As a university we should always be focused on assuring student success and building on our reputation. The Faculty Senate plays an important role in this and in furthering our institution’s mission. The Senate is the body empowered to support and encourage respectful debates and exchanges of ideas on Oregon Tech’s academic mission. However, the recent actions of the Senate including the chaotic and embarrassing public display of their grievances are not aligned with the above. These actions are unacceptable, and we will not allow such actions to damage the future of the university, hurt the reputation of faculty and staff, and jeopardize the success of our students.
As rationale for the recent call for the resignation of President Naganathan, the Senate approved a report with many inaccuracies, including a preamble admitting: “While every point of this document may not be correct to the last detail, …”. To preface a list of accusations with an accuracy disclaimer is unprofessional and unethical. This report has misinformed faculty, staff, students, the media, and other organizations and individuals associated with Oregon Tech.
The purpose of this correspondence is two-fold: to identify and correct the basic inaccuracies in the approved Senate report and to bring to your attention that Oregon Tech is standing strong, when so many colleges and universities across the nation are struggling, with lay-offs, reduced programs, and some even closing their doors. We will continue to remain strong if we focus on our respective roles and provide constructive input through shared governance.
The Senate-approved report lists grievances purported to have occurred over the years, including several that were previously addressed. However, up until the university declared impasse with the faculty union, these grievances were not brought up in detail to the Provost or President during the many hours they met with the Senate Executive Committee (SenEx), and no elaborations were provided to address specific concerns. Many allegations in the report are listed with insufficient detail to address the same. For example, there are no details about the accusation regarding an individual faculty member’s tenure decision.
In the interest of brevity, we will not respond to every inaccuracy, but will rather address the report’s three broad topics:
1. “Disregard of existing Oregon Tech policies and the editing of policies without Senate approval.”
The caption demonstrates a misunderstanding of the fundamental concept of shared governance. Shared governance is a principle. It is not the purview of any organization or group. Shared governance engenders the input from, not decision-making authority of, university stakeholders, one of which is the Senate. Depending on the topic, the Senate should be given the opportunity to provide its input, and its perspective given significant weight, but the Senate’s role is not to approve every policy adoption or change. If such were the case, the Senate could effectively “veto” or “table” every action of the university, and the Senate would be the de facto operating oversight body of the university. While some Senate leaders may carry that impression from past actions of the Senate, such morphing of the Senate’s mission clearly violates its purview, which is the academic mission of the university.
The report asserts President Naganathan, on his own, edited the university policy on Chair Selection and Evaluation (OIT-21-030). This is incorrect. The President’s Council approved this policy revision on June 14, 2018 and presented it to President Naganathan for his approval, which he gave on June 16, 2018. The Senate, through its representative on the Council, was specifically invited by the Council to review revisions to the policy but chose not to do so.
The tenured rank granted to the President and senior administrators came with due review and support from the respective academic departments. The former senate president herself actively voiced her support to rescind the archaic 20-year-old policy restricting the granting of tenure to administrators. The practice of granting tenure to top administrators is standard practice within higher education.
As for the compensation policies, the administration cannot have detailed discussion or debate - as this is a topic of union negotiations. In general terms, however, faculty received raises in calendar years 2018 and 2019 and were offered a raise in calendar year 2020. This raise was turned down by OT-AAUP, the faculty union. The report does not mention the offers that have been made at the bargaining table, and instead refers to processes involving the Senate’s Faculty Compensation Committee.
2. “Lack of commitment to shared governance as established by the Board of Trustees Resolution No. 15-2.”
Resolution No. 15-2 specifically speaks to the centrality of the faculty in the university’s academic mission and the purview of the Senate in the academic mission. The resolution also refers to “Recognition by all University stakeholders of roles and their responsibilities in the efficient governance and administration of the University.”
The allegations ignore the equitable role and value of staff and student voices in the university’s shared governance, a role that was demonstrated clearly through engaging all stakeholders in shaping the university’s Strategic Plan and its goals and objectives, which set the university's priorities for the next five years.
