Barnard Faculty Members of the AAUP Unanimously Vote to Issue a Statement Of “No Confidence” in President Rosenbury

“Rather than steering the college through rough seas, she has become an agent of chaos,” Barnard faculty write about President Rosenbury after voting 102-0 to issue a statement of no confidence in her leadership.

Photography by Samantha Candelo-Ortegon

On Monday, April 22nd, Barnard members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) took a vote to issue a statement of “no confidence” in President Rosenbury. It passed 102-0.

According to a document released on the Barnard Members of AAUP website, “[faculty] did not have confidence in President Laura Rosenbury’s ability to serve as President of Barnard College.”

“We do not take lightly the prospect of subjecting our president to a vote of no confidence, particularly given that two high-profile women presidents have already lost their jobs in recent months,” the document says, which outlines five central reasons for the AAUP members’ vote. “But we have come to the regrettable conclusion that the current situation is no longer sustainable. President Rosenbury’s administration has done damage to the College at virtually every level of responsibility.” 

First, the statement describes a “lack of care for students.” Specifically, “the administration has treated students arbitrarily and in an unfair manner in both the deployment of new policies, such as the demonstration policy and the policy with regard to dorm room doors, and in the enforcement of those policies.”

Second, the Barnard members of the AAUP cite as a concern “ignoring shared governance, including implementing the policy on demonstrations over the direct objection of the faculty in faculty meeting and the subsequent enforcement of that policy against our students in an arbitrary and chaotic manner.” 

Third, the document accuses the administration of “repeated violations of academic freedom and free expression,” such as “changing policies to create prior restraint on academic freedom and free expression.”

Fourth, the faculty in the AAUP have experienced “administrative chaos at every level of the college.” The AAUP writes, “the basic functioning of the College has been undermined and basic tasks have become increasingly difficult to undertake. Staff members have resigned because the demands placed on them are unreasonable and unsustainable.”

Fifth and finally, the chapter denounces the President for “undermining the longstanding and cherished culture of Barnard College.” The document characterizes President Rosenbury’s leadership style as “punitive, divisive, and non-consultative,” which has consequently “driven a wedge between the administration on the one hand and students and faculty on the other.”

“[Rosenbury] has demonstrated no understanding of the College’s culture and community and no respect for our values,” the document says. “Under her leadership in the last ten months, relationships have frayed, trust has fractured, and our campus has become virtually unrecognizable.”

The Bulletin interviewed the president of the newly formed Barnard chapter of the AAUP, Frederick Neuhauser, who is also the Viola Manderfeld Professor of German and a Professor of Philosophy at Barnard and Columbia University. 

“Getting members turned out to be really easy because we started at the end of February,” said Neuhauser. “There was a lot of anger among the faculty and within a few weeks, we signed up over 100 members and people keep joining.” As of Fall 2022, there are 278 full-time faculty at Barnard.

The Bulletin conducted a separate interview with professor Elizabeth Bernstein, who is on the executive committee of the Barnard AAUP. “There was always a Columbia chapter,” Bernstein says, “but we have reactivated a Barnard chapter this Spring in light of the crisis on campus.”

The AAUP, founded in 1915, defines “fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, advance the rights of academics, particularly as those rights pertain to academic freedom and shared governance, and promote the interests of higher education teaching and research,” as stated on their website.

Neuhauser echoes the central imperatives of the Barnard AAUP members, highlighting academic freedom, freedom of expression, and shared governance. 

“We have no control anymore, no input into the policies that govern our institution,” said the chapter president.

Neuhauser discussed the differences between Barnard’s policies with other institutions: “Every institution I’ve taught at – Harvard, the University of California, Cornell – has student disciplinary boards, where several faculty sit on the board,” he said. Columbia does not have a student disciplinary board, but does have a Center for Success and Intervention, which oversees conduct and disciplinary hearings with a “hearing officer” from the Center. 

