Professor: ‘Enough is enough,’ who wants Russi out?


The beginning of a faculty uprising against Oakland University President Gary Russi came out of an AAUP general membership meeting last week.

The professors’ union meeting served as a platform for a discussion that physics Professor David Garfinkle said was a long time coming.

“A bunch of faculty deciding enough is enough and the president is doing a bad job and we need to take a vote to see if all, or at least a majority, of faculty feel that way,” Garfinkle said.

According to an e-mail sent to the AAUP mailing list, Garfinkle and communications professor Shea Howell are taking up the task of organizing a vote of no confidence. The vote is planned to be done online, confidential, and possibly before December 1. Garfinkle said the desired outcome of the no confidence vote would be for Russi to leave office by either the board of trustees that appointed him or by resignation.

Last Wednesday, however, OU media relations issued a press release quoting numerous board members on their trust confidence in Russi’s leadership.

“Dr. Russi and his cabinet have already demonstrated extraordinary leadership in an economic climate that has not been this bleak since the Great Depression,” the press release quotes board chair Dennis Pawley. “We have every reason to believe they will successfully guide the university through whatever challenges lie ahead.”

The press release may have been a preemptive strike against what was sent out by the faculty for the vote of confidence.

“The first step is to go ahead and articulate what the case is,” Garfinkle said, referring to a “bill of particulars” outlining grievances with the president and his administration. An adversarial atmosphere, preventing direct contact between faculty and the board of trustees, failure to provide information on the medical school, and others are listed on the bill.

A whole other document on shared governance was also sent out in the e-mail. “The past few years have seen persistent and continuing assaults on shared governance, open communication and the eroding of trust between the faculty and Gary Russi,” the document states.

Editor’s Note:

Stay Posted, The Oakland Post will update this story as more sources are interviewed and more information comes to light.

Below are the attachments in the above mentioned e-mail and the OU press release:

Bill of Particulars

We, the faculty no longer have confidence in the leadership of Gary Russi.

He has established an administration hostile to basic academic values, undermining the integrity of our academic mission. He has encouraged polices antagonistic to faculty, disdainful of shared governance and hostile to members of our community. He has become increasingly isolated, relying on narrow legal advice that has brought routine functions of the university to a standstill, eroded morale and squandered resources. Decisions are made behind closed doors, Board of Trustee meetings have been reduced to empty rituals and his own personal gain has replaced concern for student welfare. This situation does not serve the best interests of the university or the public.

In particular

Gary Russi has promoted an adversarial atmosphere between his administration and faculty and staff. He and his administration do not support shared governance and have made every effort to dismantle long agreed upon processes and procedures for shared decision making.

Gary Russi is increasingly isolated and distant from campus life, shutting himself off from guidance and counsel outside of a narrow circle of non academic advisors.

Gary Russi’s administration has consistently and knowingly acted without the legal and normal advice of the University Senate on matters of academic policy—to wit, presentations on the state of the OU budget but no request for input on annual budgetary matters; the announcement of collaborations with other schools in social work and pharmacy; and the presentation of the medical school after the agreement was made.

Gary Russi has refused to acknowledge the contributions of LGBT faculty and staff. He has refused to endorse the concept Other Qualified Adults, making Oakland the only state-supported university in Michigan to relegate LGBT faculty to a separate lower status position.

Gary Russi has fostered conditions that prevent direct contact between the Oakland University community and the Board of Trustees. Oakland University unlike most state-supported universities in Michigan does not provide contact information for its Board of Trustees; one must go through General Counsel’s office. Oakland University Board of Trustees members are appointed on behalf of the people of the state of Michigan and their isolation fosters decisions in contradiction to larger university and community interests.

Gary Russi oversees a centralized budgetary process that is opaque, without input and deviates from standard practices at other institutions. Budgeting priorities appear dictated from a single isolated source.  This lack of transparency and consultation severely hinders the ability of the institution to achieve its full potential.

