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UA Faculty Senate passes 'no confidence' vote on university president

Arizona Republic 3/30/2023 Sarah Lapidus, Arizona Republic

TUCSON — The University of Arizona Faculty Senate approved a vote of "no confidence" in university President Robert Robbins and his management team, denouncing them for lack of due diligence to ensure the safety of slain hydrology professor Thomas Meixner.

The professor was shot and killed on campus, and a former student is accused of the crime.

The Faculty Senate is an elected governing body that makes recommendations on school policy and procedures.

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“We call on the administration to demonstrate progress towards a comprehensive risk management system and accountability by specific personnel actions in the Senior Leadership Team, University of Arizona Police Department, Office of General Counsel and Dean of Students Office,” according to a resolution from the Faculty Senate.

What was behind Faculty Senate vote

The Senate voted after an outside consultant's report found the threat management process was ineffective and its security systems inadequate in the period leading up to the fatal shooting.

Murad Dervish, who was accused of threatening Meixner and other faculty and university staff for more than a year, was indicted on first-degree murder and six other felony charges and awaits trial.

The consultant report said the fatal shooting "was not unforseeable" and offered 33 recommendations for the university to implement to improve campus safety. They included creating an interim chief safety officer who will report directly to Robbins, launching a Campus Safety Advisory Commission and creating a master facility safety plan.

Faculty voted no confidence in several officials, including Robbins, UA Police Chief Paula Balafas, Chief Financial Officer Lisa Rulney, General Counsel Laura Todd Johnson, Dean of Students Kendal Washington White and Provost Liesl Folks.

Monday’s resolution also condemned university leadership for the “combative, non-constructive” response to another faculty committee that worked on an interim report addressing ways to improve safety and restore trust on campus.

The report, titled "Oversight and Response Failure: Broken Trust,” was authored by the General Faculty Committee on Safety for All.

The special meeting addressed the disbanding of the faculty safety group responsible for the interim report and included time for administration officials to address the group's concerns, brought forward earlier this month. Group members said they disbanded because of stonewalling by university leadership and for fear of retaliation.

External investigation: Report slams UA handling of threats before professor's death

In its resolution, the Faculty Senate also criticized Robbins for scheduling a news conference to address the release of the consultant's report about campus security and the systemic failures 30 minutes before Monday’s special meeting of the Faculty Senate.

Most of the senior university leadership who had been invited to discuss issues and concerns with the faculty group did not attend.

The no-confidence resolution passed with 29 members voting in favor, 13 voting against and seven abstaining.

The resolution stated that the administration has 30 days to provide the Faculty Senate with a timeline and measurable benchmarks for implementing a risk management system and accountability measures.

The Meixner family on Friday filed a $9 million settlement claim against the Arizona Board of Regents, the entity that oversees the state’s three public universities.

"The University of Arizona sacrificed Professor Tom Meixner’s life, repeatedly ignoring the clear and present danger of a hostile and dangerous student who openly advertised his intent to murder," stated the claim.

Although the former student accused of killing Meixner had been formally banned from campus long before the shooting, reports of his threats continued, and little action was taken by the university or university police, the claim said.

The October shooting was not the first at the university. In 2002, a disgruntled former student shot and killed three faculty from the College of Nursing.

Flowers decorate a memorial for Dr. Thomas Meixner, professor and head of the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona, in Tucson on Oct. 8, 2022. Meixner was fatally shot on campus Oct. 5. © Joel Angel Juarez/The Republic Flowers decorate a memorial for Dr. Thomas Meixner, professor and head of the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona, in Tucson on Oct. 8, 2022. Meixner was fatally shot on campus Oct. 5.

Board of Regents supports UA president

After Monday’s Faculty Senate vote, Board of Regents Chair Lyndel Manson sent a letter to the Faculty Senate chair voicing the board's support for Robbins.

“The board fully supports President Robbins, whose guidance has led the university to achieve extraordinary success and has shepherded it through unprecedented challenges,” Manson said in the letter.

The letter also said the board respects the opinions expressed at the special meeting on Monday and strongly encourages the Faculty Senate to “focus on working constructively moving forward.”

Coverage of southern Arizona on and in The Arizona Republic is funded by the nonprofit Report for America in association with The Republic.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: UA Faculty Senate passes 'no confidence' vote on university president

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