In a private executive session last Friday, Seton Hall’s Faculty Senate voted on an emergency motion disapproving of Interim Provost Karen Boroff’s reappointment to her position and calling on President-Elect Nyre and Interim President Mary Meehan to consult with faculty on other candidates to fill the position, a move that stopped just short of a vote of no-confidence.
Boroff’s reappointment enraged senators after they were informed of the extension of her position via a campus-wide email from Meehan, which they claim was carried out without their advice or consent in violation of the Faculty Guide.
According to the motion passed last Friday, the guide “stipulates that faculty members [shall] play a central role in the selection of the Chief Academic Office [provost] by constituting ‘no fewer than fifty (50) percent of the voting members of the search and screen committee.’” The motion also claimed that the reappointment of Boroff, who was initially installed into the temporary role in 2016 just prior to former President Gabriel Esteban’s exit with the approval of the faculty, was effectively circumventing the Faculty Guide’s intent of faculty involvement in the selection of the Provost.
In response to the resolution, Meehan reaffirmed her support for Boroff in a statement, calling her a “tireless advocate for the University and its students throughout her time in the interim role.” Meehan said that keeping Boroff in her role will allow for an adequate search for a permanent provost as well as providing stability for a smooth transition for Nyre when he assumes the presidency in August.
Meehan added that she had notified Dr. Jonathan Farina, chair of the Faculty Senate, to begin identifying faculty to serve on the search committee for the permanent provost position, which has an intended concussion date at the end of the coming academic year.
Last Friday’s senate vote represented a culmination of weeks of tension between Boroff and senators, who have expressed frustration in the provost’s seeming lack of transparency and an unwillingness to participate in “shared governance” — a principle of dual oversight responsibility between faculty and administration that was established in the 1980s following a Supreme Court decision that made it impossible for faculty at private institutions to unionize in the same way as their public counterparts.
“Many faculty are deeply concerned about failures in shared governance,” Farina said. “We have now had an interim provost, who was appointed by the outgoing former president without faculty input, reappointed by an outgoing interim president without substantive faculty input.”
Farina pointed out that Boroff will most likely serve for three or more years, which is the average term of a “properly appointed provost” in the United States. He added that though the senate recognizes the Interim Provost’s “dedication and hard work” during her term, “faculty members disagree with many of the Provost’s decisions regarding curriculum, development, shared governance, hiring and other matters, and feel that their views have not been given adequate consideration,” including that it is the obligation of the senate to represent those concerns.
Arts and Sciences Senator Dr. W. King Mott echoed the concerns of Farina, saying that there has been “heightened concern from all of the Colleges and Schools of the University that the Interim Provost has become a de facto provost,” mentioning that a three-year tenure should demand the process outlined in the Faculty Guide. “The Administration may call this appointment whatever they choose, but it is not ‘interim,’” Mott concluded.
The decisions from the provost that have drawn the most fire from the Senate have mainly arisen over the course of the last semester, with senators at last Friday’s meeting pointing to decisions such as the one from her office to move forward with the proposed renovations to the Walsh Library in defiance of a March 8 resolution, which was joined and unanimously passed by the College of Communication and the Arts’s Senate on April 5. The senate voiced a “strong opposition” to the plan. If followed through on, the renovation would entail the removal of the Walsh Art Gallery and University Archives to a new off-campus location to accommodate a new career center.
The resolution noted that the “Walsh Gallery is an important venue for communicating the mission and character of the University,” and that “the gallery, the special collections, and the library were designed to function as an integral unit. The archives offer a proximate, secure storage space for artworks.”
In a memo response, Boroff pointed to changing generational trends and the dilapidated condition of the current career center as a reason for the move. “In locating the Career Center in an accessible location, highly visible to all our student, resident, and commuters alike, to parents and caregivers, and to employers from all organizations, we signal the importance of career discernment as students develop themselves here at Seton Hall.” The memo also mentioned that the addition of an “art gallery of stature” across the street from the university at 525 South Orange Ave would show a commitment and appreciation for Seton Hall’s “storied liberal arts tradition.”
Additionally, the senate pointed to other instances in which they felt their input was ignored, referencing the merger of the directors of the Office of Grants and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) into one position despite their objections. They also objected to the provost’s elimination of the Center for Faculty Development, led by Dr. Mary Balkun, in favor of eight $10,000 block grants that could be requested by colleges for career development. The resolution — which was joined by the College of Communication and the Arts and the School of Diplomacy — expressed fear that such action could induce “siloing,” the act of individual colleges fighting for their own interests rather than the collective interests of all faculty. Additionally, the faculty expressed concern that combining the directors of IRB and the Office of Grants could create a conflict of interest as the IRB is responsible for ensuring research conducted on human subjects is in line with an ethical code, whereas the Office of Grants is focused on bolstering the use of research grants. Having one director, the senate argues, could result in the director skirting ethical guidelines in favor of increasing grant usage.
Again, Boroff in a memo back to the senate rejected the idea that “a person hired for grants would cast aside human subject care, especially given our Catholic mission,” and emphasized that under the new faculty development project, more money would actually be spent on faculty development.
What the future holds for the Provost and the Senate is unclear, though Dr. Mott at last Friday’s meeting raised the possibility of a future vote of no confidence on the provost, noting that the College Communication and the Arts, and Arts and Sciences have all done so on the record. As for where to go from there, Mott said he was “certainly willing to protest at commencement” if the administration fails to heed the will of the faculty, illustrating the level of rising frustration in the chamber.
**Correction: The article previously stated that the College of Nursing had voted no confidence on the Provost. The article has been updated to reflect that fact.**
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @NickKerr99.