BLUEFIELD — The Bluefield State University Board of Governors on Thursday addressed a recent vote of “no confidence” by some faculty members and approved a resolution to replace its Senate Faculty meeting model with an “assembly” model that includes all faculty.

BSU Pres. Robin Capehart said the change in moving away from meeting only with the Senate Faculty to hear concerns as well as the addition of post-tenure reviews, which passed the board in September with no opposition voiced to the board, led to the no-confidence vote by a “small group” of the faculty.

Tenure is often granted to long-term faculty members and adds an element of job security where they can usually only be terminated for a “justifiable cause or under extreme circumstances” as well as program discontinuation or severe financial restraints. A post-tenure review is an additional process that involves an evaluation of job performance among other professional requirements.

Board Chair Charlie Cole said he joined the board a few years ago to help save the college from closure and to restore it to prominence.

“Once on the board I discovered that the college was in fact in dire financial straits and in addition to that, many people in Charleston were hoping, if not advocating for, closure,” he said. “There were only a few months to act before closure would become a reality one way or the other.”

Cole said change is often difficult, but the board was determined to reverse a trend that was seeing the college on the road to closure and they hired Capehart in January 2019.

Under Capehart’s watch, he said the college is not only now a university but has accomplished many things, including increased enrollment, returned on-campus housing for the first time in more than 50 years, provided financial stability that was on the brink of collapse, tripled minority enrollment and brought back football as well as expand athletic programs.

“I could go on and on about the great things going on at BSU,” he said, adding that because of the many accomplishments he “enthusiastically” endorses Capehart, his cabinet and the board of governors.

“Now I understand that some members of the faculty have had a vote of no confidence for the president, some members of his cabinet as well as the board of governors,” he said. “Could it be that the reason for this vote was the board wants to move to a faculty assembly that allows for expanding the voice of the faculty, albeit in a different model, or could it be that the university has moved to post-tenure review requiring the faculty to update their … work on perfecting their craft in order to continue receiving tenure? Maybe it’s bullying this board and administration into getting their own way.”

Cole said that if any of those reports are true, “all it does is validate our reasons for wanting to make these changes. If anything, it will only strengthen our resolve to make changes that will continue to improve our university.”

Cole said there have been missteps, but making decisions inevitably means mistakes will be made. But there is “only one motivation here and that is to make Bluefield State University the very best institution it can be.”

For members of the faculty who cast a vote of no confidence, Cole suggested they ask themselves three questions: “Am I part of the solution or part of the problem? What have I done to make this university better? What have I done to make this community better?”

Cole said members of the board volunteer their time, money and business expertise for one purpose, and that is to make BSU and the community a better place.

“Understand this,’ he said, “the board runs this university, not the faculty. I would challenge all faculty to be part of the solution and let’s work together for the common good. However, if you truly have no confidence in this administration and this board then at least don’t be a hypocrite. Put your money where your mouth is. Retire or move on to another university that will provide the environment that you feel you are missing out on. Otherwise, get on board the BSU train and be a part of the great things that are coming.”

Capehart agreed with Cole and said he did not understand the vote considering how the university has grown.

“Mr. Chairman, let me say that we think you are correct in your determination that such an action (a no-confidence vote) was prompted by the imposition of post-tenure review and today’s proposal to provide the faculty a wider voice through the creation of a faculty assembly,” he said.

Capehart told the board that, considering all of the accomplishments the university has achieved over the last almost four years, he is “perplexed” why “such an action by – to my understanding — a small number of faculty” is being activated by an “even smaller number of faculty” and “does not represent the faculty at large.”

Capeheart said the purpose in making improvements to the way business at the university is done is driven “not by the theft of some imaginary authority that doesn’t exist; or impose policies that are solely to the liking of the administration or to the Board; or to make change for change’s sake – but for one reason – to solve problems.”

All of those recent achievements are “an indication that we did just that – solved problems,” he said.

The purpose of the post-tenure review and assembly meeting initiatives is to also address problems, he added, by “greatly, expanding the voice of faculty in campus matters through a more participatory body; and engaging in an ongoing process employed by nearly 60 percent of the colleges and universities nationwide that will provide accountability and assurances to students, parents and taxpayers that we’re attaining highest standards of performance – and, may I add, that was initiated on the recommendation of the Higher Learning Commission when discussing the serious problems we have in the business school.”

Capehart said it is his understanding that the vote was by a small group and did not represent the faculty at large

“Dr. Lewis (Provost Ted Lewis) and I are in constant conversation and consultation with faculty from all across campus on a variety of matters,” he said. “Both of us maintain an ongoing open-door policy. Just last Friday, we hosted a dinner for the new faculty who shared fresh insights and enthusiastic proposals to which we look forward to pursuing. The problem is that there are those on campus who believe that you are only talking to the faculty if you are talking to them. and that you’re only consulting with the faculty when you do what they say. We don’t share either view.”

Capehart said the university has “a lot of great faculty members who do a wonderful job – they love their students, they love teaching, and that’s their focus. Let us reassure them here today that we continue to welcome the thoughts, concerns, questions and suggestions of all faculty – and we do not cast aspersions on the faculty as a whole based upon the actions of a few.”

BSU Chancellor Rev. Garry Moore said change is usually “uncomfortable” but the university “cannot afford to stay where it is, it has got to be on the cutting edge of everything that is out there.”

“We are not a college,” he said. “We are a university. We need to start acting like a university.”

Lewis told the board that post-tenure review does not mean an end to tenure.

Rather, it has 11 different categories and requirements include faculty must engage in professional growth, as well as student and community engagement. It also recognizes faculty members who exceed the criteria.

The review will occur every three years for each member of tenured faculty and begin next year involving 14 faculty members.

No one spoke related to the post-tenure review but several did express opposition to the Faculty Senate change.

Carol Cofer, professor of nursing and former member of the Faculty Senate, said she has taught at BSU since 1981.

Cofer said one of the problems with the assembly meeting model is that faculty will feel too “intimidated” to address the full board.

She also said the Faculty Senate model actually “provides more opportunity to have a voice in institutional government.”

Cofer said meetings between the Faculty Senate and the board have not been frequent enough.

She also questioned if the board has the authority to make the change because such proposals must be initiated at the Faculty Senate level.

“I completely disagree,” she said of the board’s plan.

Dr. Amanda Matoushek, professor of psychology, also was concerned about the intimidation factor of faculty speaking up in a large meeting before the board.

“People feel intimidated and that they will be retaliated against,” she said. “You are not going to get open communication that way.”

She also said the Faculty Senate is trying to address any problems and wants to see communication with the board improve.

“The Faculty Senate is the best way to get open and honest communication with the faculty,” she said.

Matoushek also said the perception has been the board does not take advice from faculty.

Roy Pruett, professor of electrical engineering, suggested that the board leave the Faculty Senate in place and make an effort to improve communications.

“Leave it the way it is and give it a chance to function,” he said.

In response to some of the comments, as well as written comments submitted opposing the decision, Brent D. Benjamin, a former State Supreme Court Chief Justice who is now Executive Vice President and General Counsel at BSU, said it was his legal opinion that the board has the legal authority to make the decision.

“it is not even a remotely close call from a legal standpoint,” he said. “The board has the power and duty to determine, control and supervise the policies and affairs (of BSU).”

Benjamin said the board has the “duty to do what it believes is in the best interest of the school.”

Board member Bill Cole said there is “no desire” on the board to intimidate anyone.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “We have saved our college and we’ve done it together … Look at this as family … Why can’t we celebrate?”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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