Faculty and staff at the College of Staten Island voted overwhelmingly against a governance plan proposed by President William Fritz that would eliminate the Faculty Senate and the College Council—but they remained concerned that the plan would still be presented to Trustees at the City University of New York.

Mr. Fritz released the new governance plan in February 2020. Faculty raised concerns that the proposal would significantly diminish the role of faculty and staff in governance by dissolving the College Council and Faculty Senate, which make decisions related to the development of academic programs and curricula, and are involved in budgetary matters and the tenure process.

Scraps Some Committees

It would also eliminate smaller committees such as the academic review board committee and a committee for Higher Education Officers.

The new governance structure would instead consist of one body led by the president consisting of students, faculty and staff, with fewer sub-committees.

“It goes against the spirit of governance in every possible way,” said Professor George Emilio Sanchez, who is the Professional Staff Congress chapter chair at CSI.

Professor Jane Marcus-Delgado, chair of CSI’s Faculty Senate, said that faculty and staff “need to be prepared to take action. I think it’s important not to just let faculty governance be dissolved.”  

Amid criticism that the move was a “power grab,” in a video published four days before the voting period started, Mr. Fritz stated that the plan “really doesn’t change the authority of the president.”

'All Voices Will Be Heard'

“There is a General Assembly in the plan that brings together the broadest possible members in the campus constituency so all voices are heard,” he said, arguing that the restructured governance body would bring more decision-making power to lower levels at the university as well as students.

The referendum was supposed to take place in May but was postponed. A slightly revised version of the governance plan was released last month.

More than 1,300 employees at the College of Staten Island were sent ballots to vote on the governance plan, with voting taking place between Sept. 27 and Oct. 1. More than 87 percent of the 670 faculty and staff who participated in the vote rejected the proposal, according to results released Oct. 4.

“This was a rejection not only of the governance plan, but of his leadership,” Mr. Sanchez said.

Mr. Fritz introduced the plan two months after the Faculty Senate cast a vote of no confidence against him. Faculty cited low morale, financial mismanagement and a failure “to provide leadership” during the pandemic as reasons for the December 2020 vote.

'Aimed at Excluding'

“If that doesn’t say retaliation, I don’t know what does,” Ms. Marcus-Delgado said. She noted that many of the faculty and staff in the Senate and Council had been there for years “and I do think this was aimed at getting certain people out of faculty governance.”

Faculty have raised concerns over the past few years about declining enrollment and questioned financial decisions such as the college’s investment in its athletics program while the number of full-time faculty has plummeted.

Mr. Fritz became Interim President of the College of Staten Island in 2012 and President in 2014.

The college’s bylaws require the passage of a referendum before it can be presented to CUNY’s Board of Trustees. However, he stated that although he would “carefully consider” the vote before sending the proposal to the trustees, his decision would also be informed by “other feedback,” including his own experience about “what is best for the campus.”

CSI spokesman David Pizzuto stated that “no decision has been made at this time on moving the proposed governance plan forward. The recent vote is one instrument of feedback to the proposed plan and will be measured alongside feedback from various constituents throughout the process.”

The President of the New York Conference of the American Association of University Professors expressed disapproval of the proposal in a Sept. 27 letter.

'Not Acceptable'

“It is not acceptable practice for the President of a college to write this document without significant faculty input and approval,” Mary Rose Kubal wrote, urging Mr. Fritz to respect the results of the referendum.

Faculty feared the attempt to diminish their role in governance could set a precedent. “It would be really dangerous, I think it would be the worst thing that could happen to CUNY,” Mr. Sanchez said.

Above photo courtesy of CUNY

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