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Wilson's Words and Actions

There was an open meeting of the MSP yesterday where there was a frank discussion of the faculty's perceptions regarding the unfolding events at the University and how to move forward productively. The meeting was attended by 60 to 80 faculty and there was a lively debate and exchange of views.

There was an update about on-going activity. Letters are being drafted to the governor from the joint MSP and Faculty Senate leadership to Governor Patrick to ask for a meeting to discuss the need for a truly independent commission and to ask that the Governor not accept the resignation of John Armstrong. Armstrong has been a strong advocate for higher education and the Amherst campus.

Much of the discussion focused on the need to communicate our interest in exploring a vision for what's best for higher education in the state. We don't want to get caught up in debates about particular people, nor do we want to either demonize or beatify anyone. This is not a battle or a choice between Lombardi or Wilson, but a process of advocating for all of higher ed and for greater accountability and openness.

There was serious concern about the current operation of the Board of Trustees. We need to look carefully at how future Trustees are selected. Trustees should be: (1) individuals of profound, national distinction; (2) have deep, scholarly understanding of public higher education; (3) should be UMass alumni as much as possible; and (4) represent the entire state, not just provincial appointments.

My suggestion was that the Faculty Senate immediately establish a set of ad_hoc committees to begin exploring governance structures and implications for the higher ed system and the Amherst campus. Reports from these committees could be useful to communicate with the commission that we hope the Governor will establish.

Finally, we need open and accountable leadership at every level of the higher ed system. We need openness and accountability not only at the Trustee level, but for the President, Chancellor, Provost and for the deans and chairs as well. The University will be a much stronger system if we can get the substantive debate about what's best for higher education out of the backroom and into the boardroom, where it belongs.

UMass Boston Speaks

UMass Boston is poised to vote no confidence on the process that led to the One University plan. I was interested to see this absolutely false statement in the article, however:

While the past week has been "one of turmoil," he said, many faculty members have grown more receptive to the proposal after learning more details in recent days. "The waters have substantially calmed," Connolly said.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the faculty are becoming increasingly united and activated by the events as they unfold. This statement is clearly an attempt by the President's Office to spin the media regarding the facts on the ground. they're trying to paint what's happened as a momentary concern that grew out of faculty being unfamiliar
with the plan. I believe that the true concern is about the process by which such a plan is developed and implemented and those concerns still stand.

Reflections on Card

Over the past day, I've been reflecting on the Andrew Card experience. On the one hand, I feel gratified that this was a profound expression of democracy: here were people free to express their revulsion at someone who was at the center of the [expletive deleted] Bush administration. At the same time, I can't help feeling that this is exactly the experience that those in Bush administration seem to relish: a chance to tweak the nose of the People and use Their institutions to empower and enrich themselves. Card still got his degree and, I expect, that he and his buds are laughing at all these "little people" and their impotent rage. Still, I believe the experience of pulling off the organization for this protest will be an important formative experience for many of the students -- and faculty -- on the campus. Too long, we've been willing to leave governance for someone else. It's clear that we -- all of us -- need to stand up, roll up our sleeves, and do the hard work necessary to bring these usurpers down.

On a lighter note, Alisa was looking at the picture of the platform in the paper, when the protest was going on and noticed a woman standing to the right of Card with her hands raised in an odd gesture. She looked at me and I explained, "Oh, yes... That was the sign-language interpreter for the hearing impaired." We wondered what she might have been saying to the hearing impaired in the audience or if she could even hear what was being said on the platform -- certainly no-one else could. Maybe she was saying, "Everyone is screaming -- I can't hear anything." Or maybe she was chanting along with the protesters "Honor Grads! Shame on Card!" One can always hope.

Graduate Graduation

The graduate graduation ceremony came off about as well as I could have hoped. There was a lively group of demonstrators at the approach to the Mullins Center handing out stickers with a "no card" symbol and yellow 11x17 flyers that explained why people were protesting Andrew Card and unfolded to make a sign that said "HONOR GRADS" and "DIS CARD". The majority of the faculty had a sticker, a sign or both.

The ceremony was lovely and unremarkable except for three events. The first was when Chancellor Lombardi stood up to speak. He received an immediate, enthusiastic, and sustained standing ovation from the faculty and students. The second was the contrast when Presichancellor Wilson came to the microphone. The faculty were silent. There were a few boos and catcalls from the students and audience, but the faculty were simply silent. Wilson seemed very unnerved and stumbled over his words several times. As I've noted in the past, the Chancellor always speaks about the students and what they bring to the campus, whereas Wilson talks about the campus and how lucky students should feel that they got to come here. The silence was really deafening, broken only when Wilson mentioned Craig Mello's Nobel Prize.

