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Alan B. Gould: No-confidence vote would harm Marshall

Apr. 27, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

I am profoundly distressed with the present situation facing Marshall University in this our winter of discontent. I decided, therefore, to present a proposition for consideration by the Marshall faculty and enjoin the reader to reserve judgment on the proposal until it has been fully explained.

In any critical inquiry for the truth, we must acknowledge our biases and lean against them. Additionally, context and empirical evidence are absolute prerequisites in such an investigation for only then can a more objective decision be rendered.

I am proud to state that I have been a member of the Marshall family for the past 44 years and have held numerous positions at this institution including those of professor, department chair, college dean, provost, vice president and interim president. I believe, therefore, both contextually and empirically, I can draw conclusions that are as well founded as most.

During the past two weeks, I have read, heard and watched events unfold and only on rare occasions have I discovered statements in support of our president or of any appreciation for the complexity of his responsibilities. Also, I noticed that while a number of concerns expressed legitimately dealt with issues occurring during this administration, an equal number spoke of circumstances that existed long before his arrival on campus. Lastly, it is significant to recall that when Dr. Kopp assumed the presidency in July 2005, the university was, at best, languishing in the doldrums and faced a $5 million budget shortfall.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the ancient Hebrews were able to make a fresh start for the following year simply by transferring their sins to a goat. The high priest took two goats, one to be sacrificed to the Lord, the other to carry the sins of the people away into the dessert. After the Lord's goat had been sacrificed, the priest confessed the sins of the people over the head of the live goat, which was then led away into the desert and there released. Although the "scapegoat" was not sacrificed, he bore the heavy burden not only for his sins, but also the transgressions and mistakes of others.

In my long career here at Marshall, I have served under no fewer than seven presidents, and another three interim ones, and none of them, in my estimation, has had more profound effect upon this institution than our incumbent president.

Marshall University has made tremendous progress since Dr. Kopp assumed office nearly eight years ago. For example, under the president's direction, the university has recorded its largest ever freshman class and just recently entered into an agreement with INTO which is expected to attract to campus hundreds of international students beginning with the upcoming fall term. Also, since 2006, the non-resident student enrollment has increased from 14 percent to 25 percent of the total student population.

Additionally, our president has overseen more than $200 million in new capital projects and major building renovations, with another $114 million in new construction projects underway. Moreover, since 2005, Marshall has launched over a dozen new, high-demand degree majors and programs, including the new School of Pharmacy and School of Physical Therapy.

During the same eight years, the university has doubled its research grant funding to $53 million annually. Finally, the university's economic impact on our Tri-State area has tripled to more than $1.5 billion. For those who wish to investigate further, I will gladly supply a fuller account of over 40 major accomplishments made during President Kopp's tenure.

All of this being said, it is not my intention either to serve as the president's apologist or to minimize or marginalize the just and well-founded grievances of constituent groups of our Marshall community. As both a faculty member and an administrator, I too have faced disappointments ranging from mild annoyances to bitter frustrations. Certainly, I am well aware of many legitimate faculty concerns and am especially frustrated over the lamentable salary situation we face here at Marshall.

Presently, I am in a fortunate position to associate and interact with outstanding faculty members from across this university. It has been a personal honor for me to be affiliated with them and call them colleagues. From among them I have heard your concerns.

While serving as president of Princeton, Woodrow Wilson lamented that it was easier to move a graveyard than to change a college curriculum. However, curriculum revision pales in the face of financial exigency. Significantly, Marshall is no longer a state supported institution. It is a state assisted university. State contributions now represent approximately 25 percent of the university's total budget. Yet, our state political leaders tell us we must not raise tuition and do more with less. The assumption must be that ultimately we can do everything with nothing!

Colleagues, we are facing an appending financial crisis. It is a condition that confronts us, not a theory. It is certain, at least under present circumstances, that state appropriations will continue to dwindle and operating costs will continue to rise. Prudence suggests that we employ our present energies in embracing new economic models designed to undergird our financial structure, reward success and protect our institutional values.

In defense of our present administration, the West Virginia Higher Education Commission publicly reported that Marshall University, despite years of underfunding, is in the best financial condition of all of the 10 institutions of higher education in the state. In addition, in a recent article printed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bob Shea, a senior fellow for finance and campus management at the National Association of College and University Business Offices, said "Mr. Kopp's decision appeared to be a 'good faith effort' to deal with the university's budget crisis in a fiscally responsible way." Shea further stated that "while the decision was 'fiscally prudent', anytime there are constraints on financial resources, there is often a push back from those being affected -- the faculty and staff .... "

A colleague of mine once observed that the reason higher education politics are so ferocious is because the stakes are so small. Under the immediate circumstances it will be cold comfort for the faculty to win a Pyrrhic Victory. President Kopp has apologized for his recent unilateral "sweep" and, no matter his intentions, has admitted that it was both ill-conceived and ill-executed. He has rescinded the order and expressed his willingness, in a spirit of collegiality and process, to work with all constituents to meet our present crisis.

Colleagues, I appeal to the better part of your nature. I urge you to vote against the proposition presently presented to you. If after working with the president to address these problems you are disappointed with the results, you can again convene for a vote of no confidence and, this time, render a more just verdict.

To solicit such a vote at this critical juncture, in my judgment, will be counterproductive and in the end generate more heat than light. Remember, your vote affects others who can't vote, including students, staff and alumni, and indeed will influence the future well-being of this institution.

Therefore, before you vote, I appeal to you to lean against your misgiving and concentrate on what is best for our beloved university.

Our fate may well rest in your hands.

Alan B. Gould is executive director of the John Deaver Drinko Academy at Marshall University.

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