Gary Russi has failed to provide substantive information to the Oakland University community concerning the establishment of a private medical school, the Oakland University-William Beaumont Hospital School of Medicine, on our state-funded campus.

Gary Russi presided over our 9% tuition increase at the undergraduate level. This increase was not only the highest in Michigan, but was also one of the highest increases in the country.  Gary Russi has not provided a justification for this rise in tuition. This is a failure of communication to the campus and the community at large.

Gary Russi accepted a 40% increase in salary, gave salary increases and promotions to several Vice Presidents, then froze all other salaries; destroying any notion of shared sacrifice for the benefit of the institution at large.

Communication, consultation, trust and transparency are vital to successful leadership of an academic institution.  Oakland University is now suffering from an unhealthy failure of leadership by Gary Russi.

The Failure of Leadership At Oakland University

Faculty play a central role in institutional decision making with regard to instruction, curriculum, budgeting, and policy formation. Miller (1997) described the faculty involvement in governance as vital to institutional success and related to more positive attitudes toward reaching an institutional affinity (Bai, 2003).

The concept of governance has become a central theme in the examination, study, and practice of higher education. Something other than “management” and “academic leadership,” governance relates to the process and product of creating policy and making decisions related to the welfare of the college campus. On campus, for governance to be shared, there must be a recognition of trust and importance, reasoning and logic, and willingness to confide in the ability of others (Miller & Pope, 2003).

Miller and Seagren (1993), in what later turned out to be the initial National Data Base on Faculty Involvement in Governance (NDBFIG) research project, identified the issue of trust between faculty and administrators as perhaps the most resistant barrier to shared authority (Miller & Pope). Trust is not automatic: Trust must be earned both by faculty and by academic administration. The academic administration search process is not enough to establish mutual and high levels of trust. Trust, beyond this initial level of respect must be earned and the earning of trust is often predicated on early and frequent demonstrations of being trustworthy (Borland, 2003).

“Process” is a critical factor when attempting to build trust between faculty and academic administration. Academic administrators need to quickly understand the traditional informal processes of governance on campus as well as the formal processes. Faculty wish to be trusted and wish to find academic administration trustworthy in regard to their word and the process.

Process can be as or more important than product when it comes to shared governance. To act when faculty are not on campus, to foreshorten dialogue, to skip a step in the process, to withhold information, and so forth, even for the common good, can reduce levels of trust between faculty and administration. It is important to establish and maintain as thorough a process as possible or a We/They attitude will develop (Borland, 2003.

The points above suggest that creating effective academic decision-making processes is a complex and difficult undertaking. It is not uncommon to hear criticisms that it cannot keep up with the demands of a fast-paced, constantly changing environment and must be restructured to stay relevant. The shortcomings of academic decision making are that those presses are inclusive to a fault, result in decisions that can easily be vetoed by a small majority, and are often derailed or at least confused by other seemingly peripheral issues. Critics of academic decision making want efficient processes that lead to outcomes.

However, improving the efficiency of academic decision making may not increase its effectiveness. Efficiency and effectiveness are two organizational objectives that in campus governance more often may be at odds with one another than compatible, regardless of how often they are linked in everyday conversation. Organizations can be effective without being efficient, and they can be efficient without being effective. In a vote, we choose effectiveness.

The key to genuine shared governance is broad and unending communication. When various groups are kept in the loop and understand what developments are occurring within the university, and when they are invited to participate as true partners, the institution prospers. That, after all, is our common goal (Olson, 2009).

The past few years have seen persistent and continuing assaults on shared governance, open communication and the eroding of trust between the faculty and Gary Russi.  If anyone doubted the retrenchment of this administration to the value of shared governance, that doubt was laid to rest during the recent contract negotiations when the administration attempted to have governance removed from the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  Indeed, that issue was the last issue to come off the table.  The lack of respect for shared governance has been reinforced with the administration’s refusal to promote a transparent process in establishing the School of Medicine.  Finally, in recent years, the adversarial atmosphere of the OU administration towards the AAUP, the difficulty settling issues “in house” and the lack of respect for the CBA forces faculty to conclude that there is a failure of leadership that can no longer be tolerated or supported.

