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Faculty: no confidence in president

Last modified: 4/28/2011 12:00:00 AM
University of New Hampshire professors said yesterday they have no confidence in university President Mark Huddleston, according to a faculty union leader.

"We wish that this vote hadn't been necessary," said Deanna Wood, president of the American Association of University Professors UNH Chapter. "But we needed to get the president's attention, to open more dialogue with the faculty."

Though there are more than 630 faculty members covered by the union contract, only about 420 are registered members eligible to vote. Of them, 202 cast ballots: 129 voted no-confidence, and 73 voted confidence, Wood said.

The union's executive committee called for the vote after reading Huddleston's remarks to the Senate Finance Committee on April 18, but the vote caps an 18-month battle between professors and administrators over contracts and compensation.

The testimony in question was part of an appeal to state lawmakers against proposed cuts in the university's funding. The House budget proposal being considered by the Senate finance committee cuts appropriations to the University System of New Hampshire by 45 percent, which would result in a cut of $31 million in appropriations to UNH.

"We've been very patient . . . and all of a sudden out of the blue, our president gets up in front of the state finance committee and tells them how stuck in the past we are, that our students are passive and that they leave the university with no sense of loyalty, and that was just too much," Wood said.

In a written response, Huddleston promised to listen to faculty concerns and suggestions for improved communication at a meeting Monday, but he did not show signs of surrender on the underlying contract issues.

"I understand the anxiety, and I share the uncertainty. . . . But I can't make any promises," he wrote, noting that his top priority is to preserve academic programs.

The situation brought a sense of sadness but not surprise to David Watters, a 33-year member of the faculty, currently in the English department.

Huddleston's remarks to the Senate Finance Committee were "the straw that broke the camel's back for some, (but) at some point, it's inevitable there would have been a call for a vote," Watters said. "We know things are in tough shape with the state budget, and it just felt as if we were being thrown under the bus, as if we were the only reason."

But, Watters said, the vote was all about the continued impasse between faculty and administration on a contract.

Negotiations first stalled in November 2009, after the union proposed a 12.5 percent increase over three years, with 1 percent of that being merit pay, countered by an administrative proposal of a 6.5 percent increase instead, with 4 percent based on merit.

When neither side would budge, they brought in an impartial fact finder, who proposed an 8.75 percent increase over three years, of which 3.75 percent would be merit-based. The University System Board of Trustees rejected the report, calling the recommended increase "completely unacceptable in the current economic climate."

In a climate of continued impasse, a no-confidence vote seemed inevitable, Watters said. But without Huddleston's testimony April 18, it might not have happened for months.

Professors found offensive the following portion of Huddleston's remarks:

"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. . . . And perhaps worst of all, we still cling, occasional rhetoric aside, to a vision of higher education that is both a way station and a world apart, where our primary mission is to take into our cloistered quadrangles a narrow band of 18- to 21-year-olds, educate and entertain them for four years and then send them off."

The union's interpretation of the remarks, according to an email quoted in UNH's student paper The New Hampshire, was that, "in effect, (Huddleston) 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.' "

Watters said many faculty saw the remarks as mocking their work.

"It seemed to lack a kind of understanding of our morale. We work hard here. We work hard for UNH, and it seemed our leader delivered what some people would see as a kind of a caricature of the faculty," he said.

Huddleston responded with an all-campus letter Tuesday.

"The essence of my argument was: UNH is a superb institution, one in the forefront of efforts to ensure access and affordability. Please reject the drastic and injurious cuts proposed by the House and let us get on with our important work," he wrote. "Any analysis of my testimony that suggests that I was in any way critical of UNH or the faculty and staff who make it great is flat-out wrong."

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com.)


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