Faculty Union Leadership Votes No Confidence in Kutztown University’s Presidential Search Process

Photo credit: Kevin Mahoney

Editor’s Note: A version of this article was posted on the APSCUF-KU XChange blog earlier today. 

At a special “Emergency Meeting” of APSCUF-KU’s [the faculty union] representative council meeting late Tuesday afternoon, the union’s governing body passed a Resolution of No Confidence in the current process for choosing KU’s next president.  APSCUF-KU President, Paul Quinn, made the unusual move to call for an emergency meeting in a November 25th, email, emphasizing that is it was of “the utmost importance” that elected union representatives from every department be present at the meeting. APSCUF State President, Ken Mash, also drove to Kutztown from Harrisburg for the meeting.

Quinn began the meeting by reading from a prepared statement explaining why he called the meeting on such short notice:

I have called this representative council meeting today to discuss problems that have occurred with the Presidential Search Process. I apologize for not discussing this with you sooner, but the Presidential Search Process is one that is supposed to be bound by confidentiality, and I did not want to violate or even appear to violate that agreement in any fashion. It is only out of a need for action that I am discussing this with you today.

I believe that there are some serious problems with how the Presidential Search Process is being conducted and I believe that the process has become deeply flawed. As your union president and the union representative on the Presidential Search Committee, I can no longer stay silent in good conscious. I believe if this were a faculty search, the university’s Social Equity Office would have throw it out. And, at the end of this meeting I will be asking you for a vote of no confidence in the Presidential Search Process.

The urgency of the meeting also came from the fact that the first round of “airport interviews” (interviews conducted at a hotel near the Philadelphia airport) begin later today, Thursday, December 4th.

The resolution before faculty union representatives stated the five most significant reasons supporting a vote of no confidence in the search process:

  • the Presidential Search Firm contracted to run KU’s Presidential Search failed to abide by the committee’s stated Code of Ethics, encouraging improper and anecdotal discussion of candidates well in excess of candidates’ application materials
  • the voting procedures established by the Presidential Search Firm were flawed and applied inconsistently
  • the process promoted by the Presidential Search Firm yielded a candidate pool that was not ethnically diverse, despite the fact that the Firm raised KU’s failure to meet national standards for recruiting women and minorities
  • the Presidential Search continued unabated, despite the fact that Paul Quinn, APSCUF-KU’s president and representative on the committee, filed a formal complaint with KU’s Office of Social Equity
  • PASSHE lawyers denied APSCUF-KU’s President, Paul Quinn, his right to union representation when required to meet with them and formally file his complaint

Faculty representatives discussed both Quinn’s prepared remarks and the resolution before voting overwhelmingly in support of the resolution.

Diversity Concerns

According to Quinn, the search firm contracted to run KU’s Presidential Search, Greenwood/Asher and Associates, emphasized the fact that Kutztown University has failed to meet national standards when it comes to recruiting women and minorities. Despite the emphasis the search firm placed on including women and minorities in the initial pool of candidates, the final pool of twelve candidates did not include a single minority candidate, according to Quinn. The pool did include women candidates, but the overwhelming majority of candidates were white men. Quinn explained that this pool of candidates is particularly problematic given Kutztown’s location between Allentown and Reading, two urban centers with large populations of African Americans and Latinos.

Like many colleges and universities across the country, Kutztown University has experienced a drop off in enrollment over the past couple of years and has placed a university-wide emphasis upon recruitment and retention. After decades of being one the least diverse student bodies in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), KU made significant gains recruiting students from underrepresented minority groups. The same has been true, although to a much lesser extent, when it comes to faculty and staff diversity. Those gains are important for the university insofar as the State System is supposed to provide access to all Pennsylvanians and each university is expected to reflect, at least to a degree, the demographics of its surrounding community. And, further, several of the key indicators that determine the level of funding each university receives (see an article by former Chancellor John  Cavanaugh and Executive Vice Chancellor Peter Garland for a discussion of PASSHE’s new performance funding model. Interestingly, Garland is also serving as the PASSHE representative on KU’s presidential search).

Inappropriate Criteria: Hearsay and Unsubstantiated Opinion

What was most troubling, according to Quinn, was that the search firm both allowed and encouraged members of the committee to include personal anecdotes about a candidate if they knew them in some capacity. The search firm did not require members of the committee to substantiate any claims they made. Quinn described this aspect of the search in his prepared remarks as follows:

A few of the candidates that applied were familiar to me due to my relationship with colleagues at other universities. When it came time to discuss one such candidate, I asked the firm once again if it was permitted to share what I knew. They reiterated that it was fine, so I shared my interactions with this particular individual. The candidate stated in their resume that they had resigned from one of their previous positions. Another member of the search committee then disclosed confidential personnel information about this candidate that contradicted what was in the resume. There was no evidence of these claims in any of the materials that the candidate submitted, making the comments completely unsubstantiated. In my opinion, the information that was shared was inappropriate, and a breach of a confidentiality if it was indeed true. That discussion should NEVER have been allowed to occur. It was a violation of the rights of that candidate who was not even present to defend themselves.

