Full Faculty Confirms CSUSB President No Confidence Vote

Moving on toward a year since state college faculty members took issue with the leadership of Cal State San Bernardino President Tomás Morales, that criticism has intensified. For at least some outsiders, the contretemps has boiled down to a question of whether Morales has actually fallen short in his stewardship of the university or whether, as his defenders maintain, he is being unfairly maligned for other reasons, including, some say, because of his ethnicity.
Morales, the former president of the College of Staten Island within the City University of New York, was brought in to succeed Al Karnig as as president of California State University, San Bernardino in 2012.
In the spring of 2016, faculty members at CSUSB conducted a “campus climate survey” among themselves. While CSUSB has an academic staff of 470, the survey went to campus employees generally. Some 756 responded to the first phase of the 2015 survey. That survey found, the faculty members said, “there are significant problems with morale on the CSUSB campus.” The executive summary of the survey, released on March 7, 2016, said, “Employees have lost confidence in the campus leadership … that top leadership has not communicated a clear direction… that input is neither sought nor considered by leadership in the decision making process [and] that senior management does not act with integrity.” The summary said “the downturn in morale on campus has largely been attributed to top leadership” [and] “senior management plays favorites, does not value or respect employees, is seen as ineffective, engages in abusive or uncivil behavior, and lacks authenticity.”
Nevertheless, the first phase of the survey reflected that “A small proportion of employees indicated that they liked the new leadership, its direction, and thought that senior management had the best interests of the institution at heart.”
In phase two of the report, released on May 10, 2016, the executive summary said, “Bullying appears to be widely practiced on campus – a quarter of the respondents had personally experienced bullying and more than 40 percent had witnessed bullying. Comments show that key perpetrators of the practice tend to be those in powerful positions [and] many employees on campus characterize their work environment as threatening, or do not feel safe expressing an honest opinion for fear of inviting retaliation from management.”
For a majority of the university’s faculty senate, Morales’ efforts over the last half of 2016 and the first four months of 2017 to redress the concerns expressed in those surveys were insufficient, and on May 9 the faculty senate passed a no-confidence resolution on Morales’ leadership, by a 21-15 vote margin.
Even before the vote, there were suggestions that there was a racist element to the criticism of Morales. The university’s student body is predominantly Hispanic. More than two-thirds of the faculty is Caucasian. The issue of Morales’ performance has therefore produced charges and countercharges of ethnic bias, with some of Morales’s defenders claiming he is being singled out for undeserving criticism because of the underlying racism of many of the faculty members, who resent the trend in California higher education toward a more diverse, and in particular a more heavily participating and represented, student body and faculty. At the same time, at least some of Morale’s detractors do not hesitate to point out that the objection to Morales is intended to alleviate a situation that is harmful to that majority Latino student body and that the claim of racism is an illegitimate attempt to neutralize the criticism of Morales that borders on racism itself by suggesting that Morales should be held above approach based entirely on his ethnicity. They have said any defense of Morales should be constructed with reference to his performance, which should include documenting how he has made positive inroads on the issues outlined in last year’s survey. The May 9 resolution called for a campus-wide no-confidence referendum to be voted on by full-time faculty members this week.
Today, the results of that vote were tallied, with 294 participating faculty members voting 181-113 to express no-confidence in Morales.
Karen Kolehmainen, president of the faculty senate, took exception to the suggestion that Morales’ ethnicity was driving the criticism of his performance by the broad spectrum of educators at the college. A number of faculty members, including ones who were openly and highly critical of Morales and others who were less pointed in their expressions of disappointment in his leadership and some who were supportive of him, expressed doubt that Morales’ ethnicity had any bearing on the criticism he is facing. Some said that the “race card” was being played in his defense.
Kolehmainen has gone on record to the effect that Morales has purposefully driven a wedge between elements of the faculty, creating factions among the university’s professors.
Notably, Morales has made no public utterances to suggest there is a racist component to the negative reviews of his presidency. The charges of racism have come, nonetheless, from an entrenched number of his supporters and allies, nearly all of whom are Hispanic themselves.
As to the claim that he is being held to a higher standard as an educator because he is Latino, Morales’ critics have denied that. In its inquiries, the Sentinel has encountered reactions from CSUSB faculty to indicate that support and criticism of Morales cuts both ways in terms of ethnicity, such that there is no clear ethnic divide on attitudes with regard to the president based on race or ethnicity. That is, Morales is supported by both Caucasian and Hispanic faculty members and he is also held in lower regard by both Caucasian and Hispanic faculty members.
Morales’ support network includes several professors in the education department, among them Lynne Diaz-Rico and Enrique Murillo, and English professor Juan Delgado. While substantial numbers of the faculty supporting Morales are Latino, all supporting him are not. And the converse is also true. Some of the university’s professors who voted in support of the vote of no confidence are Hispanic. They echoed the complaint that Morales is not tolerant of dissent and can be vituperative toward staff. “I do not support President Morales,” one Latino professor told the Sentinel. “Please do not quote me.”
The most recurrent complaints about Morales are that a poisoned atmosphere now prevails at the university in which faculty members are excluded from the decision-making process and they are reluctant to speak out while the decisions are being made and afterward for fear that their careers or tenure will be harmed.
Morales’ supporters say that much of the faculty is resistant to change and are unjustifiably threatened by the policy and procedural shifts that have occurred since 2012.
“With the faculty-wide vote now behind us, I look forward to collaborating with all my colleagues across campus, as well as the students we serve, to bridge our differences and work together in support of our common mission,” Morales said. “My pledge today is to work harder than ever, building toward an effective and productive future., making sure we honor our past, reinforce our strengths, respect each other, and continue to position CSUSB as an inspired and relevant leader in higher education.”
Just prior to his hiring as CSUSB president in 2012, Morales was subjected to a vote of no confidence at the College of Staten Island on many of the same grounds he is now being criticized for. Both Morales and then-College of Staten Island Provost William Fritz had “proven themselves incapable of effectively leading the College of Staten Island,” according to a resolution of no confidence voted upon by the College of Staten Island Faculty Senate on March 22, 2011 which passed 31-23. According to that resolution, Morales and Fritz had exercised poor judgment in the choice and evaluation of administrators, the rejection of elected chairs of academic departments, and had not effectively or responsibly administered the City University of New York’s mandate to ensure students obtained degrees. As has now occurred in San Bernardino, some members of the College of Staten Island faculty subsequently surfaced publicly to support Morales.
Kolehmainen told the Sentinel that the level of support for and opposition to Morales reflected within the faculty senate matches the support and opposition of the faculty generally.
“There may be a slight variance but the attitude of the faculty senate is pretty closely representative of the faculty as a whole,” Kolehainen said. The implication of the faculty senate’s vote of no confidence and the full faculty’s confirmation carries no inherent authority in forcing the state university system to terminate Morales. “This is only a symbolic statement,” Kolehmainen said. “Neither one is binding in any way. But it clearly shows we think there are a series of problems on campus and that they need to be addressed.” -Mark Gutglueck

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