ORONO – Pressed by one professor to express their lack of confidence in the head of the University of Maine System on Wednesday, an overwhelming majority of representatives of faculty at the system’s flagship campus chose to take less drastic action.
Instead, members of the University of Maine’s faculty senate voted to have some of the issues raised by professor Raymond Astumian examined by a panel of professors selected from faculty campuswide. The committee is charged with presenting its report at the next faculty senate meeting in October.
In a letter presented to the faculty senate Wednesday, Astumian claimed that UMS Chancellor Joseph Westphal forced the resignation of former UM President Peter Hoff this summer because Hoff voiced faculty concerns about the controversial UMS strategic plan. Westphal made the decision to force Hoff to resign without consulting UM faculty and should be fired, Astumian said.
In his letter he asked the faculty senate to take a vote of no confidence in Westphal and to call on the Legislature and the UMS board of trustees to terminate his contract.
Faculty Senate President Howard Patterson said the committee would talk to professors across the campus, “consider all viewpoints and decide where we as a campus go.”
Four faculty senate members abstained from voting on Astumian’s request, while 41 members present voted to send it to the yet-to-be created committee.
But a number of faculty members spoke against the allegations.
The strategic plan may not be perfect, said professor Habib Dagher, but “the chancellor … wants the campus to be the elite campus in the system. We have everything to win here if we work together with him.”
And professor Mario Teisl said it didn’t make sense for professors to be pushing for more say in the governance of the university system while calling for the chancellor’s resignation.
Interim UM President Robert Kennedy told professors that calling for the chancellor’s ouster “doesn’t promote the campus and wouldn’t be viewed well by people around the state.”
Alumni, community leaders and other supporters of UM in southern Maine told him that any motion suggesting negative action toward the trustees, the chancellor or the strategic plan wouldn’t be viewed well, especially at a time when the plan is specifically intended to enhance the campus, Kennedy said.
Patterson said he hoped that “out of the [committee’s] dialogue comes a better feeling about how we communicate with the chancellor.” Since the chancellor answers to the board of trustees, the real solution is “improved communication between the University of Maine and the chancellor and the board of trustees,” he said.
In an interview after the meeting, Patterson said he believes most faculty members want to move on. “Let’s not worry about spilled milk. Let’s move forward and take advantage of the positive aspects of the plan,” he said.