Catholic U. board proclaims confidence in leadership, responding to faculty revolt


Catholic University’s governing board asserted “great confidence” in the school’s leadership Tuesday despite a recent no-confidence vote from a sizeable bloc of dissident professors amid a plan to save money by cutting faculty.

Separately, university President John Garvey disclosed that the Charles Koch Foundation is giving Catholic $2 million to help open a branch campus in Tucson in 2019 with an eye to reaching underserved Latino students in Arizona.

These developments, coming at the end of a Board of Trustees meeting in Washington, emerged as a spotlight is on a school with more than 6,000 students and close ties to the Vatican. Catholic has faced financial pressure in recent years as undergraduate enrollment declined.

The board, which includes cardinals and bishops, unanimously approved a plan to cut spending in certain areas and raise it in others. The plan eliminates 34 positions from a full-time faculty of 391, officials said, to save $3.5 million a year, through retirements and other voluntary departures. Officials said there were no firings or layoffs.

That personnel squeeze will be offset in part by targeted expansions. The university will add 10 faculty positions starting next semester. The net result is a reduction of 6 percent. The plan also creates a school of music, drama and art, and envisions other steps to bolster teaching and research.

At the same time, the board sought to head off a rebellion by professors who last week reported that a significant portion of the faculty had voted no confidence in Garvey and Provost Andrew Abela.

“There’s a lot of positive things going on at this university,” board Chairman Joseph L. Carlini told The Washington Post. Carlini said fundraising is up and enrollment is ahead of projections, with 851 students expected in the incoming first-year class, surpassing a target of 835.

Carlini, a business executive who has been a trustee for eight years, said the board has “great confidence” in Garvey but acknowledged that the faculty complaints show the university faced “some sort of communication problem we’ve got to fix.” Garvey has led Catholic since 2010, and the board renewed his appointment this year.

On Monday, leaders of a group called the Faculty Assembly gave trustees a letter saying that a significant majority of more than 200 faculty members who participated in an electronic vote had expressed a lack of confidence in the leadership. The letter criticized Garvey and Abela for their handling of the debate on budget cuts, saying the two had disregarded faculty protections by claiming a right to fire tenured professors without cause.

“All the while they dismissed the input and perspectives of the faculty,” the letter stated. “Indeed, they seem unconcerned that an action like breaking tenure would do irreparable damage to the reputation of the University.”

The letter was signed by faculty members Linda Plitt Donaldson, Katherine Jansen, Michael Mack, Stephen McKenna, Venigalla Rao, Binh Tran and Julia Young.

Garvey and Carlini said the board approved 10 awards of tenure at its meeting. “We value tenure,” Garvey said. “Let me just say this entire academic renewal process was done without revoking tenure for anybody.”

Garvey called the no-confidence vote “an opinion poll that followed some difficult conversations we’ve been having this spring.” He said he foresaw a year ago that budget cuts would cause debate. “There was naturally a degree of unhappiness,” he said. “I don’t want to pretend this was an easy process.” He said the views of the dissident faculty members are “something we need to be sensitive to” but added that professors had been given input on the plans through the Academic Senate, a body of administrators and faculty members.

McKenna, an associate professor of media studies, said professors have questions about “finances, governance, management, executive salaries, lack of transparency and candor in communication, the whole direction and conduct of this leadership.” He also said news of the Arizona branch initiative was “surprising” at a time when Catholic is cutting faculty.

Regarding the Koch Foundation donation, Garvey said he is aware that billionaire Charles Koch is a controversial figure in higher education because he is also a major donor to conservative political causes. Skeptics have raised questions about Koch’s influence at universities that the foundation supports. But Garvey said Catholic will reserve control over faculty hiring decisions related to the Tucson project.

The project, Garvey said, will establish a presence for the university in a market that has many Hispanic and Catholic students. He said the mayor of Tucson and local church leaders back the initiative, and the university is collaborating with Pima Community College.

“This is a project we think serves the needs of poor and underserved Catholic populations,” he said.

Details remain to be determined, including target enrollment when the branch opens in 2019. The Koch Foundation has given previously to Catholic, including a $10 million gift announced in 2016.



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