A&S faculty file motion of no confidence in interim provost

The College of Arts and Sciences faculty voted to file a motion of no confidence in Interim Provost Dr. Karen Boroff on Sept. 8. The motion is the result of what some A&S faculty are calling an “accumulation of violations” from Boroff regarding the University’s standards for promotion and tenure and its shared governance policy.

The motion also stated that Boroff made plans to alter academic programs like the Catholic Studies program, the Honors Program and the Core Curriculum without respect to faculty governance.

Dr. Karen Boroff became interim provost and executive vice president of Seton Hall on Jan. 1, 2017.
File photo

Dr. Kelly Goedert, director of the department of psychology’s graduate studies and the college’s Chair Pro-Tem, said that the motion is “the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences saying that we don’t see that we can work with [Boroff].”

Goedert said that though the University has no obligation to respond to this motion, Interim President Dr. Mary Meehan indicated that she would provide a written response to the faculty.

Dr. Roseanne Mirabella, professor of political science and public affairs and chair of the Seton Hall Advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said that the faculty have a managerial status on campus.

This status requires administration to consider faculty votes and opinions in the interest of maintaining the University’s shared governance policy – the faculty’s managerial status and shared governance policy forbids them from unionizing under the United States Supreme Court 1980 Yeshiva University ruling.

The motion said that Boroff “has created a hostile and unpredictable environment in regards to both tenure review and curriculum” and that “the faculty of the College have lost managerial legitimacy as defined by the Yeshiva decision.”

According to Goedert, the motion is not the result of a single event, but of a number of instances over time.
“So what the faculty perceive is an administrator who is not bringing faculty into the conversation in respect to the curriculum and promotion in the way that they should be,” Goedert said.

Though Goedert stressed that it was not a single event that led to the passing of the No Confidence motion, she said that the resignation of Dr. Martha Easton, a former professor of art history who left the University this summer “kind of pushed people over the edge.”

As previously reported in The Setonian, Easton and Dr. Matthew Corrigan, associate professor and director of the Master of Social Work program, were denied tenure earlier this year. This prompted the A&S faculty to motion for Meehan to investigate these denials.

The faculty felt that there was a lack of transparency regarding Easton and Corrigan’s cases and that shared governance was infringed upon because “the provost’s decision on tenure and promotion for these individuals was counter to what all of the committees and the dean had recommended,” Mirabella said in April. “The tenure committee decisions were either ignored or overturned and we don’t know why this happened.”

Corrigan, who is completing his last year at Seton Hall due to his tenure denial, declined to comment.

On July 31, Easton announced her resignation via email. She said in the email that she did not wish “to stay at an institution where the administration treats a dedicated faculty member like me in such a shocking, abusive, and defamatory manner.”

Easton included a detailed series of events in the email. She explained that she appealed the interim provost’s decision to deny her tenure and met with Meehan, who prompted Easton to send the publications she included on her tenure application.

According to Easton, Boroff did not accept eight of the nine book chapters and scholarly articles that she included in her tenure application. Easton said she was copied on emails between Meehan and the publishers of two of her forthcoming articles – one publisher confirmed that her article had been accepted before the tenure application was due and the other publisher said that though the article had not yet been published, they could ‘confirm that we have a firm agreement in place with Dr. Easton as a contributor to this volume.’’

Easton said that Boroff considered her proof of acceptance as inadequate because she had “supplied “publication agreements” rather than “letters from publishers,” which is required in the Faculty Guide.

Easton said she then met with Boroff and other administrators on June 5.

“In my naivete, I had hoped that the correspondence from the publishers of my forthcoming articles had solidified my case, and thus I would be given tenure,” Easton said. “Instead, in what can best be described as an ambush, Provost Boroff, in violent and abusive language, falsely accused me of ‘misrepresenting’ and ‘falsifying’ my publication record.”

