Trustees | Trusteeship

There are serious issues at ISU

IDAHO STATE JOURNAL   |  February 4, 2011 by Mike Ellis

On Jan. 24, the Idaho State University Faculty Senate resolution calling for a vote of confidence/no confidence on President Arthur Vailas passed 19-6, a margin of over 3 to 1.  In addition to and independent of the resolution, ISU faculty submitted a petition that also called for a confidence vote on President Vailas.  This petition was signed by 166 full-time ISU faculty members, more than 25 percent of the faculty.

In his response to the Faculty Senate resolution, ISU Director of Marketing and Communications Mark Levine claims that “there are multiple avenues at all levels in place for those who disagree to exercise those disagreements, including those who might disagree with the President.”   The Faculty Senate met with Dr. Vailas in October and January. These meetings were unproductive.   Dr. Vailas either dismissed faculty concerns by calling the Faculty Senate dysfunctional or insinuated that Phil Cole, chair of the Faculty Senate, was somehow to blame. The Vailas administration has rejected mediation and face-to-face meetings have led to condescending and derogatory remarks.  Furthermore, President Vailas expressly stated to the Faculty Senate that he did not agree to mediate faculty concerns. Given this, how can there be a proper venue for airing and resolving our “disagreements”?

Without providing any supporting evidence, Mr. Levine dismissively claims that the “allegations are either untrue or misleading.” Faculty have genuine concerns.  Mr. Levine’s unilateral disregard for these concerns is, in my view, not constructive. Among the issues of concern in the Faculty Senate resolution are retaliation, administrative chaos resulting from a hasty and unplanned reorganization, along with the wrongful dismissal of a distinguished teacher, who dared to disagree with the president. In fact, not one of the 27 faculty issues contained within the resolution are addressed.

How should ISU students feel when they hear the ISU administration boast that the university now has accumulated more than $7 million in new financial reserves?  Enrollment fees have increased by over 35 percent under President Vailas making ISU the most expensive university in Idaho.  And it is more than academic expenses that have increased. Just last summer parking fees for students, staff and faculty were substantially increased, in some cases by over 300 percent.  This money is not going for improved parking on campus, but rather it is yet another revenue stream for the university.   Further, I would like to know if any of the other “Research University High” institutions have had to charge “special” class fees, in addition to tuition, to just provide enough money for printing exams.

Mr. Levine writes: “… all the things that should be up are up and all things that should be down are down.”   Administration is way up. Despite these trying economic times, the administrative budget at ISU has increased significantly.  In a recent report, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni indicates that spending on administration at ISU has increased by 65.9 percent from 2003 to 2008.  Education of the students is way down.  Some departments don’t have the funds to buy chalk. However, the College of Science and Engineering is spending money to remodel the administrative offices.

An administration that guts academic programs by laying off instructors, not replacing departing faculty, and virtually zeroing out material and supply budgets will show a temporary bump in the budget books, but at the long-term cost of making these programs unsustainable.   For example, the Vailas administration has forced ISU’s foreign language department to eliminate Arabic, Chinese and Russian. Is this strategic in today’s global economy? Now only Spanish is covered in any depth. The remaining three foreign languages—German, French and Japanese—are skeletal programs.  Many ISU students are unable to continue the study of foreign languages in which they have a basic background acquired from living abroad.

Education is the foundation of economic growth and prosperity in Idaho. Many faculty have concluded that the Vailas administration is harming the education of the students.

Educating students is the primary mission of any university.

ISU students are paying more and getting less.

This reckless path is not sustainable. Now is not the time to build institutional reserves on the backs of the students, their parents, faculty and staff. Now is not the time to remodel administrative offices at the expense of materials and supplies for educational programs.

Now is the time for real answers to real issues. ISU can do better and Idaho deserves better.


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