WORCESTER – Nearly half of Assumption College’s faculty on Wednesday voted they had no confidence in the school’s president, Francesco Cesareo, according to the head of the faculty senate.
Biology professor Owen Sholes said 91 of Assumption’s 120 faculty members submitted ballots, and 56 of those voted no confidence. Another 24 voted their support for Mr. Cesareo, while two others submitted blank ballots, he said. (Nine ballots were discounted.)
Driving the vote was some faculty members’ growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Cesareo’s leadership, as well as what they perceived to be the general decline of Assumption under his watch, according to Mr. Sholes. Specifically, he said, enrollment has fallen around 10 percent since Mr. Cesareo took over as president in 2007, which more recently has led to rounds of layoffs and program reductions.
“What we’re trying to do is to get the president to pay attention to our concerns,” he said. In particular, some faculty members would “like to re-establish a shared governance (between) the faculty and the administration.”
In a statement shared with families of students at Assumption, meanwhile, the college on Wednesday said Mr. Cesareo still has the support of the school’s board of trustees and the Augustinians of Assumption. The non-binding no-confidence vote, the message said, “will not alter the leadership” at the college.
“The president is providing steady and bold leadership during a challenging period in higher education; leadership that requires difficult decisions to position the college for continued success such as the addition of new, in-demand academic programs that will prepare students for fulfilling careers and the new, state-of-the-art Tsotsis Family Academic Center,” the trustees said in a statement included in the college’s letter.
“The college community, and the Augustinians of the Assumption, are blessed with a resilient leader who selflessly works each day to promote the mission of the institution and the educational vision of the Venerable Emmanuel d’Alzon who founded our religious order,” the Augustinians of the Assumption said in their own statement.
In its message to families, the college said the no-confidence vote stemmed from some faculty members’ unhappiness with the college’s recent proposal to reduce programs “that have generated minimal degrees in recent years” and instead make “innovative and bold investments in new academic programs that will provide students expanded academic and career opportunities.”
Mr. Sholes, however, said faculty members’ criticisms of Mr. Cesareo are much more broad, encompassing his management style, his apparent disregard of faculty input, and even the unwelcoming environment for non-Catholics that Mr. Sholes said has come to be perceived by some campus members under Mr. Cesareo’s administration. Those problems weren’t present under the former administration of Mr. Cesareo’s predecessor, Thomas Plough, Mr. Sholes added.
“Really, it’s unfortunate,” he said. “We’ve tried for years to work with him, and I sincerely hope we can work with him in the future.”
Mr. Sholes also said Assumption’s educational product remains strong. “We have excellent faculty. Students can get an excellent education here,” he said.
In a statement provided to the Telegram & Gazette on Thursday afternoon, Michael Guilfoyle, the college’s executive director of communications, said Mr. Cesareo “is looking forward to the ribbon cutting of the College’s new, state-of-the-art academic facility as well as collaborating with faculty on the development and introduction of new academic programs that will provide Assumption students with even more opportunities of study.”
Mr. Guilfoyle disputed the accusation that the college’s enrollment decline was the fault of the president, saying that a majority of colleges have not been meeting enrollment targets, in part because of demographic changes. He also said the college has involved faculty in recent decisions surrounding reducing programs.
Mr. Guilfoyle also called “unfounded” and unsupported by facts the statement about the president creating an environment that is non welcoming to those who are not catholic.
“Under his leadership, the Tinsley Campus Ministry Center was built with funds he raised with an interfaith prayer room,” he said in an email. “Also, we have eight bar mitzvahs … scheduled in the new building.”