Weeks after UNCG’s Chancellor Frank Gilliam’s official announcement of cuts to academic programs at UNCG, the faculty at the university passed a vote of ‘no confidence’ on Wednesday afternoon in Provost Debbie Storrs.

During the online meeting, more than 300 faculty members passed the motion in a 181-158 vote. That amounted to more than 53 percent in favor of the motion versus 47 against.

Provost Debbie Storrs

The move stems from mounting tension between faculty members and administrators after a years-long process in which university heads like Gilliam and Storrs led a campus-wide academic program review. The review resulted in the cut of 20 programs at the university including bachelors in anthropology and physics, courses in some foreign languages and masters programs in math.

The action also comes just weeks after the College of Arts and Sciences also passed a ‘no confidence’ in Storrs which passed 116-6.

“The past two years have been characterized by a devaluation of professional track faculty, a breakdown in shared governance, and low faculty and staff morale,” the preamble of the motion reads. “The APR process, as managed by the Provost, has provided no clear plan for the university’s financial security or vision for the university’s future. While we applaud the goals of transparency and collaboration with faculty, the APR process did not deliver on those promises. The Provost did not reveal her own justifications for cuts or allow to be made public and transparent her part in pushing for certain programs to be eliminated. Her lack of transparency can be seen in the concentration of cuts at CAS, which was the result of the Provost targeting the college, a move that should concern all faculty as we now consider the
future of regular APRs.”

Prior to the vote on Wednesday afternoon, Chancellor Gilliam joined the call and made remarks disparaging the vote and urging faculty members to vote against the measure.

“Regarding the action under consideration here today, let me say this: the President of the System, our Trustees, the deans, and I have full, unequivocal confidence in Provost Storrs,” Gilliam stated. “She is a fair and courageous leader who makes tough calls in the best interests of the University. Moreover, she has the highest level of personal integrity, something I deeply value.”

Storrs, who came to UNCG in 2021, formerly served as the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of North Dakota.

In his other comments, Gilliam reiterated the need for the academic review process, noting changes in demographics, an enrollment decline and changes within the UNC State System in how they fund universities.

But Mark Elliott, who is the associate head of the History Department and president of UNCG’s Association of University Professors chapter, told TCB on Thursday that the vote of “no confidence” in Provost Storrs reflected the faculty’s “unhappiness” with the whole academic review process.

“We called for an all campus vote so we could see where does the campus stand on this,” Elliott said. “Despite the chancellor coming on and urging people not to vote on the resolution, it carried with a very strong vote of 181 faculty members.”

Chancellor Gilliam painted a different picture in his remarks after the vote. He diminished the numbers, pointing out that there were more than 800 people eligible to vote and that only 339 chose to do so. But with the vote taking place online at 3:35 p.m., some faculty members who joined the call a bit earlier asked what they were to do if they had to teach a class at 3:30 p.m.

To that Tami Draves, chair of the general faculty and Faculty Senate, said that professors must make a choice.

And the choice to vote “no confidence” is significant, Elliott said.

According to him, it’s the first time in UNCG’s history that a vote of “no confidence” has passed.

Despite some faculty member’s opposition that the vote makes the university “look weak,” Elliott said that it was one of the only ways for faculty to achieve accountability. He told TCB that one of the effects that “no confidence” votes can have is the resignation of the subjects.

“In the majority of cases, when an institution votes no confidence in one of their leaders, the leader resigns within a short period,” Elliott said. “Of course we don’t have the power to fire somebody, but we need new leadership or we need to reset the relationship; we’ve got nothing back so far.”

Storrs has yet to publicly comment on the vote that took place on Wednesday.

As far as the future of UNCG and any further program cuts, Gilliam stated during his remarks that discussion on other changes is ongoing and addressed rumors about another program review for graduate programs next.

“Let me say this, in the near term, we must continue to assess and evaluate all University functions — both administrative and academic,” he said. “We will be looking for ways to become more efficient and effective. But what does this look like? As I previously shared, we are moving forward on two recommendations from the Task Force for Financial Sustainability – reorganizing our communications/marketing function and reviewing some of our endowments in line with donor intent. Something APR has revealed to me is that we have a serious issue around supporting our graduate students adequately. I believe we must prioritize a living stipend and health care for them. I’m committed to collaborating with faculty on solutions. What that looks like will be an ongoing conversation between you and me.”

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