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RISD president receives no-confidence vote

In the aftermath of seven months of contract negotiations between the Rhode Island School of Design's full-time faculty union and the school's administration, President Roger Mandle is facing fierce criticism from RISD's department heads.

According to a document dated Oct. 31 provided to The Herald by union President Henry Ferreira, the department heads ratified a vote of no confidence against Mandle on Oct. 25, with 15 voting in favor, zero against, two abstentions and five absences.

"On Wednesday October 25th, 2006," the document states, "the Department Head's meeting took and passed a vote of no confidence in President Roger Mandle's leadership and administration of the institution."

Ferreira said what began as "a regular department meeting ... morphed into a discussion of Roger Mandle and his tenure" and culminated in the vote.

The document was drafted several days later to "explain the rationale" behind the vote, and it was later read at a meeting of the full-time faculty union, said Ferreira, who is head of RISD's printmaking department.

The document states that "disproportionate growth in the upper-level administration of the college has bred resentment and suspicion among the other constituencies at RISD."

"We submit our vote in attempt to make clear the profound concerns we have with respect to current administrative practices," the document states.

The department heads have concerns regarding Mandle's ability "to possess an appreciation for the academic status and goals of the faculty and students" and "lack of transparency with respect to financial decisions."

It also cites an "increasingly adversarial relationship" between the RISD Museum and the college.

Though Ann Hudner, director of external relations at RISD, has not seen the document, she called its message "unfortunate."

"(Mandle) is one of the most engaged presidents I've ever seen on a college campus," Hudner said.

Hudner also commented on possible motivations behind the vote.

"(The department heads) want to continue the voice that they generated when they were talking about (contract) issues," Hudner said.

The document criticizing Mandle was read at the faculty union's regular November meeting when the union was pushing to be more engaged in the creation of the school's New Strategic Plan.

"The Department Heads have asked to be more engaged in the dialogue ... and they have been engaged," Hudner said. "The Strategic Planning committee will have a broad base of about 200 people. The faculty as a whole will be engaged."

The goals of the last Strategic Plan, issued in 1994, were completed recently thanks largely to RISD's $110 million capital campaign, she said.

"Now that we've completed (the Strategic Plan) ... we're now looking at the next phase," Hudner said. This next phase includes planning and defining a New Strategic Plan.

In an e-mail to The Herald, Ferreira wrote that lasting tensions from the seven-month contract re-negotiation served as "a catalyst" for the vote of no confidence.

Hudner, who has been at RISD for 13 years, called the renegotiations this year "contentious" and "a little more aggressive than in years past."

"There should have been more dialogue," Hudner said.

Contracts at RISD are renegotiated every three years.

Ferreira stressed that the vote reflected the opinions of the department heads and not necessarily those of the faculty union as a whole.

When the document was read at the November meeting of the faculty union, there was "a mixed reaction," according to Ferreira.

"No one attacked the substance of the document. But there was some opposition to the document's presentation," Ferreira said, explaining that some faculty members perceived the meeting as the wrong time and place to criticize Mandle.

According to Hudner, the faculty response to the department heads' vote was "quite mixed."

"It was not received well by the faculty," Hudner said.

Last Wednesday, according to Ferreira, the department heads and five RISD administrators met with Mandle to discuss their concerns. Ferreira expects meetings later this month will further examine the department heads' criticisms.

"This will probably come up again," Ferreira said.

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