WIUM Tristates Public Radio

No Confidence Vote at WIU is Unique

Apr 5, 2018

Western Illinois University faculty members took a vote of "no confidence" in the administrative leadership for the first time. It passed with 65% of those who voted stating they do not have confidence and 33% voting they do.

Tri States Public Radio interviewed Dr. Sean McKinniss about the vote. McKinniss has his doctorate degree in higher education from The Ohio State University and is currently writing a book about no confidence votes in academia.

Interview Highlights

On the fact the “no confidence” vote was taken against the entire administration

McKinniss: I think it is more significant to hold a vote of no confidence against an entire administration instead of a president because what faculty are saying is we are not dissatisfied with one individual in particular. We are dissatisfied with the entire direction of the university because administrators typically steer the course of the university.

I think faculty are spreading the concerns out in a way that, as I said, I have rarely seen. But I think that could be a more effective technique because it forces the entire administration to come together and say, ‘Maybe we are doing something wrong here if that’s how our faculty feel.’

On how “no confidence” votes typically come about

McKinness: Typically, faculty will meet in small groups, either within their departments or various governance groups and start to whisper and share concerns about the direction of the university.

As more and more people realize that others are feeling the same way across campus, they tend to emerge at a faculty senate or large university wide gathering where people realize suddenly that concerns in one department are the same as the concerns being felt in another and that there must be a problem that needs to be addressed, which is typically done through a vote of no confidence.

WIU has been through some difficult financial times due to the two year Illinois budget impasse and falling student enrollment. Under these circumstances, is it given that a no confidence vote would happen at some point?

McKinniss: A no confidence vote during dire circumstances at a university is not necessarily inevitable. The situation Western is facing is one that many other institutions across the country are facing: low enrollment, demands for vocational education, budget problems -- there are so many different factors affecting higher education right now, detrimentally.

So, the inevitability of a “no confidence” vote is more a statement on how the leadership is handling the crisis and some presidents, provosts, and deans are perceived to be more collaborative and open with their faculty. Others aren’t.

I think a lot of people in higher education and beyond recognize that universities are in a very tough spot right now and how leadership goes about solving those problems can make a difference between a no confidence vote or no vote at all.

On leadership changes following votes of “no confidence"

McKinniss: When a president receives a vote of “no confidence” usually he or she departs the institution within a year and that happens over 50% of the time in the cases I have analyzed.

Now, keep in mind, a president rarely says that because of the no confidence vote I am leaving this institution. Sometime they move on and find another job, sometimes they are terminated. Now, some presidents continue on in their job and work with faculty and mend relationships.

On Moving Forward

McKinniss: There really isn’t, in my opinion, a very clear indicator for what happens after a vote in terms of what it means for institutional healing or institutional reconciliation.

There are some situations where no confidence votes are death knells to the administrations and the president or the provost or dean just can’t survive it and unfortunately moves on to another institution.

I think wise administrators would take a no confidence vote as an opportunity to reconcile, reset their relationships and try again to repair, work collaboratively, and build together in the face of a very difficult climate in higher education.