Some faculty give failing grade to administration’s transparency: Art gallery plans spur shared governance questions


Jesse Chalnick

Recent changes surrounding the university’s Sordoni Art gallery (pictured above) have some faculty accusing the administration of a lack of transparency.

Decisions about the future of the university’s Sordoni Art Gallery led one staff member to resign from her position in early October.

Now some faculty members are accusing the university’s administration of not being transparent in the decision making process, as well as not living up to the spirit of shared governance.

“We are all witness to the Wilkes upper administration failing to have rigorous and difficult conversations, its failure to be genuine to all its constituencies, and its failure to work with and respect faculty and staff who are unflinchingly loyal to this university,” said Dr. Mischelle Anthony, associate professor of English and president of the Wilkes chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

In an interview conducted last week, Wilkes President Patrick Leahy said the plan for the gallery involves “three prongs”: investing funds to hire a new gallery director, moving the art gallery to a more visible location and deaccessioning much of the art.

The deaccessioning of the art led to the resignation of Brittany DeBalko Kramer, the now former assistant art director of the gallery. DeBalko Kramer had been employed by the university for more than a decade.

According to Dr. Jonathan Ference, Faculty Affairs Council (FAC) chair, faculty opinion has varied regarding the decisions.

“There’s some that are clearly disappointed…there are people who are ambivalent and there are people who reached out to me who expressed support,” Ference said. “Because of that… the next logical step is to develop and continue the dialogue.”

The FAC, which serves as a venue and voice to the faculty to discuss issues that affect them, has been conversing with faculty and administration to discuss the way in which the process played out.

Though some faculty members question the ethics behind the deaccessioning of the art, the decision making process behind the plan has caused an even greater concern.

“There have been decisions where the faculty have been involved because they were identified as a stakeholder,” Ference explained. “Here is one particular issue where they weren’t involved and I believe…it’s because this has been thought to be a donor initiated initiative process.”

Ference explained that the FAC received a report this summer from Provost Dr. Anne Skleder, regarding the plans for the art gallery. Skleder also serves as the university’s chief academic officer.

“Dr. Skleder provided us (the FAC) with a report this summer of what the plans were for the Sordoni Art Gallery. Prior to that, FAC was not asked for input,” Ference said.

“At that time where the provost presented the information there was not a discussion surrounding the decision or the process by which the decision is made.”

Skleder explained that the plan was delivered to the FAC over the summer and at an August meeting with donors. It was also discussed at fall convocation and at faculty and FAC meetings held in September.

“We as the administration strive to serve with as much transparency and gather input as appropriate,” Skleder said.

Skleder explained that it was the president’s task force that discussed and created the plans for the gallery, which was then presented to the Board of Trustees.

“The task force consisted of people who fit particular roles,” Skleder said.

Those individuals included Vice President for Advancement Michael Wood, who also serves as the  Chief Development officer; Andrew Sordoni; Leahy; and Dr. Thomas Baldino, who at the time was the Interim Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

According to Skleder, Baldino was not on the committee as a faculty representative.

When Dr. Paul Riggs joined the university as the new dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in July, he then took over Baldino’s position on the task force.

Skleder said that Dr. Sharon Cosgrove, an associate professor of art at Wilkes, was one of the first faculty members to learn of the plans.

“It was very important to speak with Dr. Cosgrove and we did,” Skleder said.

According to Cosgrove though, not soon enough.

“I was not involved in the decision making process,” she explained. “To my knowledge, I was the first faculty member to be, ‘informed,’ of decisions made by a select few administrators.” 

Several other faculty members also voiced concern on the lack of transparency by the administration; however, they declined comment or could not be reached for this story.

“Regarding the Sordoni decisions, faculty from every part of campus are concerned with this administrative failure of shared governance,” Anthony said.  “Wilkes has been charged by our accrediting organization, Middle States, to make sure and involve campus constituencies affected by campus decisions in the decision-making process.”

Anthony explained that dialogue didn’t begin until decisions had already been made.

“President Leahy working privately with a donor to set up a faculty position, without any faculty in that college having a say or even being informed of the matter until after the decision was made– (is)a failure to abide by that Middle States charge,” Anthony said. “No art faculty on campus had any say or  (was)even information about the Sordoni Gallery moving to a new location, either, until after the decision had been made.”

When asked his thoughts on the level of faculty involvement, Ference said that it “seems very reasonable” that a faculty member could have been consulted or invited to participate on the taskforce.

Skleder explained that future faculty involvement will revolve around providing input on teaching space in the new gallery as well as in the search committee responsible for hiring an art director.

According to Skleder, Cosgrove has been asked to serve as part of the search committee.

Last week members of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences were also invited by Riggs to participate in an upcoming open forum to discuss concerns surrounding the issue.

Ference said the decision making process will also be a topic of discussion at the Oct. 27 FAC meeting.

While this is one instance where the faculty may not have been as involved in the decision making process, Ference does not think this is a widespread issue with the administration.

Anthony, however, believes the issue may have lasting repercussions as the state AAUP, which serves as a source of advice as well as works to “safeguard academic freedom,” is watching the university.

“The Pennsylvania State AAUP is also watching Wilkes right now, especially since our administration made a curricular decision—a new faculty position—without any involvement of faculty. That piece of the Sordoni action is a violation of best practices in American higher education, and will put us at risk of being censored by the national AAUP.”