Barnard has no disciplinary board or equivalent office for conduct matters. At Barnard, “it’s just a representative of the Office of the Dean. There’s no way in which faculty participate,” said Neuhauser. This is an aspect of shared governance the Barnard AAUP hopes to push for. 

“Evicting from the dorms was another one of these issues where Barnard was extremely harsh in comparison to Columbia,” said Neuhauser. He mentioned the Barnard-specific policy of evicting students and giving them only 15 minutes to gather their belongings, which Barnard CARES staff have resigned over. 

For Bernstein, “the immediate impetus for the vote” was the suspensions and evictions of Barnard students following the April 18th NYPD sweep of the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” 

“I think there is a reasonable legal argument to be made that those evictions were illegal under New York law,” Bernstein said. “The removal of student food and housing, which did not happen at Columbia, by the way,” was notable, especially “coming on the heels of a series of very disturbing unilateral actions over the course of the semester.” 

On April 26th, Barnard announced that it had reached “resolutions” with nearly all of over 50 suspended students, and had restored these students’ full access “to residence halls, dining facilities, classrooms, and other parts of campus,” according to a College spokesperson. However, this follows over one week of extreme uncertainty among students and faculty alike.

These policy differences between Barnard and Columbia made faculty realize the need to establish their own chapter, but Neuhauser said it really started when Barnard took down a pro-Palestinian statement from the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department website last fall. “They took them down without conferring, without consulting. They just did it,” Neuhauser said. 

“They instituted a new rule: no department on campus can put anything on their website, and even like ‘come to our pre-registration get together,’ without that being approved by the central administration,” said Neuhauser. “That’s something Columbia doesn’t do.”

Another catalyst to the chapter’s creation was the new demonstration policy “that was put in place above our heads and behind our backs,” said Neuhauser, who found this to be one of the administration’s “most egregious” acts. The policy, put into effect on February 20th, limits demonstrations and requires applications to be submitted 48 hours ahead of the protest. To Neuhauser, it “falls far short of a policy that really would encourage students to demonstrate in a peaceful way,” which is “evidenced by the fact that there have been no demonstrations since the policy went into effect.” 

The policy was not only upsetting to Neuhauser in its content, but in its implementation, as outlined in the second item in the AAUP’s document. “This policy was rolled out to us one hour before a faculty meeting.” Neuhauser said that Barnard faculty “insisted on there being a faculty vote, which overwhelmingly passed” against the demonstration policy. “But that had no effect whatsoever.”

Prior to this policy’s establishment, arranging an event was easy. But now, Neuhauser said that “there’s this very elaborate policy for scheduling events that discourages you from scheduling events or encourages you to just hold the events without permission. One group was even asked to supply the content of the presentations that would be held at their event as a condition of the event being scheduled. That’s a pretty radical intervention.” 

It was policies and practices like these that pushed Barnard faculty in the AAUP to recognize the need for their own chapter, and now to vote on their confidence in President Rosenbury.

On Monday April 22nd, the chapter, which will likely be formally approved this June, had an “emergency meeting” where 102 faculty members were present. “That’s unprecedented,” said Bernstein.

Neuhauser says that the no confidence vote “puts a lot of pressure” on Barnard trustees. “It’s very bad press, it hopefully serves to get the administration to handle these problems differently,” said Neuhauser. “It’s a big statement.” 

Given Barnard’s relatively small faculty compared to Columbia’s, the vote is especially notable. “I’ve been in conversations with faculty at other institutions that are eight to 10 times the size and they don’t have 102 members,” said Bernstein, who finds Barnard’s membership “impressively large.” To the chapter’s faculty, the bottom line is this: “Our students are represented in these protests, and at a percentage that is greater than their proportionate share of the Columbia/Barnard student body,” said Bernstein. “They’re leaders in these movements.” 

President Rosenbury has acknowledged and praised Barnard’s legacy of fostering strong, women activists on numerous occasions. Bernstein believes that “she should be proud” of students, not repress them.

“​​President Rosenbury is not the leader we need right now,” the letter states. “The faculty, staff, and students of Barnard College deserve better.”

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