The University of Western Georgia (UWG) President Brendan B. Kelly remained optimistic about his ability to lead the school on Tuesday a day after the faculty passed a resolution without commitment and confidence in its leadership.
“We will figure out ways to make it work,” Kelly said in an hour-long online meeting Tuesday with a group of editors and reporters from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Faculty leaders have criticized several decisions Kelly has made since becoming president of the 13,419 student school in mid-March after holding leadership positions at the University of Carolina system. South. They complained about the plan he has implemented that has restructured some departments and cut teachers’ classroom teaching time. He shared outdated information about the university’s finances and did not thoroughly discuss their concerns in meetings.
Kelly suggested some faculties are struggling to adapt to changes he said are needed to remodel the university, especially as it goes through the coronavirus pandemic. State leaders forced the UWG and 25 other Georgia College System schools to cut their budgets by about 10 percent this fiscal year.
Kelly argued that progress was being made, saying enrollment has increased by about 200 students this semester, and the freshman retention rate is nearly 73%, about 4 percentage points higher. Then last year.
However, the lecturers voted 263 to 129, with 55 abstentions, who did not trust his leadership. Asked why there is a gap between him and the faculty who voted in favor, Kelly replied, “I can’t fully answer this question. I wish I could.”
The referendum is part of an effort by the faculty to intercede with the State Board of Regents, which oversees schools’ operations in Georgia’s university system to intervene. Only the Georgia Board of Regents has the authority to remove Kelly. University System of Georgia said in a statement that he and the board “wholeheartedly support President Kelly and his work to lead UWG through enormous challenges.” The student government association has also expressed support for Kelly.
Many college presidents regularly meet with faculty under “shared governance” arrangements to discuss school finances and academic programming. Disputes over shared governance have led faculty members of several colleges across the country to assume distrust of their presidents, said Adrianna Kezar, director of the University of Southern California’s Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California.
Kezar said faculty members at many colleges were frustrated by their presidents’ unilateral decisions during the pandemic. Faculty members at several schools in Georgia have signed petitions and expressed their displeasure with plans to reopen the fall semester, mainly that they needed an administrator’s approval to teach all of their courses online.
Kezar said voices from the West Georgia faculty vote shows “something very wrong is happening right now.”
“This certainly does not bode well for the president moving forward, and it will take some repair work,” Kezar said.
Kelly believes that the recent hiring of the university’s second-most senior position, her provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs, will be an essential step in improving working relationships with faculty. The position, which is intended to manage the educational activities, has been open for over a year. The new provost, Jon Preston, who worked as a dean at Kennesaw State University, will begin on December 1.
Daniel K. Williams, chairman of the university faculty Senate, said he hoped the resolution would lead to more productive discussions with Kelly.
“I sincerely hope President Kelly pays attention to this vote and use it as an opportunity for a positive change in his relationship with the faculty.”