Spurred by the administration’s unpopular plan to reorganize academic divisions, faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design voted “no confidence” in President John Maeda and Provost Jessie Shefrin by a margin of 147 to 32 March 2.
The no-confidence vote comes as the result of a series of grievances against the administration, according to Mark Sherman, chairman of the Faculty Steering Committee. “The overarching issue is perhaps the president and provost having consistently and willfully ignored the advice of faculty, especially department heads and deans, when undertaking major changes that affect academic instruction,” Sherman said.
Three weeks ago, the administration announced an academic reorganization plan merging the Division of Architecture and Design and the Division of Fine Arts into a single Division of Undergraduate Studies, said Henry Ferreira, president of the Full Time Faculty Union. He said the administration violated the Full Time Faculty Contract in laying out the reorganization plan. The proposal should have first gone through an elected faculty curriculum committee and then to a full faculty vote.
“There is a process in our contract that the administration knows about and did not follow,” Ferreira said. The faculty union plans to enforce the contract.
“The union met with the administration before the vote of no confidence and told them they could either rescind their decision or the union will go forward with a grievance,” Ferreira said. If the administration does not respond, the issue could go to a board of arbitration that would determine whether the administration violated the contract.
“President Maeda and Provost Shefrin have heard the point of view of the faculty and take it very seriously,” said RISD spokeswoman Jaime Marland.
“President Maeda and his administration continue to have the full support of RISD’s Board of Trustees,” said Merrill Sherman, chair of the Board of Trustees, in a statement. The faculty, which requested a meeting with the Board of Trustees following the vote, is waiting to hear whether the board will meet with them.
Students have also weighed in on the controversy. The Student Alliance voted to release a statement asking for more cooperation between the faculty and administration the same day as the no-confidence vote. “We are concerned by the lack of communication from both parties and request an open dialogue that we wish to be included in,” said Undergraduate Student Alliance president Naomi Mishkin.
RISD freshman Lauren Allegrezza said she stands with the faculty because she knows and respects them. Students created a website calling for student support for the faculty. A statement on the website ends, “RISD is not Maeda. Maeda will not be RISD.”
“The (Strategic) Plan is well-meaning and aspirational,” said Peter Simon, a RISD senior. “Most of the disagreement was based off of longstanding communication issues between faculty, students and administrators.” He said he hopes the controversy serves as a catalyst for improving communication within the school.