Results of Board of Regents’ vote on faculty handbook, constitution revisions were ‘not surprising’

Carrollyne Aasen, Editor in Chief

During the Faculty Senate Meeting on Feb. 27, Provost Leanne Neilson presented the faculty handbook changes and the revisions approved by the Board of Regents. Four sections were submitted to the Board of Regents for approval, including three sections in the Faculty Policies Handbook—the grievance policy, separation from the university and faculty evaluation process, criteria and standards—and the Faculty Constitution.

Neilson presented that the board approved the grievance policy recommended by the faculty, which was in full agreement with the Faculty Assembly and the administration. 

In the section of the faculty handbook entitled “Separation from the university,” two areas were submitted to the board, which consisted of the two items that faculty and administration disagreed on. The two items included the administration’s recommendation to cut adjectives from one section of the “separation from the university” and the “burden of proof” when discussing dismissal. During this meeting, it was presented that the Board of Regents was in agreement with the administration’s proposal on these two items and approved this proposal, which was confirmed by Neilson in an email from The Echo. According to the “separation from the university” section that includes the approved changes, “For all cases the burden of proof will be preponderance of the evidence in the record considered as a whole.”

The faculty had proposed “clear and convincing evidence,” the highest standard of proof of evidence for cases that did not include Title IX. According to, with clear and convincing evidence, “the party presenting the evidence must demonstrate that it is highly probable or reasonably certain that their version of facts is true,” yet for preponderance of evidence, “it requires that the party presenting the evidence show that it is more likely than not that their version of the facts is true.”

For the section of the faculty handbook entitled “Faculty evaluation process, criteria and standards,” the appointment, rank and tenure task force recommended removing references to advising surveys and changes to the wording of the academic unit guidelines’ description. Neilson said the administration agreed with these changes and the board approved these.

For the Faculty Constitution, Neilson said the Board of Regents approved all of the administration’s recommendations, which included “The Provost and/or the President have the option to overturn any decision, policy, or process instituted by the Faculty, including but not limited to those deemed contrary to the mission, values, goals, or fiscal well-being of the University.” 

The Echo contacted the Office of the President to request an interview with President Lori Varlotta and members of the Board of Regents but did not receive a response before publication. Neilson was also contacted for an interview, The Echo was unable to schedule an interview due to scheduling issues.   

Meeting with Board of Regents work group

On Feb. 8, three faculty members met with a work group consisting of two Board of Regents members to discuss areas of disagreement faculty had with the administration’s proposed changes. Neilson said in reply to an email from The Echo inquiring about the names of the board members in this work group that Phyllis Anderson, former president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary who is now retired, and Mary Boyce, coach and consultant for professionals and leaders in higher education and nonprofit organizations. Also in attendance were President Lori Varlotta, Neilson and General Counsel Tom Knudsen. The board members of this work group would then present the faculty’s position and perspective to the full Board of Regents. 

“The purpose of it was to review all the changes to the constitution and the grievance and separation sections of the faculty handbook, but to really focus on the areas of the disagreement between faculty and the administration,” Chair of Faculty Senate Michael Hart said in a Zoom interview. 

Hart said this meeting was broken up into two sections. He said that following introductions, the faculty presented their views and then had time for questions and discussion. 

“I think we did our best to present arguments and views of faculty and then connect them to, I think, larger trends we were seeing in the university,” Hart said. “But it was my takeaway, even from that meeting, that the Board of Regents would be voting in favor of the administration’s items.” 

During the Faculty Senate meeting, Neilson said that prior to this meeting, this work group received the revised documents on Jan. 18 after the Faculty Assembly’s vote, and two days later, Varlotta, Neilson and Knudsen met with the work group to review the documents. 

“Of course I wanted them to agree with faculty, but I also think there were some misunderstandings of what faculty wanted,” Hart said. “Some of our time was spent clarifying those items, so that was somewhat frustrating to spend time on making sure they were clear that we weren’t, that we didn’t think things that we didn’t actually think.” 

During the meeting, Hart, Chair of Faculty Affairs Committee Kristine Butcher, Vice Chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee Mike Gagliardo and two regents discussed the areas that the Board of Regents voted on.

“The vote itself was not surprising to me because of this meeting, I wasn’t surprised, but I will admit that I was disappointed,” Hart said. 

Hart said that it wasn’t so much that they disagreed with faculty’s arguments, because that is part of higher education, and he has no problem with someone disagreeing with him so long as they can sit and express their viewpoints.

“I think what was frustrating was that they had made some assumptions about faculty and what faculty think or what faculty do or do not know, so that was the disappointing section,” Hart said. 

