News, On campus

Faculty Senate issues a ‘Vote of No Confidence’ in Tech CFO

Dr. Stinson is responsible for disbursing all funds based on the annual budget. Photo from faculty directory.

 Tech’s Faculty Senate, an advisory board to the university president, has passed a “Vote of No Confidence” in the university’s vice president.

The vote comes after  it was discovered that some faculty and staff members received raises exceeding the 1-7% approved by the Board of Trustees for the 2020-2021 academic year — with some receiving upwards of 9-32%.

Data shows Academic Affairs saw only a 3% increase, while Planning and Finance saw a 9% increase.

In April 2022, the senate moved  for a “Vote of No Confidence” in Vice President Dr. Claire Stinson as a result of the discrepancies; however, the motion was later tabled pending the results of an internal and state audit. 

Faculty Senate President Lori Maxwell said the senate revisited the vote Monday.

“The motion for the vote was held again, and it passed overwhelmingly,” she said.

Maxwell said the salary distribution still remains the main reason for the senators’ lack of confidence in Stinson.

“That is still the primary issue,” she said. “We have met numerous times with the president, and we have also spoken with some of the trustees in an attempt to have a more mitigated response.”

One of the requests to the president was to move Human Resources from under Stinson’s directive.

“From 2020-2021, there were $360,000 in what were called by administration ‘market equity raises,’ which were above and beyond the raises that went to the rest of the university, and were allocated primarily to the CFO’s own division. And we feel that is a conflict of interest,” Maxwell said.

She said despite the state and internal auditors finding no “illegalities,” they did feel it is a conflict of interest and a potential abuse of power.

Since last Spring, she said $509,000 that was intended for travel abroad funds was moved elsewhere in the budget.

“We don’t have a specific end allocation of where they went,” she said. “Under the current CFO’s budgetary model, this kind of money — half a million dollars at a time — can be reallocated with no budgetary oversight.”

“We’re not claiming it’s illegal, but we believe it is unethical,” Maxwell said.

The senate has other broad concerns that relate to the lack of funding, according to Maxwell. 

“Despite numerous requests from the Office of Academic Affairs and the funding the Provost was able to secure this year, the Volpe Library remains funded at the lowest level in the state,” she said.

In addition to the lack of funding for the library, the Office of Research and Economic Development has reached critically low staffing levels — which could result in the loss of millions of dollars in grant funding, she said.

The campus police is another department that remains underfunded, according to Maxwell.

“Because of the CFO’s failure to fund units appropriately, the TTU Police Force began the Fall 2022 semester with only five full-time police officers, putting the students and campus at potential risk. TTU should operate with 10-15 officers and support staff,” she said.

Faculty senators passed the vote 32 for, two against and four abstentions.

“The Faculty Senate doesn’t take lightly a ‘Vote of No Confidence,’” Maxwell said. “Nevertheless, this is not our money, and we must speak when its stewardship is in question. We, as senators, are accountable to the tax-paying citizens and the tuition-paying students of the University. We are duty-bound to speak in support of its educational, research and service missions. We are most hopeful we will move forward in the spirit of collegiality, collaboration and respect that has been and will remain the hallmark of Tennessee Tech University.”

Tech Chief Communication Officer Karen Lykins said the grievances made by the senate are “grossly inaccurate.”

“University leadership strongly disagrees and deeply regrets the recent action taken by the University Faculty Senate,” she said. “Dr. Stinson has been a highly respected and valuable leader on campus for over 15 years. As chief financial officer she has the most difficult job on any campus, consistently navigating often complex and critically important financial challenges on behalf of the entire University and our students. She has earned the respect of her peers throughout the state, being well known for both her technical skill with financial management and her impeccable integrity. Tennessee Tech is one of the best fiscally managed universities in the state and owes much of our current overall success to the disciplined leadership and relentless efforts of Dr. Stinson.”

According to Lykins, decisions are routinely negotiated on campus throughout the year through the normal budget process with input and involvement of numerous leaders.