The Chronicle of Higher Education
by Megan Zahneis
May 18, 2022
Anyone following higher-education news in recent weeks has probably noticed a lot of votes of no confidence.
Faculty Senate bodies at three campuses in the University of Maine system voted no confidence in the system chancellor, Dannel P. Malloy. Faculty members at Piedmont University, in Georgia, and Sonoma State University, in California, cast no-confidence votes in their presidents. So did members of the Academic Senate at California State University at Los Angeles. At the University of Illinois at Springfield, the provost was the subject of a vote of no confidence. And at Henderson State University, in Arkansas, the Faculty Senate’s no-confidence vote in the chancellor requested his “immediate dismissal.”
In 2021, at least 24 institutions saw no-confidence votes in their leaders. That may seem like small potatoes, given the thousands of higher-education institutions operating in the United States. But according to data reviewed and compiled by The Chronicle, that’s the highest number in recent history. Seven years out of the last eight have seen the highest number of no-confidence votes recorded.
Claiming its origins in the British Parliament, the no-confidence vote has become a mechanism for faculty bodies to express their dissatisfaction with the people who run their institutions — and, increasingly, with things that aren’t people at all. How effective are such votes? What do they say about the state of the faculty? And what do they really signify?
A common assumption about the apparent rise of the no-confidence vote is that it’s just another example of a restive — or overly reactive — faculty, says William G. Tierney, a university professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and founding director of its Pullias Center for Higher Education.