USFFA overwhelmingly votes ‘no confidence’ in Heller


In a secret ballot, 92% of the full-time faculty association voted no confidence in Provost Heller. USF FILE PHOTO

Annika Dahlberg, Holden Fatheree

Staff Writers

The full-time faculty union informed University President Paul J. Fitzgerald on Dec. 22 that they had “no confidence” in Provost Donald Heller as a result of a formal vote. 

The petition, entitled “Resolution: The Faculty of the University of San Francisco have No Confidence in Dr. Don Heller, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, University of San Francisco,” originally written and released in October 2019, gathered a sufficient number of signatures to trigger a union-wide vote late last semester. Members of the USF Full-Time Faculty Association (USFFA) completed an online secret ballot in December 2019. Over 80% of the University’s 469 full-time faculty members voted on the petition, resulting in a 92% vote of no confidence in Heller, according to a statement by Fitzgerald.

As the Foghorn reported last semester, the petition listed concerns about Heller’s ability to lead the University, including the provost’s lack of alignment with the mission of the University and inadequate communication about changes and policy for the University. 

In an email to the Foghorn, Heller said that he was “saddened, sorry, and reflective” following the USFFA’s vote. When asked about the steps he would take to regain confidence, he said, “I have learned a great deal [from the vote] and continue to reflect on what was in the USFFA petition and results of the vote of no confidence.” He apologized “for any for any mistrust or confusion that arose from my past communications with faculty and staff over implementing important policies and decisions.” 

Following the vote, Fitzgerald released a statement alerting the USF community of the result and outlined a plan of communication between himself and the faculty and staff, as well as Heller. In his following email, Fitzgerald also announced a “360-degree review” of the provost, as well as a review of the University’s administrative structure.

In an email to the Foghorn, Fitzgerald said, “I want to take a look at current operations and structures and think about how I can change them to best benefit USF students, faculty, staff, and alumni.” He stated that he would be announcing changes that he “hope[s] will enrich the experience of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni” in coming weeks.  

Initially, voter turnout was of major concern, as members of the USFFA expressed fear of repercussions for expressing their opinion. USFFA President Sonja Martin Poole seeked to alleviate some of the fear by having a third party vendor conduct the vote. “We did talk to Father Paul about [the feeling of fear]. He was aware of it,” Poole said. “We sent out a lot of communications reassuring faculty that we’re using a third party vendor for the vote, and how they voted would not even be known by the Faculty Association.”

Following the vote, USFFA leadership announced in an email to its members that the official union position is that Heller should be released from his position as soon as possible. It was stated “an overwhelming majority of full-time faculty simply have no confidence in his ability to lead the academic division going forward and in the interest of the common good, for faculty, staff, part-time workers, and students, the Provost should go. The legacy and credibility of the University leadership will be irrevocably damaged if the Provost continues in his position.” The USFFA also argued against Fitzgerald’s suggestion of a 360-degree review, stating that it would be a waste of “precious funds.”

Poole sees the vote as a mandate, stating over the phone that the “provost is an ineffective leader” who is inhibiting the University community from moving forward.

“It’s clearly in our mind a mandate. What we are saying at this point, and what we are reflecting post-vote, is that the faculty does not have confidence in our provost … They don’t have confidence in his ability to carry out our mission, lead us in carrying out our mission. And that spoke loud and clear with the vote. It’s not unclear with the will of the faculty.”

Professor Michael Stanfield, an organizer of the initial petition which led to the vote of no confidence, believes that one of the major difficulties with the provost is not an issue of communication, but one of overall administrative culture. 

“I hope [Fitzgerald] continues to engage the faculty, rather than just use the vote of no confidence as one measure of faculty input,” Stanfield said. “If he drifts towards seeing this as a communication problem rather than an administration problem, I think he’s missing the point.”

When asked about whether or not he sees Heller remaining in his current position, Fitzgerald said he was “grateful for the important contributions made to [the University] by Provost Heller” and is “carefully considering a path forward that will make the best use of [Heller’s] talents, experience, and strengths.” 

Heller said he is “taking the recommendations raised in the petition very seriously” and listed steps he has already taken to address issues, such as “appointing a faculty committee to manage an endowment for funding faculty work at Star Route Farms” and “posting agendas and meeting summaries of the Provost Council and Deans Council meetings to improve transparency.” He also stated that he is “refocusing [his] social media strategy to celebrate the achievements of faculty and students and celebrate news coming from USF.” 

The USFFA is looking to continue progress following the vote. They have expressed an openness and emphasis toward continued partnership between the USFFA and Fitzgerald in seeking resolution.

“This is not something that can be dragged on for the entirety of the semester or year. We have to know where we’re going,” Poole said. “To be in a state of uncertainty like that just causes more havoc. We just want to move forward at this point. We can’t move forward in a state where we don’t know what’s happening and there’s no move towards change.” 

Fitzgerald said that enacting a response to the vote of no confidence “is a top priority” and that he will be announcing decisions in coming weeks.

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