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Marshall faculty votes no confidence in Kopp

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Marshall University faculty officially declared Wednesday they have no confidence in the leadership of President Stephen Kopp.

The number of no-confidence votes outnumbered votes in Kopp's favor more than 2 to one: Of the 420 faculty members who took part in the online vote over the last week, 290 voted no confidence, 107 supported him and 23 abstained. About 800 faculty members were eligible to vote.

The school's leadership responded by doubling down on their support of Kopp. Wednesday morning, minutes after the results of the vote were released, Joseph Touma, chairman of Marshall's Board of Governors, released a statement expressing the "overwhelming support" for Kopp from "the vast majority of the board."

 "We expect better communication and collegiality from all constituent groups," it reads. "And consider this an opportunity to establish common ground on which we can address the financial and other obstacles that lie ahead."

That's a disappointment for many faculty members, who were hoping the grand gesture of a vote of no confidence would sway the board in their favor.

"If the board of governors is serious in their role that they're in charge of the university, and that they're the leadership, then they can't just go back to Kopp again," said Dallas Brozik, a finance professor.

"They have to do something about Kopp. Otherwise they're showing us that they just work for him."

Marshall's faculty has been in an uproar over Kopp's handling of the university's finances for weeks. On April 9, the administration suddenly swept money in some departmental accounts -- nearly $10 million in all -- into a central holding account controlled by the central office.

That act, and the way it was carried out -- overnight, without warning to faculty or the affected departments -- prompted a swift outcry from faculty. Students quickly followed suit, with protests outside a board of governors meeting.

Kopp has since apologized to the faculty for the way he went about sweeping the accounts, but defended the act itself, saying Marshall's current finance model doesn't suit an institution of Marshall's size, especially now that the school is facing $5 million in state funding cuts.

That show of contrition did little to assuage many in the university community, and the faculty senate voted two weeks ago to let the full faculty weigh in on Kopp's performance.

Votes of no confidence are uncommon but not unheard of in the higher education. They're not binding -- a university president ultimately answers to the governing board of that institution -- but signal significant rifts in a university community.

No one keeps count of the number of no-confidence votes in the country, but Gregory Scholtz, of the American Association of University Professors, said his organization comes across a dozen or so each year.

"It's been our experience more often than not that the vote of no confidence results in the governing board reaffirming their support for the president," he said.

"It's obviously very discouraging for the faculty who usually see a vote of no confidence as a desperate last resort ... who hope the governing board will heed the vote as a cry for help."

In West Virginia, though, the experience has been different. The two schools where faculty has, in recent memory, cast no confidence votes have resulted in resignations.

West Virginia University's faculty voted twice to show its lack of confidence in then-president Michael Garrison, calling for his ousting after a panel found that Heather Bresch, Sen. Joe Manchin's daughter, had been awarded a degree she did not earn while Garrison was president.

Even after refusing to do so for months, Garrison resigned a week after the second no-confidence vote.

Faculty at West Virginia State University voted no confidence in longtime president Hazo Carter in 2011, citing financial problems, declining enrollment and the university's poor public image. Carter quickly announced his retirement after 25 years at the school.

"If you have a faculty that over a long period of time simply feel at odds with their campus leadership, ultimately it's just not healthy for the institution," said Timothy Ruhnke, chairman of the West Virginia State's faculty senate now, and at the time of the no-confidence vote. "I don't think these votes are typically taken lightly."

Kopp released a statement Wednesday saying he is "pleased to have the overwhelming support of the Board of Governors and trust(s) that, working together with faculty, staff and students, we will continue down our proven path of success." 

"I respect the views of the faculty who have shared their opinion in this fashion," he says, before reiterating his position on the university's finances that led to the contentious sweeping of department accounts:

"The budget challenges we set out to address remain and I do not see additional public funding on the horizon. We have much work to do in the coming days and months to ensure Marshall continues its progress with even more limited public resources."

Chris Hoge, a junior public relations major who was among the students who rallied outside Kopp's meeting with faculty last month, said Kopp's support from the board despite the no-confidence vote brings more questions than answers.

"Speaking from a student perspective, it's really disheartening to see this turmoil in the way our university is managed," Hodge said. "I think for Marshall students, the result of this vote represents an uncertainty going forward; that the priorities of Marshall are not outlined."

Hodge worries that tuition will increase for students despite Kopp's promise to keep tuition at its current level. He said tuition increases are "the default action" when the budget is tight.

"I don't fear that it will be raised, I expect there to be a higher tuition in the fall," Hodge said. "I've already budgeted myself for higher tuition."

Students are largely concerned about what the school's budget woes mean for their tuition dollars, and less concerned with university politics.

Student and former student government association chief of staff Adam Fridley said the vote of no confidence was counterproductive as administrators work toward a budget solution.

"I think that in spite of everything that's happened, when you come to the negotiation table, you have to come to the table with the mindset of working together, not 'we don't want you here,'" Fridley said. "I feel like if we don't come together and cooperate in a good faith effort, the students are the ones who will be holding the bag."

Fridley said students should take their grievances to state lawmakers.

"The fight starts in Charleston, and we're going to need a big effort in the next couple of years to fight falling funds from the state," Fridley said.

Parthenon writer Marcus Constantino contributed to this story.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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