Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

VSU President Offers Olive Branch to Faculty

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

VSU President Offers Olive Branch to Faculty

Article excerpt

Gesture follows dissolution of faculty council

PETERSBURG, VA.

In his "State of the University" address, Eddie N. Moore Jr., president of Virginia State University, attempted to bridge the chasm that's developed between the university's administration and faculty since the university's board of visitors voted in early August to dissolve the elective faculty council and replace it with an appointive university council composed of faculty, staff, administration and students.

"There is no winner in an action like this," Moore said, "but there is opportunity."

Stressing that the university council would have a "sunset provision" ending its existence after a yet to-be-specified term, Moore offered a ray of hope to proponents of shared administrative-faculty governance by noting that the 12 faculty members of the 27-member university council would be selected from the ranks of the disbanded council in -- all of whom had been elected by their peers.

"This is a very, very serious moment for me," Moore said, "because I do understand the democracy that our country is founded on and I do understand the importance of having elections."

Moore drew a sustained ovation when he concluded with a plea for thoughtful consideration of and cooperation with his proposals -- a marked contrast to the tepid applause that greeted him when he stepped up to the podium.

The action by the Virginia State University Board of Visitors to dissolve the faculty council earlier this month was the culmination of several years of tension between the board and the council. The roots of the conflict appear to lie in a major academic reorganization proposed in November 1999, in which 13 small departments were merged into six, and department chairs, some with up to 20 years of service in the position, were ousted. The board approved the changes in the face of fierce opposition from the faculty council, and despite a no-confidence vote in the provost and president, the plan took effect in June.

Many of those present at the August "State of the University" address and welcome ceremonies for faculty and staff appeared to greet the president's remarks with relief.

"I overheard several people saying that they feel the president is more or less extending the olive branch," said Dr. David Bejou, vice provost for administration. "I think it's a very positive sign -- it indicates his commitment to a faculty role in the governance of the university."

Dr. Joseph Goldenberg, longtime chairman of the history department whose tenure survived the departmental mergers that sparked the latest and most bitter round in the standoff between the faculty and the board of visitors, was a bit more reserved.

"I'd call it a very good first step. It shows the administration is willing to bargain," said Goldenberg.

Dr. Oliver Hill Jr., a professor of psychology at VSU, also thought the president's tone was conciliatory but noted that Moore would remain the chairman of the university council and retain the power to make all appointments to it.

"Unfortunately, the way it's structured gives the appearance that the administration wants to have control," Hill said. "The approach reinforces the impression that the faculty are not to be trusted."

And indeed ominous rumblings of discontent could be heard beneath the cheerful banter of returning faculty and staff. …

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