Russi to hold open forum with faculty

Oakland University faculty members will get a chance to discuss their grievances with the administration in an open forum with OU President Gary Russi at 4 p.m. Thursday. 


Shea Howell, communication professor and chair of the communication and journalism department, met with Russi last Tuesday and requested that he call an open forum with the entire faculty.  


Howell said Russi told her that he hadn’t realized the degree to which people perceived him as isolated. 


The American Association of University Professors arranged a trio of meetings this week to discuss a “bill of particulars” compiled by an anonymous group of faculty as well as what questions they would like to pose to Russi. 


The first of these meetings was held Monday at 3 p.m. in the Oakland Center. 


During the meeting, the faculty raised questions about the “administration’s bunker in Wilson Hall,” the lack of a faculty liaison to the board and a host of other issues that were brought to a head during the OU-union negotiations, which led to a job action that postponed classes for a week. 


Members spoke of an “adversarial atmosphere” that had been created over the years, dating back to a 2001 report produced by a committee to look into the way OU’s budget was allocated. 


“Everything comes from the president’s office,” said Joel Russell, chemistry professor. “That’s not the way other universities are ran.” 


Russell said OU has millions in reserves while many departments have to dip into gift funds to buy essential items such as chemicals for the chemistry lab and the tuition rate continues to rise. 


Faculty also expressed concern over whether it was Russi, the board of trustees or Victor Zombardi, vice president for legal affairs, who ran the university. 


“It’s clear … that there are problems with other areas,” Howell said, but Russi is the main focus because as the president, “he is the person responsible for our university.” 


AAUP is organizing a vote of no confidence for Nov. 23-30. The vote will be online and confidential. 


The 15 faculty members present at Monday’s meeting expressed a lack of confidence in the administration, but listed concerns over what will happen after the vote or if it fails. Others wondered how to go about engaging the entire faculty, as well as students, in the process. 


One faculty member said the question was simple: “Do you have confidence in this administration?” 


Christopher Clason, modern languages professor, said it’s a problem of whether Russi can take OU to “the next level.”


Russell said people are approaching Thursday’s forum with an open mind and could be persuaded to reconsider the vote, but “it’s up to the president at this point.” 


“There’s not one person that takes any pleasure in this,” Clason said.


AAUP will meet again Thursday, at 11 a.m. in Lake Superior Room A and in the same room Friday at 1:30 p.m.