Last week, 89% of participating Ferris Faculty Association members voted no confidence in Provost Bobby Fleischman.
The articles of no confidence for the vote, which took place from Oct. 24 to Oct. 26, included a violation of faculty rights and shared governance, the undermining of teaching quality through increased class sizes, “autocratic policies” damaging faculty morale and a lack of administrative transparency.
“[With] the vote of no confidence, the faculty are sending a message to students and parents,” FFA Vice President John Caserta said. “We care about the quality education you’re getting. Also, that the provost does not have a right to interfere in… the quality of our classes.”
Tensions between FFA members and the administration came to a head in January, when online courses increased in capacity less than one week before the semester began. This reportedly affected the workload of over 200 faculty members and led to the filing of three association grievances and 60 individual grievances. All of these grievances were filed by Caserta and have been settled between the FFA and members of the provost’s office.
According to a letter given to the Torch’s editorial staff, the administration does not believe that the increase in course capacity violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement, as the class sizes were set through the standard curriculum approval process. However, it was acknowledged that “the timing of when and how the increases happened could have been better executed.”
Out of the 209 FFA members who participated in the vote, 23 did not support the motion. Fleischman expressed gratitude for the “outpouring of support” he has received from campus community members, including some from the FFA executive committee, as a result of this vote.
“I can’t get tied up in what a few people are doing,” Fleischman said. “It’s their prerogative. I don’t think [the vote] helps the institution. It doesn’t move us forward.”
For the first time in Fleischman’s time at Ferris, a Torch reporter engaged in a one-on-one interview with him.
“This is a new day and a new age,” Fleischman said. “And I now have permission that I didn’t have previously… It’s a change in leadership that has led to us being able to work together.”
In this interview, the provost explained that “despite challenges,” Ferris is still making progress as an institution. He highlighted the fact that the university managed budget cuts without eliminating any filled faculty roles.
The provost was charged with implementing a $11.2 million in mandated budget reduction in July 2020. Additionally, the office of Academic Affairs managed $4.7 million in budget reductions in the last academic year, $2.8 million in the fall and $1.9 million in the spring. Fall 2022 saw a $6.8 million reduction in tuition revenue compared to the previous fall semester.
Fleischman contests the assertion that he refuses to negotiate with the FFA. Also included in the letter from administration, the provost’s office remained willing to meet with the union until Feb. 4, 2021, when FFA President Charles Bacon canceled future contract maintenance meetings indefinitely. These conversations resumed in June 2021 with members from the provost’s office.
“We began these talks with Bobby when he first came,” Caserta said. “He didn’t like some of the answers we gave him in discussion. So, Charles Bacon said that it was no longer possible to be with [Fleischman] because he’s not solving any problems. So roughly for the last two years… he sends Steve Reifert, who’s the Associate Provost, to the meetings.”
After the grievance settlements and release of the vote of no confidence results, Fleischman is more focused on the future of his administrative duties than FFA affairs.
“I don’t know,” Fleischman said. “I’ve got the full support of the president, and I’ve got work to do. I don’t have the kind of time to get involved in people that are making false and defamatory statements.”
President Bill Pink expressed “unequivocal” and “unwavering” confidence in the provost in a letter to the editor.
“I now know firsthand [of Fleischman’s] deep commitment to student academic and social success while empowering our faculty and staff as leaders to champion high achievement for our students,” Pink said.
Both Caserta and Fleischman expressed that their main priority is the success and education of Ferris students. Updated information from the FFA will be reported on as it is released.