Loyola University’s faculty issued a vote of “no confidence” Thursday evening in the leadership of the Rev. Kevin Wildes, the Uptown Catholic university’s president since 2004.
It was Wildes’ second faculty censure in a decade, but, like the first, it is only an expression of faculty opinion and has no legal authority.
The vote came two months after a contingent of faculty members displeased with Wildes urged their colleagues in November to publicly censure him and after he released a financial restructuring plan that largely incorporated the faculty’s wishes. It also came a month after the school’s board of trustees approved small faculty raises.
The vote at Thursday’s meeting of the University Senate was 38-10, said associate chemistry professor Joelle Underwood, who sponsored the motion.
The faculty’s criticism comes as Loyola has been weathering a budget and enrollment crisis. Wildes has announced plans to slice the university’s spending by $11.5 million over the next five years. Loyola actually would need to cut $25 million over that same period unless it can lift enrollment enough to fill the rest of the gap with tuition money.
Wildes is hoping that it can. “My plan is to grow, rather than to cut our way out of this,” he said in November.
But many faculty members, while mostly satisfied with the plan, argue that Wildes should not be the man to carry it out. They say years of poor decision-making, which began in 2006 when Wildes implemented his controversial Pathways restructuring plan after Hurricane Katrina, harmed Loyola’s programs and led to the university’s enrollment slump.
The 2006 plan, which did away with academic programs such as broadcast journalism and education and sparked costly lawsuits from some tenured faculty members who were fired, inspired the initial vote of no confidence in Wildes from the faculty of one of Loyola’s colleges.
Wildes has been criticized by some faculty as hands-off and anti-faculty, though his office disputes those contentions.
Before Thursday’s vote by the University Senate, the faculty body that advises Loyola’s leaders, Loyola board Chairman John Finan Jr. and Vice Chairman Barry LeBlanc spoke to the Senate and praised Wildes, Vice President for Marketing and Communications Laura Kurzu said.
Senate members then went into an executive session to discuss Wildes’ competency, Kurzu said. About a half-hour later, they cast their votes and adjourned the meeting.
Even some of Wildes’ critics had expressed hesitation in November about formally denouncing him for fear of harming the university’s image, professors said. Others wanted to give him time to respond to the discontent before making such a move. The Senate eventually agreed to postpone the vote until January.
In the interim, Underwood said, a Senate majority reached a consensus. The vote “shows that we have really attempted to have that dialogue and the results have been ineffective,” she said, while adding that professors would like to continue those conversations.
The faculty’s vote is merely symbolic. Only the university’s board of trustees, which late last year formally endorsed Wildes after learning of Underwood’s motion, can remove him.
That appears unlikely. “It is the consensus of the board of trustees that the university leadership be commended for its responsible treatment of the ongoing equilibrium process,” Finan said in a statement released after the vote. “The trustees express complete confidence in the president to weigh the options and respect his decisions and recommendations to the board.”
The board of trustees in December unanimously approved a 2 percent salary increase, effective in August, as well as a return of the university’s full match of faculty members’ retirement benefits, to be effective in January 2017.
University officials said such benefits were an unstated part of Wildes’ November plan but were not announced then because he was waiting for the board’s approval.