THE BLOG
06/17/2013 01:46 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

Nine 'No Confidence' Votes That Made Headlines in 2012-2013

Emory University's College of Arts and Sciences faculty voted this past spring on whether they had confidence in the school's president, James Wagner. The vote came in the aftermath of Wagner's publication of a controversial column in Emory Magazine, in which he cited the Three-Fifths Compromise as an example of political compromise for the greater good.

The faculty ultimately rejected a motion of "no confidence" in Wagner by a 60-40 split. But even if faculty had voted against him, the Board of Trustees -- who has the final say in determining Wagner's employment status at the university -- gave Wagner its complete support.

As an Emory student, at first I was not aware that "no confidence" votes like this one had become somewhat of a trend during the 2012-2013 academic year. But after reading more about instances such as the four votes of "no confidence" that passed against New York University (NYU) President John Sexton, I realized that similar votes were taking place at institutions across the nation.

According to Inside Higher Ed, votes of "no confidence" typically indicate that faculty feel a leader -- not limited to just a president -- is no longer fit to serve in his or her position but rarely lead to a resignation or firing.

Here's a closer look at some of the votes of "no confidence" that took place on college campuses since the fall. Upon closer examination, some trends emerge: a rejection of university leadership styles that echo those of corporations, a desire for transparency, and student involvement through protests and social media.

New York University: After 11 years in office, Sexton faced four votes of "no confidence" during the 2012-2013 academic year. According to a May 10 New York Times article, a vote from faculty in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development followed additional votes from those in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, as well as the College of Arts and Science and the Tisch School of the Arts in Asia.

Still, two schools -- the Silver School of Social Work and the NYU School of Law -- rejected motions of "no confidence" in Sexton, thereby expressing support for their leader.

Indeed, controversy over the school's president arose because some faculty felt that he was running NYU as more of a corporation than an academic institution. Still, Sexton has said he has no plans to step down. The ultimate decision regarding Sexton's employment at NYU would rest with the Board of Trustees, which has expressed its support of Sexton. Despite his critics' comments, Sexton's supporters have cited the billions of dollars in fundraising he has accomplished as well as the relationships with other colleges he has forged and NYU's expansion.

Still, NYU students also became involved in the discussion this year, as some students held a protest in April opposing Sexton's 2031 plan and many of his policies.

Emory University: After Wagner published his article titled "As American as... Compromise" in Emory Magazine this past semester, faculty first censured him and then decided to hold a vote of "no confidence." But, as I reported in the school's newspaper The Emory Wheel, the column was not the only reason why faculty opposed Wagner.

Indeed, one College associate professor who requested anonymity told the Wheel that he or she was fed up with Wagner's "dog and pony" shows, in which "questions [are] deflected or not answered honestly." It was a relatively rough year for the Emory community, too, especially in the wake of the controversial department changes that occurred last fall. While College Dean Robin Forman spearheaded the changes, Wagner supported them.

Similarly to NYU, students also became engaged in the conversation. Some launched a petition at KeepWagner.com to express support, while others handed out flyers on the school's Quadrangle encouraging faculty to support a motion of "no confidence." Students also took to social media, creating Facebook and Twitter pages to publicize their opposition to Wagner's polices.

Wagner, though, has no plans to step down, and has the full support of the Board of Trustees.

St. Louis University: At St. Louis University, the faculty vote of "no confidence" was successful. In the end, the school's president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, announced his retirement. This followed a controversy over the fact that one of his administrators, Vice President of Academic Affairs Manoj Patakar, proposed alterations to the way the school handles tenure, sparking outrage as the faculty cited this instance as a failure to include them in an important decision. Faculty leaders, according to The St. Louis Dispatch, asked Biondi to remove Patankar, but he refused.

Meanwhile, some faculty felt the university was not living up to its standards in its national rankings and endowment growth, the Dispatch reported.

Students, just like at the aforementioned schools, were also involved in the controversy. A group bearing the name "SLU Students for No Confidence" formed, holding a protest on the day that the Faculty Senate was to vote on Biondi. Its Facebook page shows photos of the protest in addition to posts in which students share thoughts, updates and reactions.

Marshall University: After President Stephen Kopp decided to unexpectedly and suddenly transfer funds from departments to the central account at the college, he faced considerable backlash from faculty due to a lack of transparency and open communication -- a move for which Kopp has since apologized. After his actions, faculty voted against his leadership by a vote of 290-107, with 23 abstaining. The Board of Governors has still expressed its support of Kopp.

Like at other schools where "no confidence" votes took place, students held a protest on April 19, 2013 in opposition to Kopp's plan.

Transylvania University: Faculty at Transylvania University in Kentucky this year voted "no confidence" in the school's president, Owen Williams, marking the first vote of its kind in the school's history. Like many other instances this past year, the university's trustees have expressed support of Williams.

But faculty representatives have outlined many of their complaints about Williams in letters to the Board of Trustees, including aggressive behavior toward some faculty as well as Williams' decision to defer tenure for two faculty members. Students, meanwhile, protested on April 5 for better communication from administrators.

Louisiana State University: In March, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Faculty Senate voted unanimously to express "no confidence" in the university system's Board of Supervisors. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, faculty had expressed grievances over the ways that the university handled the search for the school's next president, among other concerns.

Occidental College: Faculty members at Occidental College recently voted "no confidence" in Campus Attorney Carl Botterud as well as Dean of Students Barbara Avery. The vote followed sentiments on campus that these leaders did not properly handle the reporting and educating of sexual assault at the school.

The vote came amid complaints that Avery's office "issued book reports as punishment to students found guilty of sexual misconduct, and Botterud contributed to creating an intimidating environment for sexual assault victims and their allies," The Huffington Post reported.

The University of Northern Iowa: After controversial budget cuts at the school, faculty issued votes of "no confidence" against President Ben Allen and Provost Gloria Gibson. Faculty members had previously circulated a petition after the budget cuts were announced.

Cleveland State University: According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, faculty at Cleveland State University voted "no confidence" in the school's administration due to what faculty saw as a non-transparent process in academic changes. Administrators had decided to convert the undergraduate curriculum to include mostly three credit-hour courses.

Did any votes of "no confidence" happen at your school this past year? Let us know in the comments below.

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