on the 60-member board.
The revolt against Mr. Kerrey was touched off by the dismissal of a popular provost, Joseph W. Westphal, in early December. But faculty members also complained that Mr. Kerrey let fiscal considerations override academic ones and faulted him for high turnover at the university. There have been four provosts since Mr. Kerrey took over in 2001, with the last, Mr. Westphal, leaving after only a few months.
Mr. Kerrey and his supporters challenge the criticisms, pointing out that he has significantly raised both the endowment and enrollment and has made strides in getting the eight divisions to work together. He also pushed to extend tenure among the faculty and oversaw an increase in dormitory rooms.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Mr. Kerrey said that “substantial progress” had been made in “addressing legitimate concerns voiced by many New School faculty,” adding that the vote of no confidence had “brought up some necessary truths that we needed to address, and we are now addressing them.
“Real channels of communication have opened with faculty and students, beginning a dialogue that will continue in the weeks and months ahead,” the statement continued. “At the same time, my administration and the academic leadership are working together to keep the New School on a steady course in these difficult financial times and continue building on the improvements we have begun.”
James E. Miller, co-chairman of the Faculty Senate, opened the meeting on Monday with a recapping of events. “This was a devastating referendum,” he said, referring to the 271-to-8 vote of no-confidence in December, which was directed at both Mr. Kerrey and his executive vice president, James Murtha, the university’s chief financial officer.
“Even when faculties express a lack of confidence without such unanimity, boards of trustees usually have no choice but to respond, either by changing leadership or by reforming the structure of academic governance,” said Dr. Miller, a professor of political science. “This serves as a useful reminder of who our primary audience now is. It is the board of trustees.”
The trustees will hold a regular meeting on Wednesday, but no action is expected. Almost half the board was appointed by Mr. Kerrey, whose contract runs through 2011.
While the faculty reiterated its dissatisfaction with Mr. Kerrey at its meeting, some students were more aggressive. (In December, students staged a 30-hour sit-in at a campus building, calling for Mr. Kerrey’s ouster.)
At the faculty meeting, Geeti Das, a doctoral student at the New School for Social Research, a division of the New School, called on Mr. Kerrey to step down by April 1. “If on that date he has not resigned, we will shut down the functions of the university,” she said to applause. “We will bring it to a halt.”
The latest skirmish between the faculty and Mr. Kerrey concerns the search for an interim provost. A search committee of deans and faculty members has recommended an internal candidate. But it insisted that almost a dozen conditions, relating to the restructuring of the provost’s office, be met first.
Asked about the restructuring idea, a spokeswoman for the New School said, “Everything’s on the table.”
The committee also demanded that an interim provost serve for at least 18 months and that a search for a permanent provost not start until September.In an e-mail message to the faculty, Mr. Kerrey rejected the idea of delaying the search for a permanent provost.