The last remarkable event was when Andrew Card was announced. The first honorary degree candidate was met with polite and enthusiastic applause. When the provost mentioned Card, the entire audience took to their feet and erupted with chanting, noisemakers, and holding up the yellow signs. It was remarkable. The platform party carried ahead with the ceremony -- they tried to turn the volume up, but the audience got louder and louder until Card took his seat. Then the signs came down, the student stood up, and we had a lovely ceremony. I got a few pictures that I'll try to get posted soon.

Press

Trying to manage the response to the crisis at UMass has been hard. I really feel like we have a tiger by the tail. Or maybe two: we have both the problem (Wilson et al) and then our 'herd of cats' that we're trying to keep moving in the same direction.

The biggest challenge in keeping our people on-message, is understanding what our common goals are and getting buy-in on those goals. I see the leadership group focused on moving forward and trying to pick a path among the landmines. But many faculty are focused almost entirely on getting Lombardi to come back. It's not realistic to expect them not to push for that, but it limits our ability to craft a message that gives them the flexibility to express that without compromising the overall message.

Looking at the globe article, I have remind myself that the media can always be counted on to get it wrong. We were very careful NOT to take a no-confidence vote in the president or trustees themselves. We limited our statement to the actions, because we believe that our current best path is to move forward with them. But the Globe reported it as "what amounted to a no-confidence vote" and the AP just says "a vote of no confidence". So much for the nuanced distinction we were so careful to make. So when you see things reported in the press, you can't jump to conclusions about what was actually said.

General Faculty Meeting

Today there was an emergency General Faculty meeting. We considered four motions. All were approved by the faculty more-or-less unanimously.

The Officers of the MSP and the Rules Committee met yesterday to draft the motions. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out. The first one was amended slightly in the meeting. We had tried to keep them free of issues of "personality", but the audience insisted that the vote of no confidence refer, not only to the actions of the Board, but also to the actions of the President with respect to the firing of the Chancellor.

As part of the committee that had drafted the motions, I was asked to meet with the President before the meeting. He is a gifted speaker and very persuasive -- I tried to go into the meetings with an open mind and simply listen. I was almost persuaded. But during the General Faculty Meeting, Ernie May drew people's attention to the issue of what was discussed during the "Trustee Dinner" on May 3rd. The President responded and claimed that there were no deliberations on the policy during that time. Missy Lieblum, the student trustee from the campus, took the microphone and point-by-point denied his statement. She said that, in fact, substantive deliberations were made at this meeting and trustees were encouraged to "raise any concerns now" rather than to bring them up during the actual board meetings. She said that trustees spent a long time discussing in detail the kinds of changes the One University plan would entail -- she said she was embarrassed to admit that much of their interest, or concern, centered only on whether or not there would be a single football team. When President Wilson dismissively said that we could take those concerns to the Attorney General, if we wanted to pursue them further (since he would not), the audience lost its cool for the only time, and devolved into catcalls.

Wilson again leaves the campus seriously wounded, with his policy in tatters. He's been put into an untenable position by events. He won't say what actually happened, but I suspect that when Lombardi heard of this plan, he resigned in protest and that his action precipitated the series of events we've seen.

It does appear that we'll get an independent commission to review the events that led up to this debacle and to propose a path forward. I still hold the trustees accountable, but after today I don't have as much sympathy for Wilson as I had had previously -- he's fully implicated in the whole sad sequence of events.

Talking about a process...

When President Wilson spoke at UMass, he referred over and over again to "the process" like it was some kind of mantra. I thought it would be interesting to find each statement where he referred to "the process":

Remember, now, I am talking about a process, not a result.
We have decided on a process, and even that is not decided [...]
We have decided to recommend a process [...]
[...] we are proposing a process, a year-long process [...]
My comments about the process are a process [...]
The decision [...] to go through this process and to suggest this to the Trustees, that is done.
What I am proposing here is a process which is built on the philosophy that it’s really the community that is going to have to define how they want to organize themselves [...]
It’s a process that we go through during the year [...]
I think that’s a fair kind of question to ask in this process.
[...] what we are proposing [...] isn’t a plan. It’s a process. A process to develop a plan.
It’s a year-long process that we defined [...] and was in my statement from day one
[...] all I can do is tell you the truth is it’s a proposal for a process.
By coming to regular meetings [...] and by working through the processes on the campus.

Remember, now, he's talking about a process, not a result.

Its interesting that he talks about the "community organizing itself" when, so far, there has been no opportunity for the community have any input in what's happened. So far, it has been presented as a fait accompli. Some process...

An Open Letter to Deval Patrick

Dear Governor Patrick:

I am a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I was there when you addressed us at the Higher Ed Summit and said that you would be the champion of higher education. I'm asking you to step up to the plate now. The University system is in crisis due to the recent actions of President Wilson and the Board of Trustees -- and the ouster of Chancellor Lombardi. I call on you to dissolve the Board of Trustees of the University and appoint a new board that can establish an open, accountable, and democratic process to examine the current actions and recommend a path forward.

