Some faculty accuse committee organizing no-confidence vote of bias

Posted on April 15, 2012 in News
By Noah Hurowitz

USM President Selma Botman speaks to reporters April 3. Botman faces a vote of no confidence triggered by a petition circulated among senior faculty.
Paul Koenig
USM President Selma Botman speaks to reporters April 3. Botman faces a vote of no confidence triggered by a petition circulated among senior faculty.

A faculty vote of no confidence in University of Southern Maine President Selma Botman is tentatively scheduled for the end of this month, but some faculty members have raised concerns over  the neutrality of the committee organizing the vote, as well as the process.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee and Faculty Senate Chair Jeannine Diddle Uzzi must organize the referendum, but some supporters of Botman are concerned about Uzzi’s public statements of opposition to the president.

Eileen Eagan, professor of history, criticized Uzzi for making public statements about her views on Botman. She said she is worried about how fair process and results of the vote will be if its organizer has a clear bias.

“Maybe some United Nations observers should be called in,” she joked.

But Uzzi said she has gone to lengths to prevent her own views to affect her planning and implementation of the referendum.

“We’re trying to make this as transparent as possible, and I’m hoping a large and reasonable majority will be happy with the process,” she said. “But there’s a small minority of very vocal people who have criticized everything I’ve done.”

There is also disagreement over the interpretation of wording in the Faculty Senate bylaws regarding how to call the results of referendums like the vote of no confidence.

The Faculty Senate bylaws dictate two-thirds of faculty must support any referendum in order for it to be passed on to the University of Maine System as representative of the views of faculty. But members of the faculty disagree over whether to read that as two-thirds of all faculty or two-thirds of faculty taking part in the referendum.

The dispute over the bylaws’ language and its effect on the results of the referendum appear to be split along the lines of those who support Botman and those who oppose her.

The manner of how the vote will be conducted has not been decided yet, though Uzzi said it looks like they’ll mail paper ballots to faculty. She said the committee had considered using electronic voting, but that it would have cost about $1,000, and there were concerns about the security of an electronic vote.

Uzzi, who as an associate professor did not sign the petition but has said she no longer has faith in Botman’s ability to lead the university argued for interpreting the bylaw as meaning two-thirds of those who vote, rather than two-thirds of all faculty. Uzzi said the vagueness of the language — it doesn’t specify whether “faculty” includes part-time faculty — effectively makes passing any referendum next to impossible.

“There’s no way we’ll get two-thirds of the entire faculty to the polls, let alone get them to vote in favor of the referendum,” she said.

But others, including visible and vocal defenders of the president like Eagan, say it’s important to respect the original language of the bylaws.

“The language isn’t even faintly vague,” Eagan told The Free Press on Friday. “It’s clear that for a referendum to pass it must be two-thirds of the faculty. Anything else is dishonest. It’s just not what the documents say.”