Trustees Support Lefton Despite Looming 'No Confidence' Vote by Faculty
Kent State faculty circulating petitions for vote of "no confidence" in president in midst of year-long contract negotiations
A vote of no confidence by faculty at Kent State University in President Lester Lefton is looming over a year-long faculty contract negotiation that shows no obvious signs of concluding.
While faculty in the Kent State chapter of the American Association of University Professors circulate petitions calling for the no confidence vote, the university's 10-member board of trustees released a statement this week saying it has full confidence in Lefton, who is in the midst of his sixth year at the helm of Ohio's now second-largest public university.
The board's statement, released Wednesday and signed by all 10 members, does not directly address the no confidence vote or discuss the drawn out faculty contract negotiations.
Instead, the joint statement, which is attached to this article, points to growth in enrollment and implementation of the university's strategic plan as key reasons for backing Lefton's leadership of Kent State.
"Kent State and the talent and productivity of its 200,000 graduates contribute $1.9 billion in economic impact to Northeast Ohio," the statement reads in part. "Across the region, the university has established new public-private partnerships that are leveraging our public resources and adding new educational opportunities and economic assets to local communities. In addition, Kent State has successfully stepped up its private fundraising efforts and has exceeded the $250-million goal for the university’s Centennial Campaign.
"For these reasons, the trustees of Kent State University affirm their confidence in the President and look forward to many more successes in the future," the statement concludes.
Faculty, however, feel differently.
Joe Altobelli, an associate math professor at the Trumbull campus, is one of several faculty members circulating a petition that asks the Kent State Faculty Senate to consider a referendum calling for a vote of no confidence in the university president. If 100 signatures are collected, then the faculty senate would have to consider calling the secret-ballot vote.
Altobelli said the petition was prompted in part by violations of the existing faculty contract by university adminstrators and the university's court appeals to binding arbitration decisions made on the contract.
"Primarily it was the violations of the existing contract," Altobelli said. "Long before we got into negotiations for a new contract, the administration, under the current president, started violating the contract in ways, and with a frequency, that was kind of unprecedented."
Altobelli is confident he will get the 100 needed faculty signatures to require the faculty senate to initiate the referendum vote.
"Each faculty member would then vote to approve or not approve the language of the referendum itself," he said.
The language, which is included in the petition attached to this story, states "as a faculty member at Kent State University, I wish to express no confidence in the leadership of University President Lester Lefton, especially with regard to his flagrant disregard for provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, failure to abide by final and binding arbitration, and his conduct of negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Kent State University faculty."
Lefton works at the will of the trustee board, so any such vote by the faculty would be largely symbolic.
But Altobelli, who said he would prefer the vote not happen, said he at least would like to see university administrators step back and re-examine their contract position in light of the faculty activity against Lefton.
"I hope they’re thinking about it and I hope they’re planning on trying to do something about it," he said. "To be honest, I hope it doesn’t come to pass. It’s really not a good thing to have a faculty take a vote of no confidence in their president. It would be much better to get these issues resolved."