Easton said she was then offered an alternate route to tenure, “apparently invented by the Provost and the President, and to be found nowhere in the Faculty Guide.”

This alternate route to tenure required Easton to submit four peer reviewed publications to the provost by March 2019. According to Easton, if these publications were “deemed acceptable (to the provost alone),” she would be recommended for tenure outside the usual rank and tenure process. Easton said she was willing to consider the new terms for her path to tenure.

Dr. Judith Stark, professor emerita for the department of philosophy, attended the June 5 meeting in support of Easton. Stark said that she was surprised by the tone of the meeting.

“I expected more of a meeting of negotiation of whether or not there could be a kind of reasonable accommodation,” Stark said. “I did not expect the kind of tone that Dr. Boroff set, which was very accusatory, acrimonious and, frankly, hostile.”

Stark said in the 37 years she’s been at Seton Hall, she has “never been at a meeting where there was such hostility directed toward a colleague – and I think unnecessarily so.”

Boroff wrote via email that she always conducts meetings professionally.

On June 9, Easton received the written proposed offer from Boroff for her new path to tenure. Easton said the proposal accused her of willingly misrepresenting her publications on her tenure application.

“The President’s proposed resolution is not to be interpreted or construed as an admission of any wrongdoing on the part of the University. On the contrary, Dr. Meehan’s proposal is an attempt to save the University and faculty from the harsh criticism that would undoubtedly occur if your numerous misrepresentations in the rank and tenure process were exposed,” the proposed offer stated. “The failure to discover your misrepresentations in the shared governance rank and tenure process reflects poorly on our faculty and academic administrators.”

Easton said that by signing the proposed offer, she would be admitting guilt. Instead of signing the document, Easton resigned.

Easton declined The Setonian’s request for additional comment.

Boroff and Meehan are unable to respond to personnel matters, since they are confidential.

Though Easton’s public resignation and description of events caused a stir within the A&S faculty, Goedert and Mirabella said that event wasn’t the specific reason that the college filed the motion against Boroff.

“Keep in mind that the resolution passed had many components to it” Mirabella said. “Some related to rank and tenure and some related to curricular issues.”

Meehan wrote in an email that she met with the College of Arts and Sciences faculty who presented the motion on Sept. 11. She said that she takes the concerns of the faculty very seriously and that she will continue to review these matters.

“During my five months at Seton Hall I have experienced Dr. Boroff as one who supports the faculty’s role in shared governance at all times,” Meehan wrote. “Over the summer I conducted a thorough review of the tenure and promotion decisions reached by Dr. Boroff. I interviewed faculty and deans, and I also read the applications for tenure, the research submitted in the applications, and verified the accuracy of the information on each application. I concluded that Dr. Boroff strictly adhered to the standards in the Faculty Guide.”

Meehan also said she has not been made aware of any specific examples regarding curricular and program issues, which the motion cited as one of the reasons for no confidence.

Boroff said that “academic excellence has always been my focus and will continue to be, ultimately for the betterment of all our students. It is through the process of shared governance that academic excellence is achieved.”

Goedert said that at the end of the day, the College of Arts and Sciences wants to be secure so it can advise its junior faculty appropriately.

“I’m not saying that tenure has been easy, but what I’m saying is that is has been predictable,” Goedert said. “And so I think what the tenure actions have done is create a situation in which people think there is a lot more unpredictability than they had previously perceived – to such a great extent that they don’t know how to advise their junior faculty.”

Goedert said that the motion is a message to the president and the board.

“Ideally we get to a place where the faculty have the voice that they need in their programs and where faculty involvement in the processes is maintained,” Goedert said.

Update: Of the 77 members of the Arts and Sciences faculty that attended the meeting which discussed the vote of no confidence, 56 voted in favor, 19 voted against, and one abstained. The Chair Pro Tem is not permitted to vote. 

Ashley Turner can be reached at ashley.turner1@student.shu.edu.

Author: Ashley Turner

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