Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The USM no confidence vote against Selma Botman - A Summary

It occurred to me a while back that anyone coming here to learn about the no confidence vote, and some people did, would have to sort through a lot of commentary to get the facts of the case.  Thus I offer a simple summary of what happened:

For many and varied reasons many came to the conclusion that Selma Botman, University of Southern Maine President, was doing her job so badly that her removal, while not sufficient, was necessary to fix the university.

First a petition was circulated.  It did not go to the full faculty because there was fear or retribution against those who signed, thus those who could still be promoted were not asked to sign.  The petition received the votes of a majority of the top-level professors (the group that was asked to sign) and received more than one and a half times the votes necessary to move forward.

At this point one could already see confusion in news sources about the requirements of the eventual no confidence vote.  The Bangor Daily News, for example, reported the necessary threshold as "a majority of the faculty".

After that it was necessary to figure out how to go about taking the vote.  This had never been done before and a method had to be worked out.  Selma Botman had a hand in that method (and what I think of her demands is by now well recorded.)  What was not publicly discussed at this point, at Botman's request, was what would be necessary for the vote to be considered successful.

As noted, the papers had already reported the threshold as a majority of the faculty.  This version would soon be forgotten.  The Governance Document, which is what actually determines how such procedures are to be carried out, said it needed "a two-thirds vote of those voting". [1]  This was never widely reported.  Selma Botman said it would need a two-thirds of the entire faculty whether they voted or not.  This was widely reported.

When the vote was held the vote a greater than two thirds majority of those voting voted no confidence, which also represented an outright majority of the entire Faculty. [2]

Selma Botman immediately claimed victory and it was widely reported that the vote failed.  Some new sources even erroneously claimed it had failed to reach a majority.

What effects the vote might have remain to be seen, but the story of the vote itself seems to end with it being reported to have failed.  The chancellor noticed that the vote took place, and came to the university to talk to various people.  If anything changes, it will come from that.


[1] The Faculty Senate did not and does not have the power to remove Botman and therefore the nonbinding vote was a recommendation to those who do have such power.  While a no confidence vote against a USM President had never been carried out before, the method for the Faculty Senate to go about making a recommendation to the chancellor and Board of Trustees to do something the Faculty Senate lacks the power to do is in fact clearly described.

Normally such a recommendation would go through the USM President, but Selma Botman wasn't about to recommend she be removed and for recommendations like that the university Governance Document has an entire section (Article VIII.)  The procedure is very simple actually.  When a senate -be it the Faculty Senate, the Student Senate, the Professional Staff Senate, or the Classified Staff Senate- wants to make a recommendation that the university president doesn't agree with it holds a vote.  Then "upon a two thirds vote of those voting" the recommendation is sent to the chancellor and/or the Board of Trustees along with the university president's dissenting recommendation.

Thus, one would think, it would be clear that what was necessary for the vote to be declared a success would be for two thirds of those voting to vote in favor.

[2] The vote was 194 no confidence, 88 not-no confidence.  (There were no other options.)  The total faculty is 377.  Thus 68.8% of those voting voted no confidence, which is 51.5% of the total faculty.  Turnout was 74.8%.

23.3% of the faculty came out to vote against no confidence as compared to 25.2% who either chose not to vote or were unable to vote and, as previously mentioned, 51.5% who voted no confidence.

All figures have been rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent.


  1. Thanks for the summary.

    When did the chancellor come to the university? Are there any signs of whether anything will happen?

    1. The chancellor came for two days last week. A week ago today he had an open meeting which I would have liked to attend but most of my day that day revolved around a dentist appointment so I couldn't make it. That was also when I was already somewhat sick and getting sicker.

      So I've been kind of out of since he came. I'm still not recovered.

      In addition as a result of the end of the semester I am not currently in contact with any of the well informed people who know more about all of this than myself and who previously could help me gauge the situation. So in addition to a lack of first hand knowledge about the chancellor's visit I have a lack of second hand stuff.

      Looking just at the reporting on his visit, it's hard to judge things.

      What he's said looks like it could just be generic boilerplate, and if that is true there probably won't be any action or, if there is, not any positive action. On the other hand, if one assumes that he's looked into the situation and chosen his words carefully, some of those exact same words could be direct rebukes of Botman.

      For example, the need for administration and faculty to communicate and work together is something that one generally says even if they're doing nothing more than sweeping a problem under the rug. So in general that's probably not a promising thing to hear said. On the other hand one of the many problems with Selma Botman's reign is that she basically shut down faculty-administration communication and refused to work with the faculty. So if the chancellor is actually serious about faculty-administration communication and cooperation he's going to have to, at a minimum, completely change the way Botman runs the university.

      But since I am pretty much out of the loop on this one, and since it requires trying to divine someone's motives instead of following a vote or reading the rules, I really have no idea what's likely to happen now.