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Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

6 FAQs about the Vote of No Confidence


Joanne Georges

In a special meeting on Monday April 11, the Hartwick College faculty approved a resolution of no confidence in the leadership of President Margaret Drugovich with 41 yes votes, 21 nos, and 10-abstentions.

Students were made aware of the vote via emails from Board of Trustees Chair Francis Landrey, Faculty Chair Jason Antrosio, and President Drugovich. All three of these leaders provided different interpretations of what a vote of no confidence would mean for Hartwick College’s future. Some vouched for the severity of a vote of no confidence, others suggested it was ineffective in nature. All three cited the recent suggestions and proposals of the Academic Program Review (APR) as the center of dissent and disagreement.

Yet many questions still remain about what exactly a Vote of No Confidence means for the College and its students.

Q1: What is a “vote of no confidence?”

A1: A vote of no confidence is used to show lack of support in the policies and leadership of a governing body or legislator. Within higher education, a vote of no confidence is a tool used by a group of constituents to voice and quantify their lack of support in the president or board’s leadership. Because a Board of Trustees/Directors are the only ones capable of dismissing an educational institution’s president or board member, a vote of no confidence from faculty, staff, or students remains purely symbolic, according to the thesis study of Dr. Sean McKinniss of Ohio State University, titled Understanding No-Confidence Votes Against Academic Presidents (2008).

Q2: How has Hartwick’s administration and Board of Trustees responded to the vote of no confidence?

A2: According to an article by The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) titled “What Confidence Should Boards Give No-Confidence Votes,” a vote of no confidence is a signal that “the president is making the tough decisions that boards expect and institutions need if they are to prosper and, in some cases, survive.”

This opinion was mirrored in the campus-wide email from Board of Trustees Chair Francis Landrey on April 11. He wrote, “President Drugovich has identified issues that need to be addressed and has acted promptly, sometimes taking difficult steps that are the responsibility of a leader. The Board fully supports the difficult choices the administration has had to make. She is completely undeserving of this Faculty vote.”

Q3: What is the faculty viewpoint on vote of no confidence?

A3: On April 12, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Chair Jason Antrosio sent an email to the Hartwick Community, outlining the voting process, explaining why the vote was taken, calling for the community to stand together in light of the vote. Antrosio wrote, while he did not presume to speak for the 49 faculty members who voted no confidence, his discontent lies with the changes proposed in the Academic Program Review (APR) led by the President and Provost Michael Tannenbaum, released on February 20, 2016. For more details on Antrosio’s letter, please refer to his email, printed in the alongside this article.

Q4: What power does a vote of no confidence normally yield?

A4: According to McKinniss, a vote of no confidence holds the ability to create tension among members the college community, chaotic campus behavior, and loss of productivity. Landry’s email describes the vote as “unwarranted and serves only to harm the College.” While refuting that same conventional wisdom, Antrosio noted that “a no confidence vote hurts enrollment and retention, impedes alumni donations, and damages the College more than it affects the president.”

In her own email to Hartwick students on April 12, President Drugovich didn’t provide a personal opinion on the vote, but rather discussed a focus on the school mission, community achievements, and a pursuit of future excellence through scholarships and financial aid. Antrosio’s email also focused on securing the future of Hartwick College through helping with Admissions’ efforts in retaining the fall 2016 class, and a call for to donations to strengthen student scholarships and aid.

Q5: What usually happens after a vote of no confidence?

A5: The AGB describes three conclusions after a vote of no confidence:

1. The president is deemed incapable of leading and must go.

2. While imperfect, the executive remains the person to continue to advance the institution, but with direct guidance from the board.

3. The negative vote is seen as largely irrelevant to the board’s and the president’s work.

In a 2009 interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mae Kuykendall, a professor of law at Michigan State University, explained her two year research on the no-confidence vote origins, philosophical underpinnings, and uses in higher-education institutions.

Kuykendall said, “A review of public announcements concerning leaders’ exits plainly reveals that no-confidence votes often work. ... One hypothesis that I have developed is that votes of no confidence are more likely to be effective in smaller institutional settings than in larger, more-complex universities…” However, “If a school is willing to forgo the esteem of professional organizations and to risk prospective students’ concerns about a leadership under a cloud, the vote of no confidence will fail to drive out a leader backed by a determined board,” Kuykendall said.

Q6: What outcomes have votes of no confidence produced at institutions similar to Hartwick?

A6: The faculties of Mount Saint Mary College, Ithaca College, and College of Saint Rose have all passed votes of no confidence in this school year.

1. Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY: a liberal arts college of 2,200 undergraduates. On Tuesday February 23, faculty voted no confidence in Albert Gruner, chairman of the Board of Trustees. According to Inside Higher Education, Mount Saint Mary President Anne Carson stepped down from her position on April 15. Carson cited family issues as the reason for her decision and made no reference to the vote of no confidence.

2. Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY: a liberal arts college of 6,323 undergraduates. Students first issued a vote of no confidence when 71.75 percent of student voters expressed no confidence in President Thomas Rochon, November 30, 2015. On December 14, the faculty vote revealed that 77.8 percent said they had no confidence in the President. On January 14, President Rochon announced his retirement and the board’s focus on including faculty, staff, and students in the search for a new president. Rochon will step down in July 2017.

3. College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY: a liberal art college of 2,931 undergraduates. In February, 120 faculty members voted in favor of a “no confidence” motion regarding President Carolyn Stefanco, with 35 voting against and three abstaining. Currently, there are no new developments on this issue.

Q7: What happens next?

A7: According to an anonymous source in a Daily Star article on April 15, a meeting with administration and faculty is scheduled. A second anonymous source told The Daily Star there’s potential to pass a no vote of confidence on Board Chair Francis Landrey.