April 16, 2024

Indiana University faculty vote no confidence in President Whitten, provosts

Indiana University president Pamela Whitten watches before an NCAA college football game between Indiana and Indiana State, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Bloomington, Ind.  - Darron Cummings / AP Photo

Indiana University president Pamela Whitten watches before an NCAA college football game between Indiana and Indiana State, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Bloomington, Ind.

Darron Cummings / AP Photo

Indiana University’s Bloomington faculty declared no confidence in President Pamela Whitten and two top academic administrators in a vote held Tuesday.

The Bloomington Faculty Council hosted the vote and reported that 948 faculty attended the meeting at the IU Auditorium. More than 3,200 faculty were eligible to vote.

Faculty cannot remove a leader from the university, and Bloomington Faculty Council President Colin Johnson said the vote is advisory.

“That does not mean that expressions of the faculty's collective will are inconsequential, however,” Johnson said. “Indeed, as I have already noted, our actions today are highly consequential, which is why it is essential that they be conducted in a thoughtful, orderly, respectful, and serious manner.”

For Whitten, 827 faculty voted for the no-confidence resolution. Twenty-nine opposed the resolution.

There were 804 people who supported the no-confidence resolution against Provost Rahul Shrivastav. Forty-seven faculty voted in opposition.

For Carrie Docherty, the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, 672 faculty voted for a no-confidence resolution, while 107 were against it.

Discussion for Whitten’s resolution of no confidence was the shortest, lasting 23 minutes.

How did Whitten, Board of Trustees respond?

Whitten responded to the vote in an email Tuesday to faculty. She said the IU community is made stronger through an array of viewpoints and voices.

Whitten said higher education is at record lows, while expectations “for our role as an economic and cultural driver are at record highs.”

“Our self-concept of purpose and value often differs wildly from how we are viewed by lawmakers, civic leaders, industry and much of the general public. Such differences are not tenable forever.”

Whitten said the Board of Trustees has charged the university with making difficult but necessary decisions to ensure IU is a leader among higher education institutions.

She encouraged faculty to share their opinions and pledged to listen and learn. Whitten said she will weigh the guidance of the council and the campus community to achieve a thriving campus.

“Working together, we can achieve even more for this extraordinary institution,” Whitten said. “We can uphold the legacy of Herman B Wells and ensure IU thrives as an international academic leader while being a workplace that embraces respectful collaboration.”

In a statement on its website, the Board of Trustees said Whitten has its full support. The statement also noted the difficulties of higher education today, and that Whitten’s IU 2030 plan is the roadmap to the university’s growth.

"We, the Board of Trustees, stand united in our confidence in President Whitten and the long-term success of IU,” the board said. “By acknowledging the realities of today's world and working collaboratively, we are poised to collectively accelerate the achievement of our goals."

What was discussed during the vote?

Tuesday’s meeting was not open to the public, and only voting faculty could attend. The council posted an official audio recording of the meeting on its website.

A petition for the vote garnered 226 signatures before being presented to council leadership. The petition exceeded the minimum 50 signatures required, and council leaders unanimously agreed to host the vote.

 
 


Johnson explained the process of why the council accepted the petition and called for a special meeting. He said the council respects the petitioners’ call to debate and understands opinions among faculty may differ.

“Do we as individuals and as the faculty as a whole, have confidence in Vice Provost Docherty, Provost Shrivastav and President Witten?” Johnson said. “No question could be more fundamental to the sound functioning of institutions such as Indiana University Bloomington than whether the faculty have confidence in these key leaders.”

Some did argue against all three votes of no confidence, including Professor Richard Shiffrin. Shiffrin spoke first at the vote. He said the votes were an overreaction to serious incidents, and the administration should be given a chance to learn.

“Especially because President Whitten is IU's first woman president,” Shiffrin said “She deserves a chance to establish her leadership abilities. But in truth, all the current administrators deserve such a chance.”

Brea Perry, associate vice president and vice provost for research, spoke to support Docherty and said the vote could set a concerning precedent.

“I have complete confidence in Carrie Docherty’s judgment, integrity, inclusivity and wisdom in carrying out the role of VPFAA,” Perry said. “The rationale for a vote of no confidence is based almost entirely on a singular case and does not, in the context of her years of service and good work, meet the burden of evidence for a no-confidence vote.”

Many other faculty spoke out in favor of the no-confidence resolutions. They mentioned a failure to act with shared governance, follow policy, support academic freedom, recognize the graduate worker’s union and communicate with faculty. Multiple faculty said the administration is the worst they’ve seen after years of work at IU.

Faculty often cheered at criticism of Docherty, Shrivastav and Whitten, and Johnson had to remind faculty to maintain order at least once.

Associate Professor Amrita Myers said IU has changed in her 19 years at the university. She said it’s depressing to work at IU.

“It's very difficult to recruit graduate students here,” Myers said. “It's difficult when they look at you in the face and say, ‘Am I going to be safe because I'm transgender? Am I going to be safe as a woman? Am I going to be safe as a Black person or a Latinx person or an indigenous person?’”

Faculty, including those who successfully petitioned for the vote of confidence, have noted fear of retribution from the administration. An unnamed person took the stand to share a message.

“On behalf of all faculty who feel uncomfortable stating their names, on behalf of faculty who are afraid to be in this room, on behalf of all faculty who feel precarious, please don't leave the room,” the speaker said. “Vote.”

Johnson ended the meeting by thanking the faculty.

“Ultimately, I don't think anybody wants to arrive at this point, but it is important that when we do, that the faculty respond collectively in an orderly fashion and in the spirit of shared governance,” Johnson said.

Aubrey is WFIU's higher education reporter and a Report For America corps member. Contact her at aubmwrig@iu.edu or follow her on X @aubreymwright.

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