[Marxism] New School faculty revolts against war criminal President (not Bush)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 10 18:44:25 MST 2008

NY Times, December 11, 2008
Kerrey Gets Vote of No-Confidence at New School

Bob Kerrey, the Vietnam veteran and former Nebraska governor and 
senator known for his acerbic tongue and iconoclastic tendencies, 
earned an overwhelming vote of no-confidence on Wednesday afternoon 
from the senior faculty at the New School, the Greenwich Village 
university he has run since 2001.

Mr. Kerrey has clashed with some professors since the day of his 
appointment as the New School's president, with complaints that he 
lacks a Ph.D. and that his politics — particularly his early support 
for the Iraq war — were too moderate for the unabashedly liberal 
campus. But the underlying controversies became an open uprising this 
week after Mr. Kerrey announced that he would serve temporarily as 
provost as well as president after cycling through four provosts in 
seven years.

The no-confidence resolution, which has no direct impact but is 
intended to pressure the board of trustees to dismiss Mr. Kerry, was 
backed by 74 senior, tenured professors and opposed by 2, with one abstaining.

Afterward, many of the professors marched over to a scheduled meeting 
of the board of trustees to deliver a document denouncing Mr. Kerrey 
for making it "virtually impossible for the faculty to be properly 
involved in thoughtful and effective academic planning," and 
declaring that the turnover in the provost's office was "part of a 
larger pattern characterized by unilateral, impulsive and sometimes 
secret decision-making."

The trustees, according to a university spokeswoman, offered their 
unanimous support for Mr. Kerrey at the meeting.

Interviews with former provosts and senior professors indicated that 
conflicts over governance have ranged from the profound to the 
mundane: A few years ago, Mr. Kerrey dismissed an outside 
consultant's report recommending a separate budget for academic 
affairs, as many universities have; more recently, Parsons the New 
School for Design was blocked from printing hats and other items with 
a new logo because it was not the university's symbol.

Some said the disagreements were as much about Mr. Kerrey's style as substance.

"I came to the New School largely because I sensed that he was a 
charismatic, affable, charming person," said Arjun Appadurai, an 
anthropologist who was provost from late 2004 to July 2006 and is 
helping to lead the revolt. "I found that was one part of the style. 
But I also found there was another part that was impulsive, 
autocratic and produced an increasing sense of fear among those who 
worked for him."

The situation in some ways echoes the difficulties Lawrence H. 
Summers had as president of Harvard before he was forced out in 2006.

Like Mr. Summers, who is now President-elect Barack Obama's choice to 
be chief White House economic adviser, Mr. Kerrey was recruited in 
part for his star power and management acumen. And like Mr. Summers, 
he has often found university politics more difficult to navigate 
than electoral politics.

Mr. Kerrey, in an interview, acknowledged that the high turnover 
among provosts — the university's chief academic officer — was 
unusual and unfortunate, but he defended his decisions to replace 
those he deemed ineffective.

He said that much of the anger directed his way is rooted in more 
complex issues about the nature of the New School, which was once 
known as a haven for intellectuals fleeing Hitler's Europe and has 
long functioned more like a confederation than a university.

"I don't fear any vote that the faculty could take," Mr. Kerrey said, 
noting that the group meeting on Wednesday involved a fraction of the 
New School's 333 full-time and 1,733 part-time faculty. He said he 
has ruffled feathers because he is trying to "move from one kind of 
university to another kind of university," adding, "The problem at 
the New School is not necessarily me."

Mr. Kerrey, who is 65 and has a contract through 2011, said on 
Wednesday that he would consider appointing an interim provost if it 
seemed that the search would be prolonged, contrary to his e-mail 
message to the faculty on Monday that he would serve as acting 
provost after the abrupt departure of Joseph W. Westphal, a former 
congressman, assistant secretary of the Army and chancellor of the 
University of Maine.

Mr. Westphal left, after only three months on the job, to work on 
defense issues for Mr. Obama's transition team — a short-term job, 
raising questions about why he would not return.

Mr. Westphal, whom Mr. Kerrey recruited and who had won many friends 
on the faculty, did not respond to a message left on his cellphone. 
Mr. Kerrey, for his part, said: "I don't think it is legitimate to 
say to me that I do not have the authority to hire and fire my provost."

The faculty also voted no confidence in James Murtha, who since 2005 
has been the university's executive vice president, essentially the 
provost's counterpart on the business side. Because of the turnover 
among provosts, professors complain, power has been consolidated in 
Mr. Murtha's hands, limiting their role on curriculum issues like 
creating new courses, hiring, and tenure decisions.

"I think everyone has just had it," said Duncan K. Foley, an 
economics professor. "This administration's paralysis and dysfunction 
has reach a tipping point."

In some ways, Mr. Kerrey's tenure has been tumultuous from the start, 
with some professors suspicious of his lack of academic credentials, 
others critical of his penchant for catchy quotations, and still 
others offended by his calls in 2002 for regime change in Iraq, which 
he defended in a debate with undergraduates before a packed auditorium.

Mr. Kerrey said the most contentious issue has been his attempts to 
transform the way professors are appointed and tenure is granted. 
Dissenters, many of them refusing to be identified for fear of 
retaliation, complain about Mr. Kerrey's temperament and say he has 
placed the school's budgetary concerns over academic excellence.

Elizabeth Dickey, who served as Mr. Kerry's first provost and has 
since left the New School, said: "Bob Kerrey is smart and works hard, 
but he really didn't know academic life when he came to the New 
School and he had to learn. At most other universities, the academic 
life is seen as the mission and the academic life gets a big seat at 
the table."

The New School's instructors once included luminaries like Hannah 
Arendt, Leo Strauss and Aaron Copland, but in the 1980s and '90s the 
school was known more for its adult-education offerings than for more 
prestigious university work. Mr. Kerrey was recruited to build on 
work done by his predecessor, Jonathan F. Fanton, to turn disparate 
programs on fine arts and social sciences into a unified academic institution.

He has succeeded at raising the school's profile, stabilizing its 
finances, and increasing enrollment in degree programs to about 
10,000 from 7,000. But critics say he has emphasized enrollment and 
splashy initiatives like a proposed new building on 14th Street and 
Fifth Avenue over academics and shut them out from important decisions.

Mr. Kerrey lost part of his right leg in the Vietnam War and was 
awarded the Medal of Honor. He made a fortune with a chain of 
restaurants and health clubs in Nebraska. He served as the state's 
governor from 1983 to 1987 and as a senator from 1989 through 2000. 
He sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1992, flirted 
with another run for president in 2000, and briefly considered a run 
for mayor of New York in 2005.

Mr. Kerrey made no apologies for making hard business decisions that 
have most likely angered some faculty members. In the current 
economic climate, he said, he has instituted a hiring freeze and will 
probably eliminate pay raises this year.

But he views himself as battling an entrenched culture, where the 
various schools protect their turf even as he tries to create a more 
central authority. He said he expects a two-year effort to produce a 
faculty handbook with clear universitywide guidelines on key issues 
to be finished in the coming months.

He was unfazed by Wednesday's vote.

"If the board loses confidence in me, then I would move on with no 
hard feelings," he said. "If I went out and got hit by a bus, I would 
know it had been a great eight years."

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