About 89 full-time faculty members at Point Park University voted Wednesday to issue a vote of no confidence for President Paul Hennigan. The vote passed by a narrow margin, with 53 percent in favor, 44 percent opposed and 3 percent abstaining.
Faculty who supported the vote say that under Hennigan’s leadership, "The university has neglected to create a culture of diversity and equality for all members of the campus community." They also claim that the president has refused "to retain an acceptable proportion of full-time to part-time faculty, as well as [refused] to pay full-time faculty a salary competitive with their peers."
The vote comes as Point Park faculty are finally taking steps forward with union negotiations after several years of struggle.
Point Park faculty began trying to unionize more than 10 years ago, officially electing to do so in June 2004 along with The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh. The university appealed the election with the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals, but eventually it decided to drop its challenge after several years of inactivity.
Then this week, just hours after the vote of no confidence, it was announced that a tentative contract between the representatives of the faculty union and Point Park had been reached.
However, according to John Shepard, a theater professor at Point Park, a union contract won’t solve all of the problems that the no-confidence vote addressed. “Even if we’d had the contract we were thrilled about at the beginning of the summer, I still would’ve wanted this vote to happen,” Shepard says.
The seven grievances listed in the “Rational for No Confidence” were discussed and updated with input from faculty at the meeting on Wednesday. They include points such as: “under Paul Hennigan's leadership, the University has failed to create, foster, and maintain a consistent structure and management format to support the university's academic mission”; and “under President Hennigan's leadership, the University has erected a top-heavy administrative and hierarchical structure that devalues transparency and diminishes faculty and student input, fostering an environment of distrust.”
Shepard says a lot of the concerns centered around lack of communication and transparency between administration, faculty and students. For example, he cites an instance two years ago when 34 staff members were unexpectedly let go from Point Park over the summer, which he believes negatively impacted student services.
“As far as I’m concerned, and I think as far as the entire faculty is concerned, it’s all about the students,” Shepard says. "They’re the ones paying the tuition, they’re the consumer."
Shepard, who chaired the committee that constructed the list of grievances for the no-confidence vote, says that he doesn’t know what will happen next, as the results of the vote are in the hands of Point Park’s Board of Trustees. He also says he and many faculty aren’t out to get Hennigan fired.
“I think the whole purpose behind this vote was to bring light to these issues,” Shepard says. “It puts the people in power on notice that we’re watching them, and that if they don’t change their ways, we’re not going to back down. I’m just glad that we’ve gotten this information out there, and I really hope that things will be different, and that people will take our sentiment to heart, and that they will possibly make some changes.”
The unionizing process has proven to be more difficult for Point Park faculty than it was for the university’s adjunct professors
, who elected to unionize with the United Steelworkers in June 2014 after about two years of organizing. Unchallenged by the university, bargaining between administration and the adjunct union took 10 months to reach a first contract.
The Board of Trustees at Point Park University released the following statement in response to the vote of no confidence.
“We recognize this vote comes in the midst of the final stages of contract negotiations,” said Joseph R. Greco Jr., chair of the Board of Trustees.
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to acknowledge receipt of the vote taken by the full-time faculty. During the 12 years of Dr. Hennigan’s presidency, the Board has heard high praise and positive feedback regarding Dr. Hennigan’s leadership from students, parents, donors, alumni and community leaders. The board has received two professionally administered faculty evaluations of Dr. Hennigan that were positive.
“We recognize the need for continuous improvement and trust in building effective relationships between faculty and administration. We are committed to our goal of being one of the most dynamic, private urban universities with an intense focus on student success through distinctive, innovative and experiential learning.
“The Trustees, nevertheless, understand and accept its responsibility for the governance and leadership at Point Park University, and will appoint an independent expert to thoroughly review this matter and report back to the Board. Until that review is complete, President Hennigan and the administration have the full support of the Board of Trustees."
Additionally, Lou Corsaro, managing director of university marketing and public relations, sent the following statement regarding negotiations with faculty:
“Point Park University has reached a memorandum of agreement with the Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America on a contract subject to ratification by the full-time faculty. The University believes it is a fair agreement for all parties.”