Expert: Pattern emerging here

Brennan Stebbins

A national expert in no-confidence votes at institutions of higher education sees a familiar trend emerging at Missouri Southern.

Mae Kuykendall, a professor of law at Michigan State University, said when a faculty threatens or carries out a vote of no confidence in a school leader, one reaction almost always follows: the president and his or her supporters claim those unhappy with the president are just resisting needed change.

“It’s a standard response and they use the very fact of the reaction against somebody to claim they’re doing a good job,” Kuykendall told The Chart. “It happens over and over again.”

In a June Q&A with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kuykendall wrote that many presidents claim they are “challenging an entrenched organizational culture that requires bold intervention.”

“The president and his or her allies cite the call for ouster as evidence of stellar performance,” she stated.

Kuykendall said in an interview this week that one fairly common response to a no-confidence threat is for the governing board to support the president it hired.

“It’s fairly common that the instinctual reaction of the board is to support authority,” she said. “He’s sort of like their guy in a way.

“What I say in what I wrote is it’s not uncommon then sometime within a year he goes away quietly because they do a settlement.”

Kuykendall believes that no-confidence votes often work in bringing about situational change, especially in smaller institutional settings.

“If they say the person who is supposed to be the leader is incapable because he’s damaging the leadership position and we no longer respect him, in some ways it’s a truism,” she said. “Once they say we don’t support this person, we don’t have confidence in this person, elementary social logic tells you the situation is not workable.

“The people who are responsible for the mission are saying this person is inappropriate and incapable, and to say this person is doing a good job is almost a deep rejection of the entire institution,” Kuykendall added.

Board of Governor’s member Dwight Douglas said during the board meeting last week he was concerned about a lack of procedures provided by the faculty senate in their investigation into a possible no-confidence vote.

“In this country we believe in due process and fairness and it’s based on written procedures so that everybody knows the rules before you go in,” Douglas said in an interview before the Board went into closed session. “We’re already to the point of talking about a preliminary report, when on Aug. 31 I got a letter from the president of the faculty senate saying his group would develop procedures.

“Let’s not get the cart before the horse,” Douglas added. “Let’s get procedures. Let’s assure everybody in this process has an opportunity to review what’s done and to respond to it.”

University President Bruce Speck later said he shared the same concerns.

“I think Dwight Douglas raised issues of procedures that do concern me because I don’t know there is a clear procedure here,” Speck said. “Certainly they’ve talked about procedure, but I don’t know, I’ve not been given a written procedure. I’ve not been told you’ll have so many days to respond or any of those things, as we would normally have in, say, a faculty handbook for faculty members.”

Kuykendall said, however, that no-confidence votes typically have no formal procedures, and a lack of procedures is often used as a defense.

“I began to see it’s a standard script, they always attack the procedures by which the vote happens,” she said.

“They always attack the motives of whoever’s participating and trying to make them petty,” she added. “It’s always a generic charge.”