Friday, July 10, 2009

A thought on the UNLV presidency

Today, the Board of Regents voted not to renew David Ashley's contract as president of UNLV. Faculty opinion was divided, with the faculty survey conducted by the Campus Affairs Committee finding majority support for renewing the contract, while Faculty Senate chair John Filler and former chair Brian Spangelo spoke strongly against renewal. The NFA was not involved in the review and, therefore, took no position on the renewal.

President Ashley deserves credit for many things, including his decision to support faculty efforts to lobby on behalf of preserving health insurance benefits during the most recent legislative session. He also must be given a good share of credit for what was, in the end, a moderately successful advocacy effort to retain as much state funding as possible from the legislature -- and to limit the damage to UNLV within the System's funding formulas. He lost not a few supporters due to UNLV's doggedness in the legislative advocacy effort, and that legacy of standing up for UNLV's fair share is one that we must all continue to uphold. We join in the sentiments expressed by the Board as it took its vote today in thanking President Ashley for his service to UNLV over the past three years.

And in his new capacity as a faculty member, he is of course encouraged to join the NFA.

At the same time, there were many legitimate criticisms about his inaccessibility to faculty and unresponsiveness to faculty concerns; about his unwillingness to consult with faculty on university policy; about his unclear commitment to ensuring fair processes of appeal and grievance on personnel matters; and about his reluctance to ensure fair treatment of faculty and staff under his direct authority.

Moreover, there was a great deal of legitimate concern, not discussed at the Board meeting today, about the use of university resources -- whether state dollars or soft money -- for items not essential to our educational and research mission (furniture, travel, meals, etc) at a time of budget cuts, salary cuts and very limited resources for research and education.

In too many ways, President Ashley followed the model of a corporate CEO rather than a first among faculty peers.

The most important question is how we as a university move forward. It is vital that the important decisions which will follow, including appointment of an interim president and (we presume) a search for a permanent replacement, include significant faculty input. The NFA will work to help ensure this is the case. There remain a great deal of very difficult work to be done to see UNLV through the difficult economic environment and to prevent a large loss of faculty, students, educational excellence and research momentum during the coming year. It is vital that new leadership take up those challenges immediately and addrss them in full consultation with faculty, and the UNLV Faculty Alliance will seek to support that work in every way possible.

And it is vital that the next and future UNLV presidents seek ways, through measures both symbolic and substantive, to restore our academic leadership to a much more proximate and accessible position relative to the faculty.

We wish you well, President Ashley, but we hope for a new direction to take up the reigns immediately. And in this moment we worry about the situation in which today's Board action leaves the UNLV faculty.

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