Full-time faculty union members gathered on Thursday, Nov. 9, preparing to hold a vote of no confidence in Mercer president, Dr. Jianping Wang. Instead, they elected to table the vote.
A vote of no confidence is essentially a resolution that, if approved, states that the full-time faculty has no confidence in Dr. Wang or her ability to run the school. There are no direct consequences of the vote, but it would put pressure on the Board of Trustees, who are responsible for Wang’s employment, to act.
Several other New Jersey colleges have faced similar votes, including Bergen County Community College in 2014 and William Paterson in 2016. In both cases, faculty votes of no confidence started a chain of events that eventually resulted in the removal of the president.
When asked about the faculty union’s potential vote of no confidence, Mercer’s Director of Communication, Jim Gardner described the possible vote as “water cooler talk.”
According to faculty members in attendance at the union meeting, the decision to hold off the vote was made as a good faith effort on the part of the union to work with the College’s Board of Trustees to address issues related to the performance of the president.
The night before, the Board of Trustees held a meeting with union leadership to discuss the vote. Several members of the Board were there, as was Dr. Wang. There, the union made its complaints known and discussion continued for more than two hours.
The following day, the union president, Professor of Mathematics Art Schwartz, reported back to the faculty, describing the meeting and urging the vote of no confidence be tabled.
In an interview with The VOICE, Professor Schwartz stated that “I believe tabling the vote of no confidence is in the best interest of the entire college. According to our meeting with a subset of the board, they’ve indicated that they want to work with the faculty and work with the president to move the college forward in a positive manner.”
Board of Trustees Chairwoman Carol Golden told The VOICE in a phone interview: “I am hopeful that there are lines of communication between and among, the President and the Board that might be able to help alleviate the need for a vote of no confidence, because I think communication and mutual respect among all those parties needs to be achieved.”
Even before she was hired as President in July of 2015, a number of faculty believed Dr. Wang was too inexperienced for the job.
A faculty member who asked to remain anonymous said: “When she got hired, for faculty it was like a relationship that began with no trust. She came with her agenda and that’s it. It’s like I am forced to go out on this date with someone I don’t know or trust.”
“We didn’t want her. She was the third option. We were begging the Board of Trustees. We even sent letters to not hire her,” said another faculty member who also asked not to share their name.
But Dr. Wang faces more than charges of inexperience among some faculty. She has also instituted a number of controversial policies and changes during her tenure at Mercer.
In a recent conflict, Dr. Wang decided to change the academic calendar for next year, a move that left many faculty confused. She also did not follow the due process for making such a move, which would involve bringing it through the faculty union.
As the union members were discussing whether or not to table the vote, an email was sent out to faculty regarding the changes. In the email, Dr. Wang responded to a number of the complaints the union had presented the night before. She stated, “It has come to my attention recently that there was no input from you all regarding the newly approved academic calendar.”
According to a faculty member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of job reprisals, “Actually, Dr. Wang did seek input, that’s the funny thing. Last October she sent Sue Zambrio, our current acting Vice President, to present proposals for academic calendar changes to the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning.” The faculty member continued, “Faculty brought up a lot of concerns and definitely said that it was something that had to be taken up with the union. [Zambrio] seemed pretty frustrated, like ‘I’m just the messenger’ but she certainly got the message.”
The changing of the academic calendar is not the only issue where the faculty has expressed a sense of being left in the dark.
Assistant Professor of Mathematics Kyle Anderson, who told the VOICE he supported a vote of no confidence, said: “I feel like the faculty voice has not been listened to.” He expressed concerns about the way classrooms were switched around with little mention to professors.
Professor Anderson says “It’s sorts of decisions like that” he wishes President Wang would have let professors in on.
Another controversial issue occurred in December of 2015, when Dr. Wang reorganized Mercer’s IT department and laid off a number of employees, three of whom sued the college and in the end of the arbitration process arbitrator Thomas Hartigan ordered that they be rehired and given a year of back pay, according to an article by David Foster of The Trentonian.
A source close to the Board, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The VOICE “The Board has been disenchanted with [Dr. Wang] ever since they lost the arbitration against the IT employees, and obviously the constant turnover in the office of the VPAA [Vice President of Academic Affairs].”
The reference to the VPAA concerns the fact that the college is poised to hire a fifth Vice President in as many years, following the sudden departure of the most recent VP, Dr. David Edwards, as reported last month in The VOICE.
Faculty reactions to Dr. Wang are not all negative, however.
English Professor Carol Friend who is the coordinator of the ESL and Reading programs told The VOICE, “[Dr. Wang] has done good things too for the college, created many new partnerships with other institutions and she recognizes that we are in the 21st century which is good for the school.”
The Board members agreed to hold more regular meetings with the union to ensure progress is made on all fronts, according to Board member Reverend William Coleman.
Professor Schwartz said, “I expect to see meetings between the faculty association and Board of Trustees to be scheduled at least every two months.”
Chief union negotiator and Professor of English Ed Carmien said of yesterday’s averted vote: “The decision was taken not to eliminate the decision, but to put it on the shelf and we can take it back off the shelf at any time.”
Professor Schwartz said, “If we did not go through this process, we wouldn’t have any communication.”