Faculty Senate votes against censuring Shibley in midst of larger debate

The censure resolution is settled, while larger questions about shared governance remain


The Faculty Senate decided by a two to one margin not to censure Dean Robert Shibley in a closed ballot Tuesday, following an hour of contentious debate between faculty members and administrators.

After they raised dozens of issues –– from whether or not the Senate had the right to pursue this grievance, to the dictionary definition of the word ‘typical’ –– both sides agreed the censure case rested on incomplete information. The result was a vote of 43 opposed to censuring Shibley, 15 in favor and three senators abstaining. The censure case is closed, but questions about accountability, transparency and confidentiality in the hiring and firing of professors remain unanswered.

Faculty members on both sides of the issue disagreed over the renewal process and the role of the Faculty Senate at the university and some feel the Senate mishandled its deliberations.

The Senate members were voting on whether to censure Shibley and the School of Architecture and Planning after a subcommittee found he mishandled an assistant professor’s dismissal. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee proposed the censure resolution after Shibley and Provost Charles Zukoski ignored their request to reinstate the assistant professor.

The issue took on heightened importance after the Senate learned the former professor became seriously ill and was without adequate health insurance.

Deborah Chung, an aerospace and mechanical engineering professor, spoke in favor of censure at Tuesday’s meeting. The situation was a “Catch-22” because the School of Architecture and Planning withheld information surrounding the case, Chung said, arguing that the resolution couldn’t be voted on because the Senate didn’t have all the information.

Chung also expressed concern over UB Provost Charles Zukoski’s presence at the meeting. She said it would have been more appropriate if the provost, who is the school’s top academic officer, had stepped out.

“Though we keep talking about Dean Shibley, this case is intimately tied to our provost. Without his consent, the non-renewal would not have happened,” Chung said. “And our provost is here, which it makes it very difficult for people to be willing to say something in the open in a situation where the provost, who is in such a high position of authority on this campus, is involved intimately with the case and intimately with the side of the case that Dean Shibley is on.”

Senate Chairman Phil Glick also accused the provost of attempting to “intimidate and bully” the Senate prior to Tuesday’s vote.

Paul Zarembka, grievance officer for UB’s United University Professionals North Campus chapter, accused Shibley of making the non-renewal decision without receiving an official report from the department chair, which made it impossible for the professor to pursue a grievance through her union.

“There’s a very important step that was not undertaken at all,” Zarembka said. “If the department had made a recommendation to the dean, we would’ve had a grievance at UUP. There was nothing. So what do we have here? We have simply, the dean making a decision arbitrarily without any input. That’s a terrible way it seems to me, to run a professional organization.”

The contract between UB and pre-tenure faculty members contains an article that allows for pre-tenure professors to be dismissed without any justification. This leaves the majority of faculty members vulnerable to a practice that Glick called “a terrible condition of employment.”

Glick said he hopes this debate will inspire faculty members to work more aggressively with their union to improve this aspect of their contract.

“How do we expect to hire people, retain people and to have people grow developmentally if they’re living under this potential threat?” Glick said.

Shibley said he agrees it is difficult to dismiss a professor without explanation, but it is “best practice in employee relations” for a reason, he said. He doesn’t like the policy, but it becomes necessary.

“I understand it [because] there’s never a good reason from the perspective of the person who’s not being renewed,” Shibley said. “So how do you make [the rest of the process] fair for them? You make the support system as strong as possible when you’re here; you look for them to be reflective and to be continually improving in significant ways towards the goal of being renewed, looking to tenure. Those are all conversations that happen in a supportive and nurturing environment, but ultimately somebody’s got to make a decision that is not so supportive and nurturing sometimes.”

The practice is only one part of a much larger debate over whether the School of Architecture followed agreed-upon policies when it made its decision.

Professors involved with the case insist the tenure-track schedule at issue was meant only as a “typical” promotion timeline, and does not constitute official policy or bylaws.

The subcommittee disagrees. It found in May the dean did not follow a tenure-track schedule which was presented to the professor when the dean made his decision before receiving a full report from the professor’s mentoring committee.

“The law is what it is, but that’s not what we were fighting about,” Glick said. “What we were fighting about is that the School of Architecture and Planning clearly had a tenure-track schedule provided to the faculty member when she signed her letter of intent to come here in good faith that these policies would be followed. They didn’t follow that. And interestingly enough, as soon as this became controversial, they took that tenure-track schedule down off their website because they knew it was legal jeopardy for them.”

Shibley said he was disappointed the matter reached the Faculty Senate. He feels the Senate sought to revisit issues that had already gone through proper checks and balances.

The Senate grievance committee’s chief complaint wrongly championed “form over substance,” according to Shibley.

The Architecture School is a tight-knit community where professors are observed regularly, Shibley said. Shibley said there was regular communication among Chair of Architecture Omar Khan and professors Beth Tauke and Despina Stratigakos and the mentor committee before he made his decision.

Shibley said he takes renewals very seriously and feels every nonrenewal decision is a “personal failure” on his part.

“It’s tough,” Shibley said. “It’s the hardest thing we do. And I really take the point, but what I don’t accept is that the way to attack that practice is to censure the school that’s following the rules given to it with regard of how to process a non-renewal.”

“Are there sufficient checks and balances and procedures for both the review for nonrenewal and the opportunity for appeal; and are those procedures explicit and clear enough that we have confidence that they’re fair and equitable? Ask that question –– don’t start by censuring the school for complying with the procedures. I think that’s a reasonable question always to keep checking and asking about.”

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com