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Editorial: MU campus needs to work together on problems

May. 04, 2013 @ 09:39 PM

Summer-like weather brought out the shorts, shades and Frisbees on the Marshall University campus late this week.

With students looking forward to graduation and summer vacation, passersby could see few signs of the discord that has rocked the campus over the past month.

But the divisions about the school's leadership are real and serious.

Almost 70 percent of faculty members taking part in an online vote said they had "no confidence" in President Stephen Kopp. Meanwhile, the university's Board of Governors declared its overwhelming support for the president and what he has accomplished over the past eight years.

Beyond those very differing viewpoints, there are also shades of gray.

Of the 745 faculty members eligible to vote, 325 sat it out -- more than the 290 who voted "no confidence." So, about 43 percent of eligible faculty were not moved to support the president or show their displeasure.

Clearly it is going to take a lot of bridge building and outreach to bring all these parties together.

Like most family squabbles, the underlying problem here is money.

Marshall and many public universities have seen declining state support in recent years. As some have said, these schools have gone from being "state supported" to "state assisted." This year, only about 25 percent of its budget comes from Charleston.

Most immediately, the university is dealing with a $5 million cut in state funds for the coming budget. That shortfall was one of the reasons Kopp made the controversial and ill-fated decision to sweep the accounts of all the university departments. His plan had been to move to a more centralized budgeting process that would make more effective use of the money generated by student fees.

But the action came in the dark of night with no warning, and many faculty members, administrators and students were understandably outraged. They felt left out of the process and distrusted. Add to that a deep well of resentment about low salaries and Kopp's management style, and the revolt began.

Interestingly, similar situations have played out at other universities in just the past six months, with faculties considering various "no confidence" votes aimed at the leaders or boards of New York University, Saint Louis University, LSU, Emory University, Rollins College and Cleveland State. The decision-making process was a central issue in several of those disputes, as well.

Generally, the leadership has remained in place at those institutions, but the message is loud and clear. With all the challenges facing higher education, faculties often feel disenfranchised and want a bigger voice.

Kopp and the Marshall board are wisely involving faculty, students and staff in working groups to address the university's short-term and long-term financial issues. Tough decisions need to be made that will affect students, programs, compensation and budgeting. All of the campus constituencies need to be at the table.

Even vocal critics of the president and administration indicate they are willing to work with Kopp, and they say the "no confidence" vote should not be taken as a call for his resignation. That is good to hear, because changing leadership likely would put the university in a holding pattern at a time when action is needed.

The best course is for the campus community to work together to restore respect, participation and cooperation. That's what will be needed to face the challenges ahead.

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