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Bradley University Senate votes no confidence in President Standifird, Provost Zakahi

A statue of Bradley University founder Lydia Moss Bradley stands in the Founder's Circle on campus.
A statue of Bradley University founder Lydia Moss Bradley stands in the Founder's Circle on campus.

The Bradley University Senate has passed resolutions of no confidence in President Stephen Standifird and Provost Walter Zakahi.

Sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said the senate approved two resolutions at their regular meeting Thursday afternoon expressing their deep disapproval of Standifird and Zakahi's actions. Both resolutions were passed overwhelmingly, according to the source.

"President Standifird is evaluated primarily on his position as an effective leader and communicator, and has failed in these aspects," the resolution read. "The President has largely ignored the principles of shared governance and joint determination, and his decisions have put the University in a precarious financial position and have adversely affected the reputation of the University."

The faculty strongly opposes Standifird's call to make substantial cuts to academic programs to close a $13 million operational deficit. Faculty, staff, and students walked out of classes Tuesday in protest of the cuts.

"I recognize the discontent among some members of the faculty, and I am not dismissive of the sentiments expressed in the vote," Standifird said in a statement Thursday evening. "While the results are disappointing, we will continue to work toward a successful and sustainable future for the university. I believe our collective efforts as a university community and our shared commitment to Bradley and our students will endure."

The senate resolution on Zahaki said he's failed to effectively lead or advocate for academic affairs, largely ignored shared governance principles, and made decisions that will harm educational quality and the reputation of the university.

"Provost Zakahi has admitted that moving forward the student experience will not be the same, despite his charge to 'continuously improve the exceptional learning that Bradley provides its students and to advance Bradley’s regional and national reputation in higher learning,'" the resolution read.

No-confidence votes have become increasingly common in higher education in recent years. In September, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported there have been at least 23 such votes this year alone.

Votes of no confidence don't result in a removal, but they do convey a strong message to the board of trustees, which can fire top administrators. Many, but far from all, no-confidence votes ultimately result in a president leaving office.

Standifird earlier this month called for the discontinuation of 17 programs, and reducing five more from majors or concentrations down to classes in the core curriculum. He said the proposal would impact 47 current positions, and an additional 21 would be trimmed by attrition. Standifird said only about 3.5% of students would be directly impacted by what he proposed. Many faculty and students argue the true impact will be greater, however.

The faculty members of the Senate Executive Committee in their final report this month called for the elimination of 30 positions mostly via attrition, and seeking additional cost savings through reducing the ranks of top-level administrators and slowing down the launch of costly new online and graduate programs.

The FSME questioned both the "urgency and magnitude" of the cuts Standifird wants to make. In its resolution, the University Senate said Standifird had told them issues with loan covenants were one of the main reasons for the urgency of the cuts, but said he later backtracked on that claim in the media.

Standifird called in September for at least $10 million in reductions to come from instructional spending, and has defended Bradley's current spending levels on athletics and administration.

Bradley's president has set an aggressive timeline to finalize the cuts by the end of the year. He gave department heads 30 days to weigh in on his proposed reductions on Nov. 6.

Standifird is Bradley's 12th president since its founding in 1898. He succeeded Gary Roberts in 2020. Zakahi has served as provost since July 2016.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.