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Bowie State faculty: Life under provost 'untenable'

Letters sent to the president of Bowie State University by its faculty association Monday describe an "untenable" campus climate under the school's new provost and question "who is in charge" at Maryland's oldest historically black university.

Faculty members last week took a vote of no confidence in Provost Stacey Franklin Jones and President Mickey Burnim. Both university leaders declined to respond to the faculty action at the time, saying they hadn't been officially apprised of the vote.

The state university system released this statement today:

"The chancellor [William E. Kirwan] has been made aware of the issues being discussed at Bowie State. Meetings have been scheduled with campus leaders, including President Burnim. Bowie State is a well-regarded historically black institution that plays a very special role in the USM as a growth institution. The chancellor remains supportive of Dr. Burnim and is proud of the many successes of the institution during his tenure."

Jones was hired last summer from Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., where, according to the Bowie State release, she served as senior vice president.

(A Benedict spokeswoman said her actual title was Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Sponsored Programs.)

Faculty members contend that Jones has upended the shared governance process.

They say she created a new academic program for all first- and second-year Bowie State students -- half the undergraduate population -- without input from faculty, and named a senior director to oversee the program without formally announcing the move or sharing the woman's credentials with faculty.

The letter states that Jones also placed "contingent" workers in several senior positions. That's bad, the letter says, because the contingent workers are hired on six-month contracts and do not submit applications or resumes to demonstrate their credentials.

Faculty allege that Jones has used "uncivil" language with faculty and staff, once sending an e-mail to faculty with the heading "Enough ... "

Writing to Burnim, Faculty Association leader Olusola Akinyele states: "You have allowed this situation to develop and thrive. The faculty does not desire any further collaboration with Dr. Jones."

The no-confidence vote in the president appears to be based largely on his support for the provost, and also on a suspicion among faculty members that Burnim has ceded control to her for major university initiatives.

"One of the thoughts of the Faculty Association was who is in charge of Bowie State University, you or the provost," Akinyele writes. "You did not appear to be aware of some of the major changes that were occurring on the campus."

Faculty members allege, for example, that Burnim professed ignorance about details of the provost's initiative for freshmen and sophomore students when he met with faculty leaders.

Faculty members told me last week that they took the votes after Jones declined to appear at a planned meeting to discuss faculty concerns. Faculty leaders have met repeatedly with Burnim.

One of the letters states that Jones "is not in favor of shared governance," citing faculty union documents.

A 2005 investigative report by the American Association of University Professors states that Jones played a role in a dispute at Benedict College that raised questions about academic freedom.

David H. Swinton, then president of Benedict, announced a new policy on student grading in 2002 that weighed academic work and "effort" in roughly equal measure. He asked faculty to grade students according to this formula, according to the AAUP document:

"First-year and sophomore students ... were to be graded according to a combination of their knowledge (as demonstrated by test scores and written assignments) and their effort (as shown by attending class, handing in homework, and participating in study and tutoring sessions). The grades for first-year courses were to allot 60 percent to effort and 40 percent to knowledge acquired. Sophomore grades were to be based 50 percent on effort and 50 percent on knowledge."

Some faculty objected, saying the policy would lead to passing grades for students who hadn't learned the material. Benedict administrators told them to follow the rules or risk termination for insubordination. Two professors were subsequently dismissed for refusing to follow the policy.

The role played by Jones in the grading episode appears to be that of enforcer, rather than initiator. Nonetheless, Bowie State faculty members told me last week that they are concerned that she intends to launch a similar effort at Bowie State, under the new first- and second-year program she has initiated.

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By Daniel de Vise  | October 26, 2010; 1:01 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Labor  | Tags:  Bowie State University, Mickey Burnim, Stacey Franklin Jones, no confidence Bowie State, no confidence vote BSU  
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