College of Arts and Sciences chair resignation stirs controversy

Nathan Zoschke

Oct. 12 marked the first fall semester faculty meeting of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S).

A small but vocal group of faculty gathered in Cockefair Hall.

Some came to discuss the new retirement policy and creation of a general education oversight committee, but both topics were overshadowed by a verbal altercation over spring’s faculty election.

Sept. 1, Dr. Jim Sheppard, elected to serve as A&S faculty chair, resigned before he assumed office.

The problem: he never wanted to serve as faculty chair.

Sheppard, along with all other eligible faculty members who requested to have their names removed, found himself listed on the election ballot for the chair position.

Prior to 2002, all A&S faculty appeared on the ballot for all positions in which they were eligible to serve, unless they specifically requested to have their names removed.

In 2002, the by-laws were amended, and the old nominations system was replaced with one in which faculty members are nominated for each available position from the floor at the February meeting.

After the February meeting, the Election Committee is required to “ascertain the willingness of each nominee to appear on the final ballot,” as stated in the by-laws.

“We wouldn’t get more than a handful of nominations from the floor,” former A&S chair Dr. Dan Hopkins said. “And we certainly wouldn’t get enough nominations that there would be contested elections for each of these offices.”

To maintain competitive elections, Hopkins said the faculty Steering Committee searched for candidates to fill each office.

“We received an angry communication from a member of the faculty that accused the Steering Committee of packing the ballot with people of its own choice and that this was clearly undemocratic,” Hopkins said. “We were just trying to keep the elections going because the nominations procedure was not working.”

Hopkins, who was chairperson at the time, worked with the faculty board to create a mechanized system of voting.

This system was presented at a faculty meeting and voted on.

Under the new system, faculty can either accept or decline each nomination by going to a Web page defaulted to accept all nominations.

At the Feb. 2009 meeting, members of the Steering Committee found a way around the constrictive nomination process.

“Someone in the room stood up and said ‘I hereby nominate everyone in the college for whichever position they are eligible to serve,’” Hopkins said. “Essentially we put every person in the nomination.”

Hopkins said an e-mail was sent to the faculty informing them all names had been nominated.

“There was a large number of people who never went to the nominations page to decline,” Hopkins said. “The computer is able to see that.”

To account for this, a ballot was created where faculty members who did not visit the nominations page were listed below a line in a pale-color typeface.

“We compromised at this point because the argument was made that it would be foolish to put people on the ballot who didn’t even know that there was an election going on,” Hopkins said, “even though that was in fact the intent of this system, to force people to serve, because that’s part of their obligation to the college.”

However, the computer showed Sheppard as having visited the page and accepted his nomination, so his name did not appear in the pale typeface.

Hopkins received e-mails from Sheppard and several other faculty who did not want to run for election.

“I refused to remove his [Sheppard’s] name from the ballot,” Hopkins said, “because the whole structure of the system is that if you do not decline nomination, you are on the ballot.”

To make matters worse, voting had already begun.

“What I did do was send an e-mail to the faculty saying that I have received a communication saying that they did not want to run for office,” Hopkins said.

Dr. Jim Durig, who was elected vice chair, has succeeded Sheppard as chair and is intent on settling the controversy.

“I’m going to have an ad hoc committee look at it very carefully and make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen again,” Durig said. “One of the things I would like to see is when people say that they don’t want to serve that they get some acknowledgement that removing their name has been done.”

As far as changing the nomination protocol, Durig said that would require amending the by-laws, a cumbersome process he said is not up for consideration.

At the meeting, several faculties criticized the election for not following the current by-laws’ requirement that the Election Committee ascertain each candidate’s willingness to serve.

Hopkins disputed this, citing that candidates were given the opportunity to decline their nomination. Durig concurred, along with several committees that found no procedural violation of the by-laws.

Others argued they were disenfranchised by voting for Sheppard and other candidates before learning they had no intentions of running.

“Some people are saying that the ballot changed as we went along, and that is not factually correct,” Hopkins said. “What changed is that people’s knowledge of these people’s willingness to serve had changed.”

During the final 10 minutes of the meeting, a motion was made to invalidate the entire election, which Durig promptly dismissed because it contradicted the by-laws.

Durig added he hopes the upset faculty will be reconciled.

“I can’t imagine the limited number of people who feel they were disenfranchised think they can continue when they know it’s contrary to the bylaws,” Durig said. “I wish I could estimate human behavior, but I can’t.”

Patrick Shami, president of the A&S Student Council, said the election controversy was a faculty issue.

“The A&S faculty council has a role in shaping policy,” Shami said. “As a student and A&S council president, I’d like to see the leaders of the A&S faculty be proactively trying to benefit the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Shami hopes more faculty members would run.

“In student government, you file for the position just like any candidate in any elected office,” he said. “When there’s so little interest, then you have people uninterested and running for the sake of running.”

However, Shami believes the nominations process should be voluntary.

“I think it should be voluntary, but the faculty should try to find people who are interested.,” Shami said. “A&S [student council] wants to know the faculty are doing a good job.”

Sheppard has not responded to any U-News inquiries.

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