UNCG Faculty Senate votes to censure chancellor, provost over program elimination process

UNC-Greensboro’s Faculty Senate has voted to censure university’s chancellor and provost amid ongoing tensions over the process administrators are using to cut programs at the university.

The resolution was “a motion to censure the Chancellor and the Provost for not initiating consultation with the Senate at the start of the APR [Academic Program Review] process and not providing a clear rationale of the choice of program closures.”

With 39 eligible to vote, the vote was 25-10 in favor of the censure, senate representatives reported Monday.

As Newsline reported earlier this month, deans at UNCG identified 19 programs the school might eliminate as part of an academic program review, with Provost Debbie Storrs later adding a 20th program — a Ph.D. in Computational Mathematics. Storrs is scheduled to give Chancellor Frank Gilliam a final list of recommended cuts this week, with Gilliam making the final decisions Thursday, Feb. 1.

Student and faculty groups have rallied, demonstrated and released statements opposing the process as flawed and not as transparent as advertised. Last week, Charles Bolton, an associate dean and interim head of the anthropology department, resigned those positions in protest with a letter calling out what he said was “egregious behavior” by top administrators. Bolton has returned to a position teaching in the History Department.

Gilliam and Storrs responded to the vote in a written statement Monday night.

“Like colleges and universities across the country, UNC Greensboro faces rapidly changing conditions, from enrollment challenges to shifts in student and regional needs,” the statement reads. “We’re seizing this moment as an opportunity — a chance to sharpen our focus, align resources with our vision and strategic direction, and identify areas for long-term growth and leadership. Strengthening the University’s financial and academic footing for the next 10 to 20 years can happen only through comprehensive evaluation of our operations.”

A photo of UNCG Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Debbie Storrs
 UNCG Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Debbie Storrs. (Photo: UNCG) 

“We have worked within our authority to initiate an Academic Portfolio Review, and multiple levels of the campus community have effectively engaged in the process in the interests of their units and the University,” the statement read. “The process has been collaborative, thorough, and transparent, making data available to our community while including diverse and independent analyses across academic units. Further, the deans publicly shared their rationale for their recommendations via meetings and on the Innovation and Reinvention site.”

“As an institution of higher learning, we expect a diversity of thought, and constructive critiques are welcomed as there is no perfect process,” the statement continued. “However, these critiques must be based on facts, not distortions, and not on fear but on collective wisdom. To do otherwise is corrosive to the campus community and creates barriers to the way forward.”

“Although without operational consequence, the vote to censure us — as the Chancellor and the Provost — by some members of the Faculty Senate (not a vote of the General Faculty) extends beyond critique,” the statement read. “This action is a consequence of mis- and dis-information intended to protect the status quo. Although such an action is a disappointment, we remain undaunted in our commitment to meet the challenges ahead. ”

“We have and will continue to work collaboratively with faculty partners who are dedicated to taking necessary steps for the best interests of the University, its students, and its mission,” the statement concluded.

The largely symbolic censure vote is a rare one for faculty at UNC System campuses. Though different in scope, the most recent analogous faculty vote is Appalachian State University’s 2020 vote of “no confidence” in Chancellor Sheri Everts over decisions made in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disagreeing on a course of action at a meeting of the Faculty Senate last week, senators discussed the App State vote. Some worried that a similar vote by UNCG’s Senate could lead to a further deterioration of relations between faculty and the administration, perhaps locking faculty out of future decision-making. Others argued that faculty were already well outside of that decision-making, saying administrators appear not to have followed the APR process as it was originally described. Programs that scored well on a rubric designed for evaluation — or which were not even evaluated — ended up on the list of proposed cuts anyway, they said.

Faculty members also objected to being given just 11 business days to respond to an initial list of possible cuts that contained serious errors when presented to the university and the public, including misreporting how many students majored or minored in some of the programs.

“In eleven business days it is impossible to give preliminary consultation,” said David Holian, a professor in the Political Science Department, at last week’s meeting.

Those errors, which the university publicly corrected, were just the latest in a series of problems in a process in which faculty had largely lost confidence, many faculty members said.

“I was on the college committee that reviewed these programs,” said Mark Elliott, a professor in the History Department and president of UNCG’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. “If I can’t tell how they got to some of these decisions, that’s a problem.”

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