Provost search reignites debate over faculty handbook

On Oct. 9, Mason's Faculty Senate voted to reaffirm its role in the decision making process of a new provost (photo by Frank Muraca).
On Oct. 9, Mason's Faculty Senate voted to reaffirm its role in the decision making process of a new provost (photo by Frank Muraca).

Citing concerns over their role in the provost search process, Mason’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution reaffirming a provision of the faculty handbook concerning the selection process for key administrative positions.

In a 20-4 vote on Oct. 9 2013, the Faculty Senate reaffirmed part of the faculty handbook that says, “The search and selection process must include opportunities for the General Faculty to meet with candidates who are finalists for the presidency.”

As the university begins to search for a new provost, many senators raised concerns that problems that had occurred during the 2011 presidential search would resurface again.

According to the faculty handbook, which outlines the conditions for employment as a full-time faculty member at Mason, final candidates for the presidency are to be brought before members of the faculty for review.

"The faculty plays a vital role in the appointment and reappointment of senior academic administrators and other leadership positions related to the academic mission of the university," read the handbook.

At a Board of Visitors meeting on Dec. 9th, the Board decided on a final candidate - Cabrera. According to reports by Connect2Mason, faculty senate members were invited late the night of Dec. 9th to attend a meeting with Cabrera the following morning, Dec. 10th.

 “I contend that it was an ‘infraction,’ not a ‘violation,’ because we gave the Faculty the opportunity to interview one candidate,” Volgenau later said at a faculty senate meeting in March 2012.

Volgenau defended the move, saying that the Board still had a final say over the policies that were outlined in the handbook.

“As Rector, I apologize for not following the spirit of the Faculty Handbook,” then Board of Visitors, Rector Ernst Volgenau said at the time. “I don’t think we are compelled to follow it. There are parts of the Faculty Handbook that are also parts of contracts and those parts can’t be changed.”

In November 2011, Provost Peter Stearns announced that he would step down from his position at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year. In September 2013, Cabrera announced a search committee that would begin the process for selecting a group of finalists to replace Stearns.

“A provost search is not a presidential search,” said Charlene Douglas, faculty senate chair. “It’s a different kind of animal.”

David Kuebrich, who proposed the resolution reaffirming the faculty’s role in the process, asked if the committee agreed not to bring the finalists to campus. Faculty senate members who sat on the search committee answered that they had intended to bring finalists before the full body.

“It is my strong preference that we bring the final candidates to meet with the faculty,” Cabrera said at the Oct. 9th senate meeting.

Another concern that was raised after Cabrera’s selection was the firm used in the search process, Greenwood Asher & Associates, which has been hired again for the provost search. 

“It seems to me that that search firm kind of dropped the ball in the presidential search,” said Bob Smith, adding that he wished he had known about recent financial troubles experienced by the Thunderbird School of Global Management, where Cabrera had served as president for eight years.

“I think it would have been useful to know that they were in dire straits financially,” Smith said. “I hope someone will speak to that search firm and say that we don’t want that to happen again.”

Some faculty members opposed the resolution, emphasizing that the search committee has a large amount of faculty representation.

“I think we take risk in not trusting the colleagues that we have on this committee,” said Senator Lisa Billigam. “I think I would trust anyone here that they serve in our best interest. I’m worried that we’re stirring something that does not need to be stirred.”

In April 2012, the senate passed a resolution urging the provost search committee be members of the senate elected by the faculty themselves. In September 2013, Cabrera announced that the search committee would have three elected members from the senate and six appointed faculty members.

“I will say that there is significant faculty representation on the search committee,” said Smith, who serves on the provost search committee.

Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankMuraca, or email him here.

No votes yet
Student Media Group: