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CSI defeats governance plan overhaul — for now

President Fritz retires after faculty pressure

Faculty leaders and PSC activists at the College of Staten Island (CSI) have won a key victory in the battle to preserve democratic governance at the borough’s sole CUNY institution. But it’s not over.

William Fritz, CSI president for nearly a decade, retired after two overwhelming votes of disapproval in the president and his proposals.
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The faculty and staff successfully organized a dramatic “no” vote, with 87% opposed to CSI President William Fritz’s controversial faculty governance overhaul to effectively end faculty-led governance at the college and place key decisions, traditionally within the faculty’s purview under the jurisdiction of the president or his designees. On the heels of this “no” vote, Fritz has announced his retirement at the end of 2021.

OVERWHELMING DISAPPROVAL

“This is a total surprise,” said PSC College of Staten Island Chapter Chair George Emilio Sanchez, noting that an earlier no-confidence vote was ultimately successful in pushing out Fritz. “It’s not a day too soon and years overdue.”

With his departure, Fritz’s controversial governance plan is now in flux. But the PSC chapter is confident that it will eventually be defeated, and faculty activists believe that Fritz’s ouster shows the strength of their organizing.

In March, Fritz announced a plan to “replace the existing College Council and Faculty Senate,” with “a unicameral body, representing the faculty, students, non-teaching instructional staff and administrators of the college, presided over by the president of the college.”

The proposal, as the Chief-Leader explained, “would also eliminate smaller committees such as the Academic Review Board Committee and a Committee for Higher Education Officers.”

Jane Marcus-Delgado, the chair of the CSI Faculty Senate, said the president’s governance plan was unpopular from the beginning.
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Faculty members were shocked when the plan first came out. “The feedback was overwhelmingly negative, off the charts negative,” said Jane Marcus-Delgado, the chair of the CSI Faculty Senate. “We did a straw poll; out of a 100 people there were like two people in favor of it.”

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY

And so the results of a referendum on the plan in late September came as no surprise: 87% of voters said “no.” In announcing the results of the referendum, Fritz appeared to be determined to drastically overhaul college governance.

“I am reviewing these results in the context of feedback I have received from various constituents throughout this process,” said Fritz, because “I remain deeply concerned about the College of Staten Island conforming to best practices in higher education and CUNY, campus climate, the lack of collegiality, and how to best ensure compliance with Middle States standards.” He added that “it is clear that governance at the College of Staten Island needs to be improved.”

In his letter accompanying ballots – he tellingly renamed the nonbinding referendum a “survey.” Fritz said his plan was based on principles that “acknowledge collegial governance and outline the distinct roles and responsibilities of all constituents, including the roles and responsibilities of academic deans” and “encourage broader representation of the campus community, through changes in practice, including term limits and limiting the number of committees on which one person can serve at any one time.” He said his changes would “empower committees to make decisions, which includes having their recommendations being made directly to the appropriate administrator,” although he did make clear that faculty governance would “have one unicameral body chaired by the president.”

AAUP INVOLVEMENT

Mary Rose Kubal, president of the New York State American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Conference, and Kimberley Reiser, chair of the conference’s Committee on College and University Governance, wrote in a letter to Fritz and other CSI and CUNY leaders, “It is not acceptable practice for the president of a college to write this document without significant faculty input and approval. The proposed governance plan systematically eliminates several standing committees such as college-wide budget, bylaws, and institutional planning with the stated intent to replace these when deemed necessary with ad hoc committees selected by the president. This is counter to recommendations of the AAUP to ensure faculty involvement at all times in such activities with properly elected faculty representatives.”

They also blasted Fritz’s indication that he may push forward with the plan without faculty approval in a referendum, saying, “This position runs counter to 50 years of college governance within CUNY and over 100 years of AAUP policies of college governance.” John Verzani, chair of the CSI college council, said in a statement, “The president should immediately withdraw his proposal, engage the college’s bylaws committee if he wants to pursue revisions, and begin mending the bridges he burned throughout this process.”

RESPONSE TO FACULTY

Fritz’s attempt to consolidate power must be understood as a response to actions of the CSI Faculty Senate in December 2020. Senators voted no confidence in Fritz and Provost Michael Parrish because they “did not articulate a clear intellectual or scholarly vision for CSI and have failed to provide leadership or consistent instructional polices, guidelines, or parameters during the pandemic.” They “approved and allowed online class sizes to increase against the recommendations of the Faculty Senate and the faculty in general,” and they “ignored the Faculty Senate Committee reports on research and technology submitted over the last two years.” The senate said that the administrators had “jeopardized the college’s financial solvency,”

Fritz’s announcement of his new governance plan came not long after this formal rebuke. While the administration has maintained that the governance plan is not related to the vote, many CSI faculty and staff see it as retaliation for the vote and an attempt to ensure that another such vote against the president or high-ranking administration official would be next to impossible to organize. Worse, faculty and staff fear that if Fritz’s plan is successful, a troubling precedent will be set for other colleges.

In his retirement letter, Fritz said that a “new team needs to decide if his proposals have merit, and to make recommendations to the CUNY Board of Trustees that they deem appropriate,” according to the Staten Island Advance.

Fritz said that he wants new CSI administrators to reform the college’s governance plan and CSI faculty activists believe they need to keep fighting even after the president retires in order to protect democratic governance at the school.

“I’m really encouraged to see how people are fighting hard,” Sanchez said. “We will put up a pretty big front.” He added, “we’re not stopping.”