FARGO — North Dakota State University faculty have voted to start the process to remove its senate president after he and a draft letter suggested a vote of no confidence could be in the works for the school’s leader amid controversy surrounding a provost search.
On Monday, Oct. 12, the NDSU Faculty Senate voted 31-7, with 11 senators abstaining, to remove Senate President Carlos Hawley. A special meeting to discuss Hawley’s proposed removal will be held within the next two weeks, and a second vote will need a two-thirds majority — like was needed in Monday’s vote — before Hawley is officially discharged from his duties.
The vote comes after Hawley, a Spanish professor, and others criticized how NDSU President Dean Bresciani hired interim Provost Margaret Fitzgerald as the long-term choice. The top choice suggested by a search committee was unavailable to take the position until June.
A search committee suggested three other finalists were acceptable in filing the position, but Bresciani chose Fitzgerald, who had not applied for the position after saying she didn’t want the job on a more permanent basis.
In the end, Fitzgerald, who took the position in January, agreed to take the long-term job.
Faculty did not question Fitzgerald's qualifications, but some asked why she was not interviewed and presented for a public forum, which would have allowed the campus to participate in the vetting process. Others said Bresciani is allowed to choose whoever he wants for provost.
Bresciani said during the meeting it “seemed awkward, if not inappropriate,” to put Fitzgerald, who has been with NDSU for 32 years, through an interview process as if she was a new candidate with whom the university is not familiar.
Hawley called Bresciani’s provost decision part of “a pattern of blatant abuse of policy” in an interview with The Forum.
When asked what remedies the senate would look at, and whether that would include a vote of no confidence for Bresciani, Hawley said, “Again, we are in process, but I think that the term we are using with the most frequency right now is a vote of no confidence."
He noted invalidating the provost decision, which was on Monday's agenda, would be the primary option.
According to a draft letter intended for North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott, senate leadership was prepared to sign a letter that, if approved, would signal a no-confidence vote against Bresciani. The draft obtained by The Forum also would have asked that the provost search be reopened.
However, a vote to remove Hawley took up most of the meeting’s time, and a potential vote on the provost search and Bresciani was postponed.
David Ripplinger, an agribusiness and applied economics professor who sits on the senate, told The Forum he hadn’t planned on asking for a removal vote on Monday. He talked with other faculty who brought up concerns, and he said that made him wonder why Hawley was the senate president.
“It just seemed as if the actions that Carlos was taking were simply out of line with his role as president and that he was taking certain things upon himself,” Ripplinger said.
He added he didn’t feel informed about Hawley’s decisions related to the provost search and said he felt Hawley’s suggestion for a vote of no confidence against Bresciani was a “done deal.”
Some defended Hawley, while others said his actions were equally — if not more — damaging than Bresciani’s.
“We do not need bad publicity at NDSU,” said Birgit Pruess, a senate-sitting professor in microbiological sciences.
She noted the legislative session is coming, and the school needs support from legislators. One contacted her about what is happening with NDSU’s provost search.
“I think this was a problem that could have been solved by communicating,” she said.
Others questioned whether Hawley's conflicts with Bresciani impacted the senate president's judgment.
Hawley said after the meeting that he respects the senate’s vote.
“You don’t win every fight, I guess,” he said.
During the same meeting, Molly Secor-Turner said she would resign, effective in December, as past president for the senate due to "not fully agreeing with the direction the faculty senate leadership was taking," she told The Forum in an email.
Some questioned whether the removal motion passed after 31 of 49 senators at the meeting voted "yes," since it needed a two-thirds majority. Initially, Parliamentarian Ali Amiri said the motion failed, but others said the 11 abstained votes shouldn’t count toward the total vote.
After some debate, Amiri reversed his decision and said the the abstaining votes didn’t count toward the total, meaning 31 "yes" votes of 38 deciding votes meant the motion had a two-thirds majority.
The senate also passed a motion to create an ad hoc committee to better define what shared governance is and to lay out responsibilities and rights for faculty and administrators, Pruess said.
That would hopefully deescalate the current situation, prevent problems of this kind in the future and be a less aggressive approach than others, she said.