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Faculty to vote on Kopp's leadership

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 12:04 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University faculty will soon find themselves voting on whether they have confidence in the leadership of university President Stephen Kopp.

That was the motion made and seconded by multiple faculty members Friday at an emergency meeting of the university's Faculty Senate. Online voting available to all faculty members will begin May 1. The process will continue for one week and be announced via e-mail once votes are tabulated, said Faculty Senate Chairman Eldon Larsen.

After the motion was made Friday to authorize the vote, about 25 faculty members stepped one by one to a microphone or made online submissions to vent frustrations, complaints and criticisms they have with Kopp's administration. Popular themes included mistrust and the president's acceptance of a pay raise at a time when the university is faced with trimming its costs.

The meeting stemmed from April 9 when Kopp's administration swept most departmental funds into a central holding account as part of an effort to better understand the amount of fee revenue and how it was being spent.

The Board of Govenors on Thursday tabled a proposal from Kopp to switch to a centralized budget, and by midday Friday the university president assured faculty all of the swept funds had been returned to the departmental accounts.

The motion, set for a vote next month, indicates its proponents have lost confidence in Kopp's leadership. It cites the sweeping of funds, saying it shows Kopp engaged in communication practices that undermine transparency. It also noted a recent move to reorganize colleges.

"Perhaps you were advised by people who knew a lot about accounting and numbers, but not a lot about trust," said psychology professor Joe Wyatt in regard to the sweep.

Kopp apologized for the recent sweep and vowed it would not happen again. He took exception with criticism about college reorganization, such as consolidating journalism programs within the College of Fine Arts. He said he consulted with those affected by the reorganization and explained the strategy was aimed at reducing the number of administrative positions -- another long-held desire of faculty, he said.

The president said the consolidation and the proposed centralized budget framework are all part of a response to sustain university finances in the face of significant cuts in state appropriations and the desire to hold down tuition increases.

"By your presence here today, you're stating that you want to be a part of this process," Kopp said in addressing a capacity crowd at the Newman Center. "To be blunt about this, we want people coming to the table who are going to come with constructive ideas about what we can do."

But those stepping to the microphone Friday criticized Kopp's availability. For instance, history professor Laura Deiner recounted numerous attempts to set up a meeting to no avail. Her efforts included phone calls and personal visits to his office.

Kopp, after the meeting, described Deiner's story as "stunning." It conflicted with his position that he keeps an open door policy and attends faculty meetings, yet those professors do not return the favor. He said Friday was the first time he had heard some criticisms.

Some faculty members speaking Friday said they do not visit Kopp because they do not believe he welcomes their opinions. He acknowledged having a very busy calendar, but he encouraged anyone with concerns to stop in. He took that a step further afterward, telling The Herald-Dispatch that any faculty member wishing to meet with him should call his assistant directly at 304-696-3977 or the office at 304-696-2300.

Kopp also addressed those criticizing his salary, which increased last summer to $390,000 annually with the promise of up to $50,000 in private bonuses. He accepted the raise, maintaining it is important that a university have continuity in leadership. He said cutting his personal salary would limit his ability to help local nonprofit agencies, for which he and his wife donated more than $40,000 in the 2012 tax year.

Other criticisms included athletic spending, a new foreign exchange program and the administration's involvement in hiring deans whom faculty members do not support.

Those attending Friday's meeting were greeted by a small group of students protesting Kopp's continued leadership.

The controversy over the Kopp's budget proposal was outlined in a story Friday in "The Chronicle of Higher Education," which is a publication that outlines issues that affect higher education throughout the country.

The story spelled out Kopp's proposal and the faculty's disappointment with the account sweeps. It also included comments from Bob Shea, a senior fellow for finance and campus management at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, who said Kopp's proposal represented fiscal responsibility.

"They're trying to get a handle on spending, and that is a completely responsible thing to do from a financial responsibility perspective," Shea said in the story.

Follow Curtis Johnson via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD and http://facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD.



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