AAUP holding "no-confidence" vote on President Huddleston

By Thomas Gounley
On April 26, 2011

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that David Richman is the secretary of the UNH-AAUP. Richman is a member at large on the executive committee.

In a 5-2 vote last week, the executive committee of the University of New Hampshire chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) elected to hold a "no-confidence" vote against UNH President Mark Huddleston today and tomorrow in Dimond Library. The vote has no official impact, but, if passed, would signal a lack of confidence by the faculty in the university's top administrator. 

According to an email circulated to union members on Thursday, April 21, votes will be taken in Room 323 of the library between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday. Union members also have the option of voting by email or mail.

The email announcing the holding of the no-confidence vote focused on Huddleston's April 18 testimony before the N.H. Senate State Finance Committee. 

"What he testified to was an exercise in self-aggrandizement coupled with an astonishing disparagement of both our faculty and students," the email read. "In effect, he told the senators that UNH is an outmoded, mediocre school, with ineffective, pompous faculty and dull students, and concluded by pleading not for better funding to reduce the tuition stress on our students, but for more time to set things straight by ‘fixing the business model' with his grand ‘Strategic Plan.'"

The email particularly objected to one passage conceding a need for change from Huddleston's testimony.  

"We still too frequently convey information in 50-minute lectures delivered by a ‘sage on the stage' to largely passive recipients in the audience three times a week for 15 weeks a term — as if that schedule were Biblically decreed and as if that were the way that ‘digital natives' actually learn today," Huddleston said. "Worse, we remain wedded to a credentialing regimen of courses and majors and degrees that mainly reflect ‘seat time,' rather than what students actually learn or need to learn."

"He has failed us as a spokesman and leader and, worse, damaged our efforts for legislative support," the email concluded, before announcing the holding of the no-confidence vote.

David Richman, professor of theatre and humanities at UNH and a member at large on the UNH-AAUP executive committee, said in an email that Huddleston's testimony was the latest in a series of slights toward the faculty.

"The Concord testimony is the capstone, if you will," Richman said. "It makes explicit the contempt implicit in the positions the university is taking in negotiation. Reading this testimony, I conclude that the president has contempt for and ignorance of the fundamental enterprise of teaching and learning that must be at the heart of the university."

USNH officials were quick to take the opposite view.

"President Huddleston has been a strong advocate for the UNH faculty and their critical role in accomplishing the university's teaching, research and engagement missions, which is evident in the inclusive process he insisted on in developing a 10-year strategic plan for the institution," Ed Dumont, chair of the USNH Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "This kind of extraordinary leadership is exactly what we need."

Although negotiations between UNH administration and faculty, typically centering on contract negotiations, have been tense in recent years, the no-confidence vote takes things a step further.

"A no-confidence vote is clearly a serious thing – there's an attempt to get the president to leave," said Anthony Tenczar, an associate professor at UNH Manchester, who noted the vote is sometimes referred to as a "nuclear option."

Academe, the official bi-monthly publication of the AAUP, reiterates this fact. In an article from the July-August 2007 issue, Joseph Petrick writes: "Faculty sometimes uses votes of no confidence as a tool of last resort to express opposition to a college administration."

However, the effectiveness of the tool is questionable.

"Unfortunately, however, such votes often have limited effect aside from further damaging relations between administrators and faculty," the article continues.

Tenczar, a union member who doesn't support the holding of the no-confidence vote, said he doesn't believe that union members have had time to consider the move. 

"How can we hold a no-confidence vote so quickly without deliberating or discussing the issue?" he said. "This is a serious matter that shouldn't be taken lightly and shouldn't be trivialized." 

Tenczar said he can see why some faculty members found parts of the testimony offensive, but he doesn't believe it justifies a no-confidence vote.

"I have asked for the vote to be called off or delayed, and I know others have too," he said, although he said he'd received no response.

The no-confidence vote comes at a critical time for two reasons. The union and administration are currently are in the midst of an arduous round of contract negotiations; most recently, the USNH Board of Trustees rejected a fact-finding report prepared by a third party. The AAUP originally proposed a 12.5 percent increase over three years, with one percent of that being merit pay. UNH counter-proposed a 6.5 percent increase over the same period, with four percent merit pay.

The call for a no-confidence vote doesn't cite contract negotiations as part of the justification for the action. 

"Union negotiations haven't gone particularly well," Tenczar said. "It has to be part of the undercurrent."

The vote also comes at a critical time for the university. Huddleston's testimony before the Senate last week was part of an effort to keep state appropriations to the university at near-current levels. The N.H. House of Representatives has already passed a budget that would cut appropriations to the University System of New Hampshire by 45 percent, which would result in a cut of $31 million in appropriations to UNH. The state Senate has not passed a budget yet. 

Tenczar said his call for a delay or stoppage of the vote hinged on the budget.

"I'm concerned taking the no-confidence vote could undermine the state appropriations debate," he said.

However, in a letter to union members, UNH professor of English David Watters, a state representative and AAUP member, said he believes the vote will "have no effect on what happens in Concord." 

"We are where we are because UNH and USNH leadership has been pretty ineffective over many years, and especially now," Watters wrote. "Just imagine if we voted confidence in Huddleston! It would send the message that the huge cuts in the House budget are just fine with us."

Richman said that if there were a high turnout of faculty and a no-confidence vote goes through, the union would have "the moral authority to seek and get a conversation with the president."

"My hope is that President Huddleston will change, that we will change direction, and that we will remain a university to which teaching and learning are central," Richman said.  

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