In a rare move, Rutgers-Camden faculty vote no confidence in its chancellor and provost
The move came three weeks after the chancellor, Antonio D. Tillis, removed the dean of the arts and sciences school midsemester, riling faculty who continue to question the abrupt change.
In a move faculty couldn’t remember happening before on their campus, arts and sciences professors at Rutgers-Camden approved a vote of no-confidence in the chancellor who has been on the job only since July.
The move by the majority of faculty in the arts and sciences school — the largest of the four at Rutgers-Camden — came three weeks after chancellor Antonio D. Tillis removed the dean of the school, riling faculty who continue to question why such an abrupt change was necessary. A separate no-confidence vote also was approved against the provost, Daniel Hart.
The votes carry no weight other than serving as a symbolic measure of how dissatisfied faculty have become with the chancellor, who is effectively the chief executive officer of the campus. The vote on Tillis passed 94 to 56 with 19 abstaining, and the vote on Hart passed 111 to 37 with 21 abstaining. There are about 185 full-time faculty members at the school.
“I support the no-confidence measures as a way of sending a message that the relationship between faculty and the administration is damaged and needs to be repaired,” said Jim Brown, associate professor of English and president of the Rutgers-Camden chapter of the AAUP-AFT union.
Union officials say such votes are rare at Rutgers. There was one against the university president in the early 1970s and more recently, in 2011, against then-chancellor of Rutgers-Newark, Steven Diner. Brown said no one can remember such a vote ever being taken against a Rutgers-Camden leader.
Brown said faculty continued to be upset following a meeting last week with Tillis in which he declined to explain why he removed Howard Marchitello as dean last month. Marchitello told faculty in an email that Tillis ordered his removal. Faculty have speculated that Marchitello’s ouster may have been in part due to comments he made at a faculty meeting in October about the Camden campus being chronically underfunded and how that played into recent pay equity decisions for faculty.
Marchitello, an expert in 16th- and 17th-century literature, had been dean since 2019.
In a lengthy email to faculty Thursday morning — and as the faculty voting on no confidence was taking place — Tillis apologized for the way Marchitello’s job change was handled and made his case for continuing to run the campus.
“Now, I understand why this looked like new leadership coming in and shaking things up. That was not my intention, and I regret that,” he wrote. “We live in an unpredictable world right now. Each of us is struggling with anxiety and concern related to the pandemic, to the economy, to the political discourse of our nation. And, this action added another layer of anxiety on top of all that. None of us needed that additional stress, and I remain sorry for it.”
Tillis said he is working on pay-equity requests and already has recommended salary increases beyond what several faculty were awarded through a university process. Arts and Sciences will get the majority of faculty hired for fiscal year 2023, he said, and teaching loads will remain the same, with no conversations in the works to restructure the college, he told faculty.
“My commitment is to work with you to get us to a place where there is mutual trust and respect in our effort to this institution that we all love and want to nurture,” Tillis wrote.
Brown acknowledged that some faculty thought a no-confidence vote was too harsh and would sever the relationship with the chancellor, but others thought it was important to show how dissatisfied faculty had become.
Neither spokesperson for the Camden campus or the main campus in New Brunswick responded to requests for comment on the faculty vote.
In their resolutions, faculty said to regain confidence, the chancellor and the provost need to “take significant steps to demonstrate [their] commitment to self-governance, transparency, and an inclusive vision for the college and its faculty.”