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Barnard AAUP chapter unanimously issues vote of ‘no confidence’ in Rosenbury

Originally published: Columbia Daily Spectator on April 27, 2024 by Maya Stahl (more by Columbia Daily Spectator)  | (Posted Apr 29, 2024)

A hundred and two faculty members of the Barnard chapter of the American Association for University Professors unanimously issued a vote “no confidence” in Barnard President Laura Rosenbury on Monday.

The chapter’s vote was on the grounds of a lack of care for students, a disregard for shared faculty governance, multiple violations of academic freedom and free expression, “administrative chaos at every level of the college,” and an undermining of “longstanding and cherished culture of Barnard.”

“We do not take lightly the prospect of subjecting our president to a vote of no confidence, particularly given that two high-profile women presidents have already lost their jobs in recent months,” the AAUP statement reads.

But we have come to the regrettable conclusion that the current situation is no longer sustainable. President Rosenbury’s administration has done damage to the College at virtually every level of responsibility.

Barnard’s Faculty Governance and Procedures Committee sent out a vote of “no confidence” for all college faculty to vote on following the Barnard AAUP’s decision, Frederick Neuhouser, GSAS ’80, GSAS ’88, professor of German and philosophy and president of the Barnard chapter of the AAUP, told Spectator.

Neuhouser said that the “no confidence” vote is not just a symbolic statement, but rather a change in course such as an implicit call for Rosenbury’s resignation or removal.

“The statement that the AAUP put out says at the end, ‘President Rosenbury is not the leader we need right now. The faculty, staff and students at Barnard deserve better.’ I suppose that’s implicitly a call for resignation or a call for removal by the trustees,” Neuhouser said.

The vote follows the suspension and eviction of at least 55 students for their alleged participation in the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on April 17 and 18. As of Monday, at least two suspensions were lifted. The college announced on Friday that they reached a resolution with “nearly all” suspended students and reactivated their Columbia ID card, allowing them access to residence halls, dining halls, classrooms, and campus spaces.

University President Minouche Shafik authorized the New York Police Department’s April 18 sweep of the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” leading to the arrest of 108 demonstrators. Barnard had suspended three students prior to the authorization, and Shafik’s email to the NYPD allowing them to enter campus stated that “All University students participating in the encampment have been informed they are suspended.”

The Barnard AAUP chapter also cites “arbitrary” and “unfair” deployment of new policies as part of their reason for a “no confidence” vote. Rosenbury’s administration has come under increased scrutiny in recent months following changes to numerous policies, including the campus events and approval policy, website governance policy, policy for campus demonstrations, and policy on permitted dorm door decor.

Spectator reported that the college made unilateral revisions in December to the Student Code of Conduct without consultation with or formal notification to the campus community.

Neuhouser said Rosenbury’s alleged circumventing of shared faculty governance is the “root issue” of her administration. He pointed to the fact that there are no faculty representatives on the disciplinary board that conducts student hearings, calling it “a failure of shared governance.” Neuhouser has also taught at Harvard University, Cornell University, and the University of California, San Diego, where faculty members are present during disciplinary hearings.

“The current disciplinary processes and interim suspensions do not provide fair hearings for students, but instead punish the students in extraordinary ways in advance of the hearings and use the hearings as the basis for further punishment even when they were administratively resolved and supposedly not recorded,” Barnard AAUP’s statement reads.

The statement cites “repeated” infringements on academic freedom and free expression by the administration. Barnard faculty voted in favor of the implementation of the Chicago Principles of Free Expression—a set of guiding principles for colleges and universities that demonstrate a commitment to free speech and free expression—in December.

The administration has not created a committee on free expression at Barnard and changed policies “to create prior restraint on academic freedom and free expression,” according to the statement.

Additionally, the AAUP chapter states there is “administrative chaos” because “the basic functioning of the College has been undermined.” The statement characterized her “leadership style” as “punitive, divisive, and non-consultative,” stating that Rosenbury “makes critical decisions” without faculty, student, and staff consultation, and claiming that “she has created no ties or relationships with faculty or students” during her ten-month tenure.

“Her punitive and rule-bound management approach has driven a wedge between the administration on the one hand and students and faculty on the other,” the statement reads.

She has demonstrated no understanding of the College’s culture and community and no respect for our values. Under her leadership in the last ten months, relationships have frayed, trust has fractured, and our campus has become virtually unrecognizable.

Rosenbury announced changes to senior administration in an internal email sent in February, including turnover in the office of communications and the office of the general counsel.

Neuhouser said he believes the vote of “no confidence” will “carry weight” with the public perception of the college.

“There is no doubt that we are living in a difficult moment as a result of a global conflict to which many people have personal connections and about which they feel deeply. Yet the divisiveness on campus is not just a function of the politics,” the statement reads.

The president’s arbitrary policies and punitive actions have inflamed the situation. Rather than steering the college through rough seas, she has become an agent of chaos.

Deputy News Editor Maya Stahl

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