Bai, K. (2003). The national scene: Faculty involvement in governance. In M. T. Miller & J. Caplow (Eds.), Policy and university faculty governance (pp. 19-30). Greenwich, Conn.: Information Age Pub.

Borland, K. W. (2003). The relationship between faculty and academic administration in goverance functions. In M. T. Miller & J. Caplow (Eds.), Policy and university faculty governance (pp. 85-94). Greenwich, Conn.: Information Age Pub.

Eckel, P. D., & Kezar, A. (2006). The challenges facing academic decision making: Contemporary issues and steadfast structures. In M. T. Miller & J. Caplow (Eds.), The shifting frontiers of academic decision making : responding to new priorities, following new pathways (pp. 1-14). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Miller, M. T., & Pope, M. L. (2003). Leadership in faculty governance: Choice, mandate and default. In M. T. Miller & J. Caplow (Eds.), Policy and university faculty governance (pp. 45-57). Greenwich, Conn.: Information Age Pub.

Olson, G. A. (2009, July 23, 2009). Exactly what is ‘shared governance’? The Chronicle of Higher Education.

OU Press Release

Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009

OU Board of Trustees encouraged by strong university leadership in difficult times

Rochester, Mich. – With concerns about the state of the economy and negative impacts that Michigan’s disinvestment in higher education is having on academic opportunities for students, members of the Oakland University Board of Trustees on Wednesday expressed appreciation for sound leadership that OU President Gary Russi and his administrative cabinet have demonstrated.

Board members pointed to a solid track record of protecting the university’s academic core – a slate of more than 250 undergraduate and graduate programs. Through prudent financial management, administrators also have avoided implementing layoffs and furloughs, and have gone to great lengths to keep a high-quality college education accessible to a broad base of students. In fact, Oakland saw an overall student enrollment increase of 4.1 percent this fall and had the largest jump in enrollment of first-time college students among Michigan’s 15 state universities.

“Here in Michigan and across the country we’ve seen a lot of very discouraging stories about how this recession has forced universities to cut back, and in ways that have really hurt students,” said Board of Trustees Chair Jackie Long. “For as long as I can remember, President Russi has made it a top priority to protect our core academic mission. We’re continuing to do this despite the challenges, and for that, I give President Russi a lot of credit.”

Board of Trustees Vice Chair Henry Baskin elaborated.

“I think the president and the vice presidents have done a phenomenal job of maintaining the quality of this university,” he said. “They’ve managed to take the limited resources we have – which in terms of state funding are among the lowest of the 15 state universities – and protect the integrity of this university by continuing to offer exceptional quality at a competitive price.”

The state’s economic climate has been far from ideal to support expansion of the university’s mission, but Oakland has moved forward with a number of crucial initiatives nonetheless. Administrators are working to open the state’s first new medical school in decades; build a 160,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Human Health Building; expand academic programs both on its main campus and on the newly established satellite campus in Macomb; and garner growing support for scientific research likely to benefit Michigan’s economy and the quality of life in the state and beyond.

Board of Trustees Finance Committee Chair Michael Kramer said the success of these initiatives indicates that the administration has performed beyond expectations.

“Oakland University has seen tremendous growth for more than a decade, and it has been growth across the board rather than in one particular program or initiative,” he explained. “That this growth continues in the face of our troubling financial situation is nothing short of remarkable.”

Lingering effects of the recession are expected to present additional and perhaps even more daunting financial challenges. Conscious that the most difficult times may yet be ahead, Board of Trustees members voiced confidence that Russi and his team will continue to minimize adverse effects to the greatest extent possible.

“Dr. Russi and his cabinet have already demonstrated extraordinary leadership in an economic climate that has not been this bleak since the Great Depression,” said former Board of Trustees Chair Dennis Pawley. “We have every reason to believe they will successfully guide the university through whatever challenges lie ahead.”

Russi, who began his tenure as Oakland University president in 1996, is presently under contract to serve through 2014.