Professors’ union endorses no-confidence petition against Lefton

Carrie Blazina

• The last time Kent State took a vote of no confidence against a president was against President Carol Cartwright in 1999. According to the Faculty Senate minutes archive, of the 650 returned ballots, 396 expressed confidence and 254 ballots expressed no confidence.

• Though the vote was unsuccessful, even a successful vote of no confidence does not mean a president is removed from power or that anything at all happens.

• In Cartwright’s case, she started as president in 1991 and continued until 2006. By contrast, Lefton started at Kent State in 2006 and is approaching the start of his sixth calendar year as president. Cartwright was in her eighth calendar year as president when the vote against her came up.

Kent State’s professors’ union’s council voted in a meeting last Friday to authorize its president to ask members for a strike vote and to endorse a petition of no confidence against President Lester Lefton.

A vote of no confidence is an indication from the faculty they do not support the actions of the university’s president, and it can cause the president to resign or the Board of Trustees to question the president’s leadership.

Kent State’s branch of American Association of University Professors, AAUP-KSU, acts as a union representing all of Kent State’s professors at its main and branch campuses. It has tenure-track and non-tenure-track branches.

According to the meeting minutes, which were circulated in an email, the unanimous motion allows the president to ask members for a strike vote “at such time deemed appropriate following consultation with and agreement by both the bargaining team and the executive committee.”

The motion essentially gives the president the authority to poll members as to whether they want to strike or not, and if it votes to strike, it is up to the council whether it chooses to strike. The email minutes say the vote could be taken during the summer.


View the petition


No Confidence Talking Points

It is unclear when the email refers to “the president” whether it means Kara Robinson, the tenure-track president for the current academic year, or Christopher Fenk, her recently elected replacement for the upcoming year.

Robinson did not respond to an email request for comment and clarification. Emily Vincent, director of university media relations, said in an email statement, “We continue to negotiate in good faith with AAUP, and we are confident in reaching a successful resolution that satisfies all parties.”

In an interview with George Garrison, a Pan-African Studies professor, earlier this week about negotiations, Garrison said the Kent State AAUP has never gone on strike in the 17 years he has worked at the university.

Wendy Kasten, a professor of teaching, learning and curriculum studies, said in an interview earlier this week about negotiations she remembers the AAUP voting two bargaining sessions ago (meaning negotiations for the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement) to authorize a strike. That strike never came to pass, she said, because the negotiations were settled soon after the vote was taken.

The petition, which the council unanimously passed a motion to endorse, reads:

“As a faculty member at Kent State University, I wish to express no confidence in the leadership of University President Lester Lefton, especially with regard to his flagrant disregard for provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, failure to abide by final and binding arbitration, and his conduct of negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Kent State University faculty.”

The drive to sign the petition was scheduled to start Wednesday, and signers hope to present the petition at the May 7 Faculty Senate meeting. The email minutes show both non-tenure-track and tenure-track faculty can sign because the petition is not limited to just the AAUP.

According to the Faculty Senate charter cited in the petition, if the petition reaches 100 signatures from full-time faculty members, “the Faculty Senate shall submit the issue initiated by the petition to a vote.”

The petition asks for the vote to be conducted by the entire faculty rather than just the senate and that faculty respond to the poll within 30 days of receiving the right number of signatures.

Negotiations between the university and the AAUP have been going since July because the professors’ contract expired in August.

Contact Carrie Blazina at [email protected]