A letter to all VA faculty
April 25, 2023
Dear Fellow Faculty,
On Thursday, April 13, the Faculty Senate of James Madison University convened in a special session to consider a resolution of condemnation concerning the (most recent) actions of Provost Heather Coltman. The debate was thoughtful, frank, and instructive. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Faculty Senate approved the resolution by an overwhelming majority.
Though the complete Resolution of Condemnation of Recent Actions of JMU’s Provost is available on the Faculty Senate’s Canvas page, a few assertions are worthy of specific attention. The resolution notes that “the provost’s silencing actions have exacerbated a culture of fear and systemic intimidation, producing among many faculty a chilling effect on their willingness to communicate concerns about JMU governance.” Equally importantly, the document suggests that the provost has created “a growing culture of distrust among faculty towards the provost’s office.” These claims are serious and suggest the need for a thoughtful response from the Provost.
And indeed, immediately following the Faculty Senate vote, Provost Coltman was offered several opportunities to take responsibility for the continued and rapidly widening chasm of distrust between her office and faculty. In lieu of inviting faculty into meaningful conversations about increasing shared governance, Provost Coltman ignored her responsibility for creating an environment in which a lack of collaboration, an absence of shared governance, and a tendency toward opacity have become the modus operandi of her office (see Resolution of Condemnation). Provost Coltman offered only public platitudes, while – bafflingly, since it comes on the heels of the Condemnation – professing a desire to “continue [sic] to partner” with faculty “in constructive and collaborative ways” (The Breeze).
In subsequent remarks made to the JMU Board of Visitors’ Committee on Academic Excellence (April 20th, 2023), the Provost claimed that she has spent six years “reinforcing a line of ‘explicit, linear, transparent, consistent communication’ between administration and faculty members.” The Provost also asserted that the foundations for these efforts are her commitment to “collaboration, openness and civil discourse” (The Breeze). And finally, the Provost suggested that the cause of the current level of discontent with her actions (amply attested to by the COACHE and 2021 Campus Climate Study as well as the Resolution of Condemnation) is a failure on the part of the faculty to commit to “much needed and transformational change” (The Breeze).
This “interesting” description of the record and the origins of faculty discontent ignores the Resolution of Condemnation, denigrates the faculty’s capacity to think critically about higher education, and infantilizes the professoriate by treating them as children in need of constant reminders about who knows best, who knows what is right, and who knows what is good. When viewed in light of the Resolution of Condemnation of Recent Actions of JMU’s Provost, is the Provost attempting to gaslight members of the BOV, as well?
Writing on his blog “Still Not Sleeping,” long-time JMU employee Joe Fitzgerald noted that some years ago, Provost Coltman answered the question about her thoughts on the way JMU operates by stating “The newcomers say, ‘Oh my God!’ and the old-timers say, “What’s wrong?’”
Indeed, what is wrong?
We invite you to help us answer the question about faculty’s next steps at the JMU-AAUP’s next Social Hour. We will once again meet at Pale Fire Brewing on April 28 at 3:00 pm. We invite all AAUP members, friends, JMU faculty, and guests to join us in a celebration of faculty unity, conversations about the future, and the approaching end of the 2022-23 academic year.
We also invite you to visit JMU-AAUP’s website and read and comment on a newly uploaded letter from three faculty emeriti (Russ Smith, Economics; Bill Ingham, Physics; and Jim Leary, Chemistry) on How President Alger Might Improve Faculty-Administration Relations.
These are momentous times. Let us not allow the end of the semester and academic year to time out important questions and conversations about shared governance, transparency, and the centrality of faculty to the university.
Thank you and we sincerely hope to see you at our upcoming Social Hour(s), and on our chapter’s website at aaupjmu.com.