Tennessee State University's administration is disregarding a Thursday vote by the Faculty Senate to retain its chairwoman, whom the university's president had previously declared removed from the job.
At Thursday's meeting, the Faculty Senate narrowly rejected a call to remove as its leader Jane M. Davis, an associate professor of English who has been at loggerheads with the university's administration since earlier this summer. Going into the meeting, the administration held that the Faculty Senate's chairwoman actually was Veronica J. Oates, an untenured assistant professor of family and consumer sciences, based on votes taken at an August 20 faculty meeting called by the university's interim president, Portia H. Shields.
Ms. Davis and some other Faculty Senate members—including Elizabeth Dachowski, president of the campus's AAUP chapter—have argued that the August 20 meeting was not an official gathering of the Faculty Senate because it took place without proper notice, some faculty members on hand were no longer Faculty Senate members, and university police officers removed Ms. Davis from the room. They also have argued that votes taken there to remove Ms. Davis as chairwoman, and to replace her with Ms. Oates, were invalid because they did not follow accepted rules of order and the university's own policies.
The votes were taken after an online poll of the faculty conducted by the administration, and also denounced by Ms. Davis and her supporters as invalid, was characterized by administrators as having produced a 104-to-46 vote for Ms. Davis's removal.
Because the leadership of the Faculty Senate was in dispute, Ms. Davis handed the job of presiding over Thursday's monthly Faculty Senate meeting to that body's parliamantarian. Ms. Oates was on hand as the Faculty Senate voted, over the objections of members who wanted more discussion, on whether to remove or retain Ms. Davis as its chairwoman.
A Disputed Vote?
Adding to the controversy surrounding the outcome of Thursday's vote is that it may have hinged on a decision to reject a ballot as spoiled. Ms. Davis would have been removed from office if 16, or two-thirds, of the 24 Faculty Senate members on hand wrote "remove" on secret paper ballots. Fifteen ballots had "remove" written on them, but a 16th was tossed out because it was cryptically worded "No." Just seven Faculty Senate members voted to retain Ms. Davis as chairwoman, while one member abstained.
On Friday the university's communications office distributed to the faculty an e-mail from Ms. Oates that was written as if Thursday's vote had never taken place. In it, Ms. Oates, who as of Friday had declined requests for comment from The Chronicle, described herself as the Faculty Senate's leader. "I look forward to working on your behalf to accomplish the important goals for the Faculty Senate, including addressing curriculum issues, and finalizing revisions to the Constitution and Handbook," the e-mail said. Ms. Oates said she also looked forward "to working with everyone in a cooperative spirit to serve the needs and interests of the faculty and our students," and would be sending out an agenda for the next Faculty Senate meeting, in October.
In a statement e-mailed to The Chronicle on Friday, Richard DelaHaya, a university spokesman, said the administration held Ms. Oates, and not Ms. Davis, to be the Faculty Senate's chairwoman based on its online poll, the votes taken on August 20, and the opposition to Ms. Davis expressed by 15 Faculty Senate members in Thursday's vote, which he called "disputed."
"The university is simply reacting to three different expressions by the faculty that they do not wish to have Dr. Davis serve as Faculty Senate chair," Mr. DelaHaya's statement said. He declined to state the administration's grounds for rejecting the outcome of the vote taken on Thursday, saying "this is a Faculty Senate issue."
Ms. Davis could not be reached for comment on Friday. Ms. Dachowski, the AAUP chapter president, said the administration had not contacted her about its decision.