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Kent State petition might trigger no-confidence vote for Lefton

By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer

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A Kent State faculty member is circulating a petition that could trigger a vote about teaching support of President Lester Lefton.

Joe Altobelli, an associate professor of math at the Trumbull campus, said he and a half-dozen colleagues are collecting 100 signatures to present to the Faculty Senate at its meeting Monday to activate a full vote on Lefton’s job performance.

Altobelli said he took it upon himself to launch the petition drive because Lefton has been “ignoring the contract” and “showing contempt for the faculty.”

At the same time, many faculty are frustrated because the administration and American Association of University Professors haven’t reached a new contract after 10 months of negotiations, Altobelli said.

KSU spokeswoman Emily Vincent said the university continues “to negotiate in good faith with AAUP, and we are confident in reaching a successful resolution that satisfies all parties.”

Sara Kilpatrick, executive director of the Ohio AAUP, said no-confidence votes can be effective if the overwhelming number of faculty agree.

“It is a nuclear option,” she said. “Faculty generally take this action very seriously and use it only as a last resort.”

At Kent State, the petition drive follows other rumblings of faculty discontent.

About 100 faculty signed a letter in the April 9 student newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, that complained the administration was restricting the faculty’s role in governance, or running the university.

The AAUP council also unanimously agreed April 24 to ask members for a strike vote “at such time deemed appropriate,” possibly this summer, according to an email circulating on faculty.

At the same meeting, the AAUP council endorsed the no-confidence petition drive proposed by Altobelli and George Garrison, a professor of pan-African studies at the Kent campus.

The KSU petition cites what the organizers call, “Lefton’s flagrant disregard for provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, failure to abide by final and binding arbitration, and his conduct of negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Kent State University faculty.”

Altobelli told faculty in an email that there has been “a notable uptick in the number of formal grievances AAUP-KSU has been forced to file in order to enforce the contract” since Lefton became president in 2007.

Still, Altobelli said the petition drive may be quashed if there is a breakthrough on negotiations.

Neither the AAUP or administration will address negotiations publicly, but in emails to members the AAUP has said the administration is offering 2 percent raises, no retroactive raises if an agreement wasn’t reached by the end of March and a hike in health-care premiums from about 14 percent to 17 percent by 2014

If the faculty does pass a no-confidence vote of Lefton, it would not necessarily have a direct impact. Lefton works at the will of the trustees.

“Generally it’s a big deal in academia, but it will be up to the board of trustees and president on how seriously to take it,” Altobelli said.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.