A primary responsibility of the administration is to fill positions with the right talent. While faculty members participate in search committee processes including for senior administrative roles, search committees are not hiring committees; search committees are designed to recommend qualified candidates to the hiring authorities. President Naganathan has been consistent in requesting search committees provide the hiring authority with pros and cons for each candidate, and not ranked order recommendations. These are standard practices in higher education.
It is important to recognize that unclassified staff do not have career pathways for professional advancement as faculty and SEIU represented classified employees do. It is the responsibility of the supervisors and senior administrators at the university to recognize and reward talent in promoting qualified candidates to roles consistent with university needs and directions. It is not uncommon for unclassified staff to be assigned additional duties and to have their roles change over time. It is standard practice to periodically review position descriptions and compensations to assure workload is reasonable and pay is commensurate with the duties being performed. President Naganathan is a firm believer in this.
There are well-established human resource procedures in determining compensations consistent with job duties and Oregon Tech adheres to these standards. Those promoted among our staff received compensation increases with basis. The President personally addressed the importance of such advancements and the rationale behind the increase in administrative salary costs in a comprehensive presentation at a university wide Town Hall on November 11, 2019. The Board of Trustees also heard directly from some members of the faculty and respectfully addressed their concerns and assured them the finances and processes are appropriate.
In the complaint about the president’s move to the CEET building, reference is made to the Facilities Planning Committee. Like the Senate, the Facilities Planning Committee is advisory to the president. The CEET Visioning Report shared governance and visioning statements never were, and cannot be, a straitjacket to inhibit flexibility and adaptation. It is normal for the details of a major building to change between the time of initial concept, through design, and construction. As the needs of the University are dynamic, it is completely reasonable to alter roughly 3% of a floor plan to meet changing needs. Such decisions are appropriately made by administrative leaders.
3. “Failure to execute responsible fiscal management of Oregon Tech monetary, capital, and human resources.”
The report alleges misuse of funds without any basis. Such accusations are at the least unprofessional, if not unethical and borderline, defamatory. The Tuition Recommendation Committee process is well established and very transparent. It includes active participation from our student leaders as well as faculty and staff. The report complains of irresponsible fiscal management, but last year the faculty union analyzed on its own and described our university’s fiscal condition to be “solid”. As for the overall finances, Oregon Tech goes through independent, annual external audits which attest to the soundness and accuracy of our financial statements. Additionally, Oregon Tech has a robust internal audit function. An annual risk assessment is developed by auditors and presented for discussion and approval by the Board of Trustees. The assessment is a best practice and is used in planning and performing a variety of annual focused financial and operational audits to review financial transactions and ensure adherence to efficient and effective operating policies, practices, and compliance with applicable federal, state and institutional guidelines.
The purpose of this communication is to call-out and correct the basic inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the Senate-adopted report, and to convey that Oregon Tech is proud to be in a strong position with President Naganathan as its leader.
Our enrollments are stable, and our residence halls have been almost fully occupied, even during this pandemic year. Our Klamath Falls campus is seeing unprecedented capital and infrastructure improvements, our students are successful both academically and professionally, our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are clearly advancing, our service for veteran and military affiliated students are visible and strong, and our donors and friends are engaged philanthropically and caringly more than ever.
Our new strategic plan is titled Oregon Tech Together and we can achieve this togetherness when we also recognize that there is room for dissent and debates when addressed through respectful dialogue. We must commit to lead with questions, not accusations. We must be driven by facts and data, not emotions and suppositions. This is the time for rational and thoughtful voices among our faculty and staff to speak up clearly that they cannot and will not stand for disrespectful discourse.
As President Naganathan said in his remarks in the March 16, 2021 Senate meeting: “The past is a point of reference. The future is the destination.” This is the time we have to be proud of how strong we are as a vibrant public university in Oregon despite the uncertain times in higher education and spare no effort and energy in striving to build a better future for our students and our university. Let us be Oregon Tech Together. Thank you.