When President Wilson spoke to the faculty yesterday, he repeated a mantra that he was "proposing a process", yet he had already forced out our chancellor without consultation of our legislative delegation, faculty, staff, or students -- when the outcome is predetermined, it does not seem like it is merely a "process". When asked to explain this "process" or his vision for the university system, President Wilson could offer no meaningful statement of goals or values. It seems clear to me that he had been planning to spring this takeover at the trustee meeting on June 21st, by which time half the local population and many of the stakeholders would have left town. Furthermore, when the plan became public, I believe he exhibited a serious lack of judgment to try to push it through in a half-baked form. President Wilson is only the most visible part of the problem, however.

Last week, I met with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Steve Tocco, when he came to speak at Amherst. He said a number of things that seriously disturbed me -- in particular, when we discussed moving the agenda of the University forward, Chairman Tocco said that the University needed to have business leaders carry the agenda forward, because when faculty speak, it is dismissed as a labor issue. His advice might be a useful statement, in a de_facto sense, in the same way someone might say, "you need an adult to say that, because no one listens to teenagers". The University is being systematically crippled by its increasing subordination to a few corporate interests in the state, rather than being empowered to act as an independent community of scholars in the pursuit of knowledge. The University can and does act as an economic engine for the state, but also holds the potential to offer a separate voice, that can look beyond purely economic interests. Unfortunately, I believe this voice is being choked off by the current Board.

As Secretary of the Amherst Democratic Town Committee, I first met you when you came to speak in Amherst at our invitation a year before your election. I stood with you in Springfield as the Vice President of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, when we endorsed your candidacy before the primary. My wife, an Amherst elected official, has been very inspired by the remarks you've made to the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and at Senator Stan Rosenberg's Municipal Conference. We are very committed to our local community and the success of the University system. I understand that you're incredibly busy, but I call on you now to step into this crisis and act in the interests of the University. We need to have an open, accountable, and democratic process for exploring any new governance structure -- not a palace coup. Please don't let this process go forward with the current Board of Trustees in place.

Sincerely,

Steven D. Brewer; Assistant Professor & Director
Biology Computer Resource Center
Biology Department

Bicycle Breakfast

Amherst Bicikla MatenmanĝoI rode my bike to the Amherst Bicycle Breakfast this morning. This is only the second or third time I've made it. One year, I volunteered and came early to help set up. Other years, I've been out of town or busy -- or we've had rain. It was chilly this morning and sprinkled lightly after I got there, but overall it looked like it was going well. I chatted with some folks from Northampton Cycle Club (mostly about what a wonderful person Tom Hoogendyk is. :-) I spoke to some of the town planning people, who all thanked me for letting my wife serve on the select board (as if I could stop her from doing anything.) I also chatted with a faculty member from Microbio about the stirring events of yesterday and about teaching. I also entered a drawing for a new bike and picked up a cool bicycling map from the town planning office -- the map alone was worth the price of admission!

Faculty Senate Drama

There was high drama at the Faculty Senate meeting today. Several days ago, there were cryptic announcements coming out of the UMass administration: Lombardi said, in a very brief statement, "[...] I have agreed to extend my term as chancellor [...]" which sure made it sound to me like he had quit and had agreed to stay on. Wilson said, he planned to take direct control of the UMass campus and there would be an evaluation of whether or not that arrangement would continue. At the beginning of the meeting, there were a variety of expressions of suspicion and concern that the plan was premature, ill-considered, and for which any evidence of due process was lacking. No-one had been consulted and, in spite of President Wilson's protestations that nothing had happened yet and this was all pending the approval of the board, there was a strong sense of being presented with a "palace coup" as a "fait accompli". Then Senator Rosenberg stood up.

Stan made an impassioned speech to the audience echoing the grave concerns of the faculty and extending them with a powerful indictment of the UMass administration and Board of Trustees. He claimed that Lombardi was driven out - not in the short term, but by the fact that his agenda to advance the University had been systematically marginalized by the upper administration. He said that the legislators were also unaware of any of these new arrangements. He continued that the Amherst campus had never received the support that it needed to become a leading flagship campus and that Lombardi had never received the support needed for his initiatives. He described the frustration he felt when he learned only 48 hours ago that this plan had been under discussion for months, secretly among the leadership. Wilson left the meeting severely damaged. The whole university system is damaged at this point. It's no longer clear how to move forward and this scandal will undoubtedly make advancing the University's agenda much more difficult.

Afterwards, the motion on Andrew Card was brought up again. The presiding officer ruled that the motion presented by the Rules Committee was out of order because it hadn't been put on the agenda soon enough and, when a motion was made as new business, the claim was made that, once again, there wasn't a quorum. A vote was taken 31 to 0 in favor of the motion. It still isn't clear to me what it means. The Faculty Senate has rarely seemed so irrelevant: as the big events flow around it, it accomplishes little or nothing.

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