By Hannah Lester
A group of over 1300 met by a virtual webinar for an Auburn University Faculty meeting to discuss a vote of no-confidence in Auburn University Provost Bill Hardgrave on Jan. 12. However, the vote was never held.
A motion for the vote was discussed at a previous faculty meeting in November but did not proceed. Tuesday’s meeting, however, was called specifically for the vote of no-confidence.
After a lot of confused chat messages, clarifications by panelists and several votes, the meeting ultimately ended without the vote of no-confidence.
Here’s how it went down:
A petition was created by a faculty member, which read: “As an Auburn University faculty member, I hereby petition for a Special Meeting of the University Faculty, scheduled as soon as possible, to discuss and vote on the motion of no confidence in Provost Hardgrave, which was made and seconded in the 11/10/2020 Special Meeting of the University Faculty.”
The meeting began with some technology problems since the meeting had to be moved from zoom to a webinar since there were over 1300 participants at one point.
Only faculty members could vote, not University Senate members, said Gregory Schmidt, secretary of the University Senate.
Hardgrave provided some opening statements before a vote was considered.
“Last year, January 2020, we started the semester with such optimism for a new year and a new decade,” Hardgrave said. “None of us could have imagined the swift and immediate impact the coronavirus would have on our world and on our roles as teachers and researchers.”
The provost praised the faculty for their adaptation to pandemic teaching.
“We did this out of a mutual respect for our roles as educations, of shared love of our institution and a genuine concern for the well-being of our students, faculty and staff,” he said.
Hardgrave said that the no-confidence vote is a personal attack and will not benefit the university.
“If taken, this vote will hurt our faculty recruiting, student recruiting and our ability to recruit new leaders,” he said. “It may hurt our student enrollment and when that happens, it hurts faculty too.”
The university is holding more in-person classes than in the fall and Hardgrave said the decision was based upon the previous semester’s success.
Michael Stern, an economics professor and the faculty member who originally called for a vote of no-confidence in November, interrupted Hardgrave with a point of order to say that Hardgrave was being given privilege by being allowed to speak on the issue before the motion was made.
A Q&A was held to allow faculty to ask Gogue or Hardgrave questions.
Duha Tore Altindag asked Hardgrave how the vote would hurt the university.
“It suggests, perhaps, that we are not pulling together, that we are not one, that we are not the Auburn family,” Hardgrave said.
Elena Aydarova cited high numbers of COVID-19 cases and the city of Auburn’s request to follow the safer-at-home order and asked how the university is addressing concerns.
Gogue responded that the University Senate leadership met Monday with Auburn Medical Clinic Director Fred Kam and the university has decided to offer remote instruction the first two weeks of school.
The decision is made on a class-by-class basis. Faculty can choose to hold their class remotely if they want, but do not have to.
The school may decide next week to continue remote instruction through the third or fourth week, Gogue said.
“There are lots of studies out there and we certainly try to depend upon Dr. Kam and state health officials as well, but we also have from the CDC reporting that campuses are safe,” Hardgrave said.
Thomas Burch said that Hardgrave said in the fall that if COVID-19 stats remained the same, the semester would begin remotely. Stats may be even higher, however, Burch said.
“So part of the discussion was should we go everybody remote and then start two weeks later and the concern there was that if there was an across-the-board remote then students would not come back at all to campus,” Hardgrave said. “They would go to the beach, wherever, or stay wherever they’re at and then come back in droves when we went back in person. And that was not ideal, because what we want … is that if we can get students back and create a bubble then we can hopefully reduce the spread of COVID.”
The meeting moved from Q&A back into discussion of the vote.
There was a faculty member, Luke Oeding, who said he objected to the vote, but Stern again said that the motion had not even been made yet.
Stern called for a motion in November but said he had not made an official motion.
Don Mulvaney, University Senate President, began a reading for what he said the motion was that was given in November but Stern again called for a point or order and said that the motion was not given in writing at that meeting in November and was therefore not official.
Luke Oeding made a point of order to say that the motion was carried from a prior meeting and should not be valid and again objected to the vote.
A vote was held to consider the motion for a vote of no-confidence and a majority voted to uphold the objection. However, faculty was confused on what the vote meant.
Oeding again objected to the motion and the panelists said there would be a revote. Stern appealed to the assembly and again said that the motion is not official and therefore can’t be objected to.
So a vote was held to see if the assembly agreed to whether there was a motion made at the November meeting.
“Yes vote — sustain the decision of the chair that it was the motion made at the last meeting; A NO vote means that there was no motion at the last meeting,” was written in the meeting chat. “Motion: motion of no confidence in Provost Hardgrave, which was made and seconded in the 11/10/2020 Special Meeting of the University Faculty.”
A faculty member asked for clarification on whether or not a motion could be spoken, rather than written, and the panelists said that a motion could be spoken.
The majority of the faculty, 80% voted that the motion existed, 8% said the motion did not exists and 12% abstained.
Mulvaney said this meant Oeding’s objection was also upheld and called for adjournment.
Some panelists said that now the faculty needed to vote on Oeding’s objection but Mulvaney said there was overwhelming agreement to Oeding’s objection beforehand, despite confusion.
Sommers said a revote on Oeding’s objection was called for, however, due to confusion.
The faculty voted on whether to adjourn the meeting and 46% voted to adjourn, 44% voted to continue the meeting and 9% abstained.
Mulvaney said that although technically they could end the meeting, they would hold a revote on Oeding’s objection to the motion.
Seventy-one percent (732 faculty members) voted not to consider a vote of no confidence, while 23% (237 faculty members) voted that they would like to consider a vote of no confidence. Six percent abstained.
The meeting was ended and a vote of no-confidence in Hardgrave was never held.