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Faculty votes 'no confidence' in Kopp

Kopp
May. 01, 2013 @ 11:28 PM

HUNTINGTON — More than two-thirds of the Marshall University faculty members who took part in an online vote said they have no confidence in President Stephen Kopp, but that doesn't mean they are calling for his departure, a Faculty Senate member says.

Kopp also still has the support of the Board of Governors, whose chairman released a statement reiterating the belief that he is the right person to lead the university.

Results from the faculty's non-binding vote, which ended Tuesday, showed 290 of the 420 who voted said they did not have confidence in the president. There were 107 votes against the motion and 23 who abstained. Another 325 faculty members who were eligible to vote did not.

"I am delighted with the voting results," said Pam Mulder, a member of the Faculty Senate and tenured professor in the psychology department. "I think a point had to be made, and this is the first real step to change. Sometimes you have to use a big stick to get people to just pay attention."

The dissension among faculty members stems, in large part, from actions taken by the administration on April 9, when most of the money in departmental accounts throughout the university were swept into a central holding account. The move was done to get a better sense of how much money was out there and to delay any large expenses, Kopp said after the action was taken.

But it was done without warning and left a bitter taste on campus, from deans and faculty to staff and students. All the funds were returned the morning of April 19, a day after the Board of Governors tabled new budget parameters that would have moved Marshall's financial accounting system to a centralized model.

Kopp apologized for the way the sweep was handled and supported the board's tabling of the budget changes, saying that rebuilding relationships with the university community was more important to address.

Still, there were plenty of faculty members who said the no-confidence vote was more about making a statement. A motion for the vote was made at an emergency Faculty Senate meeting on April 19.

Though a vote of no confidence has no direct effect on the president's contract, in instances elsewhere in the state it has prefaced leadership changes. In August 2011, West Virginia State University professors took an overwhelming vote of no confidence in President Hazo Carter, who then was the state's longest-serving college president. A week later, Carter announced his retirement.

In May 2008, West Virginia University's faculty twice voted to demand that President Mike Garrison quit over a master's degree scandal involving the daughter of then-Gov. Joe Manchin. Garrison vowed to stay on the job, and the WVU Board of Governors said it believed Garrison did nothing wrong. The following month, Garrison said he would resign to end the controversy.

Kopp has said repeatedly in the past few weeks that he intends to stay at Marshall, and only the Board of Governors has the power to hire and fire a president. The chairman of the board, Dr. Joseph Touma, said in a statement Wednesday that Kopp's job is safe.

"On behalf of the vast majority of the Marshall University Board of Governors, I wish to express the board's overwhelming support for President Stephen J. Kopp," Touma said. "Dr. Kopp has succeeded in achieving the goals set by the Board of Governors for Marshall University and he has exceeded the board's performance expectations in numerous areas. The board also believes that he is the right person to keep our great university moving in the right direction."

Mulder doesn't disagree with Touma's statement. In an email to her colleagues, she said demanding Kopp's departure by either a firing or resignation could be detrimental to the university as a whole, calling it a "horribly divisive action that will take a long time and may distance faculty."

"I recommend that we make no attempt to remove Dr. Kopp at this time. A search would be costly and if he leaves, he will be taking a fine chunk of golden parachute with him," Mulder wrote. "I recommend that we do all that we can to work with Dr. Kopp and with the MUBOG to make the changes we need to make. We have a BOG and a president who are listening to us now."

Touma also said he expects better communication from all constituent groups, calling the situation an "opportunity to establish common ground on which we can address the financial and other obstacles that lie ahead.

"Our shared goal is to do what is best for our students," Touma said. "We can only achieve this by working together openly in a renewed and genuine spirit of cooperation."

Kopp released his own statement, saying he appreciates the support from the board and those inside and outside the university community. And, while he recognized the no-confidence vote, he said it doesn't change the fact that there are funding issues to deal with.

"I respect the views of the faculty who have shared their opinion in this fashion; however, the budget challenges we set out to address remain and I do not see additional public funding on the horizon," Kopp said. "We have much work to do in the coming days and months to ensure Marshall continues its progress with even more limited public resources."

Also showing support for Kopp was Joe Gillette -- a major donor, alumni and chairman of the Marshall University Foundation. He provided a statement on behalf of the foundation that pledges "complete confidence in (Kopp's) leadership and vision" for Marshall.

"During the past two weeks, I have heard and read about the events on campus and noticed very few statements and comments in support and appreciation of Dr. Kopp's presidency," Gillette said, citing several successes at Marshall since Kopp took over in 2005.

Gillette said under Kopp's tutelage, a record was set during the 2012 fiscal year with more than $25 million in private gifts and pledges. And, during Kopp's tenure, the foundation's endowment has grown from $60 million to $113 million.

The accomplishments that have taken place during Kopp's tenure also are not lost among faculty and students. Sophomore Jason Troutwein said he has watched the university transform while growing up in nearby Lavalette. But he said he supports the faculty vote based on how the sweep was handled.

"I 100 percent support the faculty," said Troutwein. "How do you trust again? I think (the vote) says you have an institution that isn't behind you."

But, Troutwein said Kopp should earn a pass because of his overall performance at Marshall.

"I would definitely show him grace," he said. "Kopp has done a ton of good for the university."

Not everyone is ready to move on. Dallaz Brozik, a professor in the Finance and Economics Department, said the vote was as much a condemnation of the Board of Governors as it was of Kopp. He said board members have been hands-off for too long and have not taken time to have real discussion with faculty members.

"The BOG needs to exercise its authority over Kopp by bypassing him and talking directly to the faculty," Brozik wrote in an email. "The BOG seems to be a bunch of rubber stamps for someone like Kopp. They need to get off their collective butts and begin doing their job of leading the university. Kopp needs guidance, and it is the BOG's responsibility to provide it."

Paige Rabatin, a student who is on the executive staff with the Student Government Association, said she thinks there is dissatisfaction beyond Kopp that led to the vote of no confidence. Citing comments at the April 19 Faculty Senate meeting, Rabatin said there appears to be years of buried frustration that came spewing out, with the account sweep serving as the catalyst.

"I don't think the vote of no confidence was necessary, as long as both sides get on the same page," she said, noting that declining state support is the real issue at hand. Marshall's 2013-2014 budget will include a $5.1 million cut in state appropriations.

Student Body President Elisha "E.J." Hassan echoed this point in a statement released Tuesday regarding a resolution passed by the Student Senate.

"... It is time that WE, as a university, unify in the effort to focus our discussions on minimizing the effect that these cuts will have on student tuition increases, above all else. ... Future cuts to our funding from the State are more than just a possibility."

The Board of Governors will have a special meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 9, to set tuition and fee rates. Then, on June 11, the board will vote on next year's budget.

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