The board of the union representing UB faculty and professional staff voted on Monday to remove Mike Behun as president of the organization.
The Buffalo Center Chapter of United University Professions (UB-UUP) – which represents approximately 2,400 UB employees – will now be led by Vice President for Professionals Tom Tucker on an interim basis.
Behun, who was elected by UUP membership in 2009 and again in 2011, sent an email on Monday to UB-UUP membership, disputing the board's decision.
"Democracy took a hit today…[The board has] no power to remove a sitting president willing and able to serve," Behun wrote. "They adopted new rules not in our chapter bylaws; I am just glad I do not need to walk the plank. But be assured they plan today's vote to be by ‘secret ballot for the comfort of all.' Typically the voters are able to vote in a recall."
The email was also posted on the main page of UB-UUP's website. It went on to say that UB-UUP Vice President for Academics Ezra Zubrow accused Behun of his "failure [to] meet [his] duties" a few weeks ago, at which time the board gave Behun two weeks to resign or be removed.
Zubrow would have became interim president of UB-UUP after Behun's removal, as he was next in line, but he declined since he is also chair of the Faculty Senate, which would be a conflict of interest for him. So the job fell to Tucker.
"What we tried to do is be as diplomatic and as democratic as possible with all this," Tucker said.
Tucker said that the board does have the power to remove a standing officer, needing a two-thirds vote to do so, and that Behun has the ability to contest the board's decision at a higher level (UUP is a statewide union). He said the disagreement was over differing interpretations of UUP's bylaws.
"I could read it one way; you might read it another…At this point, Mike doesn't agree," Tucker said. "The board seems to collectively agree that we have this ability to do that…This was not a personal vendetta against Mike…This was just something that the board felt, and it was the board's decision."
Behun told The Spectrum he was very surprised by the board's actions. He said the board used a technicality within the bylaws to oust him.
"The board used a portion of the bylaws to circumvent an election," Behun said. "This section is designed to allow the board to place an acting president in place of an elected one if I became incapacitated…In essence, the board has stolen an election from the members. They have lost any credibility they may have had. I am embarrassed by the actions of the board; as a member, I am outraged."
Behun said he is considering fighting the board's actions at the state level, but he has not decided anything yet.
Tucker indicated that there were specific instances of Behun not performing up to acceptable standards, but he declined to go into specifics, not wanting to make a statement as the brand-new acting president. He said the board would release additional information after its next meetings. Behun said the board was unhappy with his being away from campus often, but he explained that he was away because he was negotiating with the state on the union's behalf.
"I did miss some chapter events," Behun wrote to the union. "I believed meeting with the state took precedence over a chapter dinner meeting."
Behun's removal comes just weeks after the union passed a referendum demanding UB and its President Satish K. Tripathi to cut all ties with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and the Business Council of New York State – the local and state chambers of commerce. UB declined to do so.
But Tucker said that Behun's removal was "not at all" because of his handling of the referendum.
"Some people might not like the way Mike had handled it, but this was not a direct result of the referendum," Tucker said.