Twenty-five faculty senators declared no confidence in University President Soraya M. Coley with a 25-3 vote during the Academic Senate meeting Dec. 6.
Though 25 senate members voted against Coley, there is no legal obligation to remove her from her position. The purpose of this vote was to draw attention to problems found within Coley’s leadership, but no further action is required. Such problems include lack of governance, instilling interim and temporary positions across campus and a list of others cited in the resolution.
“Senate resolutions are nonbinding, and so in that sense, it is symbolic,” said Academic Senate Chair Rita Kumar said. “It represents the sentiments of senators, and so in terms of the outcome one of the things that the resolution calls for is for the board of trustees and the chancellor to look into the issues that have been raised as resolutions are nonbinding.”
The resolution was first brought to the table during last month’s meeting in November, where Coley was accused of weak leadership and a lack of communication along with a detailed list of other issues. This vote follows moves from the CSU Employee Union Executive Board and members of the Statewide University Police Association, who voted against Coley for campus safety concerns back in February.
Coley was not in attendance for the meeting due to a schedule conflict. During Interim Provost Terri Gomez’s report, she spoke on behalf of Coley.
“(Coley) cares deeply about the well-being of the campus and looks forward to constructive dialogue with the academic senate and other campus stakeholders in the spring semester,” Gomez said. “The goal is to establish transparent and consistent standards for chair assignments and have those announced in the spring.”
In an email sent out to the campus community by Coley, she addressed the no confidence vote. In response to senators asking for better communication, Coley briefly detailed her plans.
“I am working with the cabinet to prepare a comprehensive and detailed response to concerns raised by the Senate, which I will share early in the spring semester as a catalyst for campus dialogue and engagement,” Coley said.
Coley served as president of Cal Poly Pomona since 2015 after previously working at Cal State University, Bakersfield as interim vice president for university advancement from 2011-2012. Once hired, Coley made her rounds visiting and speaking with departments about her plans for the Cal Poly Pomona campus. Agriculture professor Chitra Dabas recalled when she first met Coley at the agricultural department.
“She did not promise on paper but had very good interactions with the department about communications of what she plans to do,” Dabas said. “That was about seven to eight years ago, and between now and then I have not seen any additional communication up to that extent.” Evident in the vote, many senators believe Coley’s words from 2015 lack action as CPP faculty fight for higher wages, stronger leadership and shared governance, which is noted in the resolution. Dabas’ complaints stem from one of the more emphasized issues listed in the first resolution, lack of shared governance, a term which was mentioned seven times within the resolution.
During the meeting, six senators abstained from the vote regarding the no confidence resolution.
Furthermore, after Cal Poly Pomona’s provost was unexpectedly fired after an 18-month term Oct. 2, faculty were left confused since administration failed to consult with them, only later finding out in an email. Soon after, Mario Guerrero, the political science department chair, began to author both resolutions.
“I’m a little impatient so I was like, OK I’m going to write what I think a no confidence (resolution) would look like,” he said. “I shared it with a couple members of the executive committee, but essentially the text of the resolution hadn’t changed very much from when I first wrote it.”
In a recent town hall meeting, Coley met with senators to discuss the first and second resolution. During the meeting, Coley and her administration encouraged and welcomed questions, but some senators felt those questions went unanswered. Attendees were also overwhelmed with a thick packet of information.
“The president didn’t really address this resolution or the other resolution but just chose to speak at us for 45 minutes,” Guerrero said. “As a department chair for the last four and a half years, I feel like I’m having the same conversation about how things are broken over and over and over and over again, and that’s a leadership issue. It starts at the top.”
Ethnic studies department professor, Jocelyn Pacleb is especially concerned for the safety and well-being of students. Pacleb brought up racial incidents that have occurred dating to pre-pandemic.
“The most vulnerable and most talented students are sharing with administration, with faculty, with staff, with counselors, that there is a need to have some kind of change, and nothing happens,” Pacleb said.
The first resolution calls to address a list of campus crises including lack of shared governance, inaccurate and late payroll among other issues. The first reading was brought to the agenda during the last senate meeting Nov. 6. Though the second reading for this resolution was on the agenda, the senate voted to postpone the vote for their meeting in February.
The second resolution, which was voted on during this meeting, delves into non-confidence in the university president. The document details a list of matters, citing “lack of shared governance, transparent communication, inclusivity and ethical and stable leadership to uphold its academic mission and values.”
During the meeting, there was also tension between Senator, department of psychology Chair and CFA President for CPP, Nicholas Von Glahn and Associated Students, Incorporated President, Senator Ilke (LK) Suzer. Suzer posed a question of clarification regarding the second resolution on behalf of the student body.
“The resolution has a bunch of listed wording in there that I was just asking to confirm for the sake of the students,” Suzer said.
During the senate meeting, in response to Suzer’s questions and comments, Von Glahn motioned to be added to the speaker list to remind Suzer of the month-long period she had to read and review the resolutions between meetings. Von Glahn felt as if a month was a long enough time to review the documents.
“I’m not going to speak on that,” Von Glahn said during the meeting. “The answers are there. We’ve had a month to look into that. I’m sorry you didn’t have the opportunity.”
After the meeting, Suzer issued a statement sent out to the Academic Senate. In an interview with Suzer, she recalled feeling discouraged from Von Glahn’s comments.
“(Von Glahn’s response) was very dismissive,” Suzer said. “It basically was a response saying everything you need to know is on the resolution. And he mentioned that we had enough time to answer that question on our own, which I disagree with.”
After Suzer’s email, Von Glahn sent out an email with an apology issued to Suzer as well as their fellow senators, in which he also resigned from his position in the senate.
“I am very sorry for the way I responded yesterday,” Von Glahn said in the email. “I clearly have taken on too much. I need to focus on maintaining professionalism with those things. I’m very sorry. This isn’t just because it’s a student ASI senator. I would be apologizing this forthrightly and this much if it was a faculty person or if it was an administrator regardless.”
Following challenges in meeting, Von Glahn expressed dissatisfaction, attributing it to his many roles and acknowledged the imperative need to step back for more effective and positive outcomes.
“I felt on Wednesday that I was not able to deliver my CFA report and comments as well as I would have liked,” Von Glahn said. “I believe this is due to me just having too many roles. Currently this has absolutely made it clear that I need to step back from something.”
Guerrero feels the lack of communication between senators, students and administration is also a significant reason for disconnecting as a community.
“That one-to-one communication doesn’t necessarily exist unless you know that person,” Guerrero said. “So I wish those lines of communication were open, but I think in terms of what we’re asking for, leadership should facilitate those channels between faculty members and students.”
Kumar also sent out a statement regarding the meeting. In the letter, she expressed deep distress over the senate’s decision to “limit discussion” of the first resolution and specifically apologized to Suzer.
Kumar also wanted to assure students that despite the resolution’s results, there are many sources to speak to regarding any concerns, including ASI leadership, the dean of students or herself. Going forward, Kumar plans to use the power of her gavel more fully to give everyone a chance to express themselves.
The Senate planned to conduct a second reading for the second resolution but with only 15 minutes left in the meeting, the senators voted to postpone the conversation during their next meeting Feb. 14 in Building 98P2-007 and it is open to the public.
With reportings from Reyes Navarrete, Cesar Rivas and Yerehny Limon
Correction:A previous version of this article stated Senator Rita Kumar expressed deep distress over the senate’s decision of the first resolution; however, she was expressing distress over the senate’s decision to “limit discussion” of the first resolution.