This situation was allowed to occur for other candidates in the pool as well. People used hearsay, information with no factual basis, and personal opinions to judge who was worthy of an “airport interview.” In fact, certain members of the committee made it clear they were instructed by their representative constituency how to vote, and that was their intention. Their decision had nothing to do with the information provided to us by the applicants. Material that had nothing to do with the resumes, was shared and discussed openly by the committee. The firm even shared undocumented information about certain candidates’ previous employment that was not appropriate without the candidate being present or references being contacted.

Quinn reiterated that if these kind of discussions and blatant statements of personal agendas took place during a search for a faculty member, Kutztown University’s Social Equity Office would have cancelled the search and restarted the entire process to ensure that proper procedures were followed.

PASSHE Lawyers Deny APSCUF-KU President Right of Union Representation

The proper step to take if a member of a search committee is concerned about ethical violations within the process is to formally report the matter to the University’s Social Equity Office. Quinn did just that after growing increasingly concerned about potential negative impacts of a flawed search on the future of the university. He described his decision to final a formal complaint with the Social Equity Office in his prepared remarks:

It was my opinion that after having been through tough times with the previous administration, it would be horrible for this university to start a new era that was determined by such a biased and unfair process. Thus, I decided to file a complaint with the Social Equity Office. I took [APSCUF-KU] Vice-President Helen Bieber as my union representative, and went on record with what occurred. I met with Mr. Peña [Associate Vice President Equity and Compliance & Title IX Coordinator], and gave an intake about the flawed process. He informed me that he would most likely not be allowed to conduct the investigation, and therefore would be contacting PASSHE legal for guidance. It was his belief that, since he had not certified any of the candidates for the “airport interviews”, that the process would be put on hold until my complaint was dealt with.

Quinn told faculty representatives that only later did he find out that the process was never put on hold. “Wouldn’t investigators want the process to temporarily pause, so that if something was found to be wrong, candidates scheduled for interviews wouldn’t have to be canceled?,” Quinn asked. “This leaves me with serious doubt as to whether my complaint was ever taken seriously” by PASSHE officials in Harrisburg.

Shortly after Quinn spoke to Mr. Peña, he was contacted by PASSHE’s Office of Legal Counsel to schedule another intake meeting with PASSHE special investigator, Christopher Jones, and University Legal Counsel, Suzanne Williamson. The meeting did not get off to a good start. Quinn explained:

When I showed with my union representative [APSCUF-KU Vice President Helen Bieber] for the meeting, I was told that I could not have a union representative as a witness. I tried to explain to the investigators that I was reporting a potential problem with a process run by the Council of Trustees and PASSHE. These were all individuals that had power over me, and I was feeling nervous. In particular, it felt like the PASSHE attorney was trying to bully and to intimidate me with her tone and stance. PASSHE would not budge, so I was forced to sit alone with the investigators for over two hours. I did have them document in their notes that I was denied a union representative, but I was not allowed to keep or receive copies of their notes or the report that they created about my incident. They made me feel as if I was the problem, and not the flawed process about which I was complaining.

According to a  ruling in the 1975 Supreme Court case, NRLB v. J. Weingarten, Inc., employees have a right to union representation at investigatory interviews. These rights have become known as Weingarten Rights. Weingarten applies only to private sector employees, but the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board adopted the Weingarten Rights in 1981 for public employees. The “Policy and Law” page on the PA State Human Resources site, describes an employee’s rights as follows:

“[The Pennsylvania State Labor Relations Board] will find a violation of Section 1201 (a)(1) of the Act if an employer conducts an investigatory interview of an employee without a union representative being present provided the employee has a reasonable belief that discipline may result from the interview.”

In effect, Quinn was presented with a choice: file a complaint without a union representative present or drop the complaint entirely. It is entirely unclear what would motivate PASSHE lawyers to deny Quinn union representation, especially given that he was coming forward with a complaint in order to ensure that the search for Kutztown’s next president would be ethical and fair.

What Is Going On?!?

Following a lengthy discussion and deliberation, an overwhelming majority of union representatives voted in favor of the resolution calling for no confidence in the current presidential search. There is no doubt that this was a difficult decision for many representatives, especially given the fact that Quinn and the other faculty member on the Search Committee, Dr. Jennifer Schlegel  (who is not a member of APSCUF-KU’s Representative Council, but who was invited to attend the discussion), did not disclose the names or specific details about any of the candidates and went through pains to respect the confidentiality of the search process. I think it would be fair to say, however, that most representatives left the meeting trying to understand what exactly is going on with the search, whose interests are driving the process, and why PASSHE seems hell-bent on pushing ahead on this search in a rather heavy-handed manner.

A number of troubling possibilities are plausible — some dealing with more local, institutional politics; others having do with with PASSHE’s persistent attempts to “transform” the state system through slashing faculty and programs. It is difficult to tell. In the next day or so, I will be posting a follow up article exploring some of these possibilities.

 

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  1. Kutztown U Faculty Union President Removed from Search Committee; Provost Warns Against Further Whistle-blowing | Raging Chicken Press

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