Butcher said that she was glad to have the opportunity to talk to the two board members and was hopeful that they would listen to what the faculty had to say as well as find it compelling. 

“I was hopeful that they would show some interest in what we were saying to try to really understand our perspective and why it differed from the senior administration,” Butcher said.

However, Butcher said that because of how things have been going, she was not optimistic that they would side with faculty on the issues where there was disagreement. 

Butcher said that during the meeting with these board members, the board members didn’t ask a lot of questions about the faculty’s position and “mostly talked at” the three faculty members about their positions. 

Faculty’s thoughts on the overall results

Hart said that, in the past, the faculty member who attended the Board of Regents’ meeting would present the results and discussions to the faculty themselves; however, this policy was changed so that Varlotta or Neilson is to report on the business of the regents.

Butcher said that for past votes by the board, a faculty member would present to the full board the faculty’s positions. She said that this vote differed from the past because there was no one, not even the faculty representative, Julie Kuehnel, presenting the faculty’s perspective before the full board.

“She wasn’t even there, they asked her, or told her, to leave,” Butcher said. “Someone asked the provost at the senate meeting if she remembered if there was much discussion. She said she did not recall that there was much at all and then she appealed to the university counsel Tom Knudsen for his recollection, and he said virtually none.”

Gagliardo said in a Zoom interview there was not much reaction at all to the outcomes of the Board of Regents’ vote. He said that faculty knew it was coming and that it was not surprising that they would choose the way they did.

“There was hope that some of the items would not be passed by the board, but there was no surprise that they voted to accept all the changes of the administration,” Gagliardo said. “I think that faculty is rarely silent, and the silence speaks a lot.”

Hart said there were questions and frustrations following the outcomes of the vote and that he was not surprised by the outcome.

“I think many of us don’t just see this particular situation in isolation. I think if this was just an isolated incident or isolated set of events, yeah, there would probably be disappointment, but I do think it wouldn’t have generated the same response,” Hart said.

He said that many of the faculty senators saw the outcomes as a part of a larger trend that has been happening in the last two years and that, for many of the faculty, how the process of the handbook revisions played out was continually connected back to lack of trust in senior leadership. Hart said that it wasn’t that there were three or four items, it was that these items were really important.

“The issue isn’t the number of issues we agreed or disagreed on, it’s the substance of them,” Hart said. “For a lot of the issues we agreed on, they were noncontroversial, but the issues that we disagreed on, were, from our perspective, substantive and I think significantly changed our relationship with administration.”  

Gagliardo said that, while it was expected, it was really disappointing at the same time.

“Faculty are going to sort of move on with the things they can work on, the parts of the handbook that are, still feel like we have control over,” Gagliardo said.

He said that it is not clear what the overall faculty reaction to these outcomes is going to be and that faculty leadership hasn’t had a chance to discuss this yet.

“It’s the sort of continual feedback that our input is not as important as it used to be,” Gagliardo said. “I think it depends on who you ask. If you ask faculty, I think we don’t think that our voice is being heard.”

He said that if you ask the administration, they gave faculty an opportunity to present their points to the board members and those board members presented to the rest of the board. He said that the faculty doesn’t know how their points were presented to the board because no faculty member was present.

Butcher said that she doesn’t really have any confidence that the faculty’s position on why they wanted something different from the administration was presented during the Board of Regents’ vote.

“It’s really disappointing that it’s apparent that no one is really listening to us, in the sense of using our words to change something. I feel like they just have this idea that they’ve already decided what they’re going to do and it’s whatever the senior administration wants and that’s what is going to happen,” Butcher said.

She said that even though the faculty may meet with the board in work group meetings, in the end, it seems performative.

“On one hand, I appreciated the opportunity, but I keep getting disappointed in the outcome that I feel like you weren’t really, truly listening,” Butcher said.

She said that it is demoralizing right now, and it was easier in the past for faculty to engage with as well as talk to board members. Butcher said she feels like there is a gulf between the faculty and the board.

“It’s a serious lack of trust right now. I have no reason to trust that they’re going to go where I want them to go. Honestly, I am not sure we can get back,” Butcher said. “I have not been through a situation like this before and I’m not really sure where it goes, but right now, I don’t see, in the current line-up, if we can get back. I’d like to think so, but I honestly don’t know.”

Board of Regents’ decision on power to overturn faculty’s decisions

For the decision pertaining to the provost and president’s power to overturn decisions by the faculty, Gagliardo said faculty were hoping for a way to appeal a decision to the board in these cases.

“That was the part that I think faculty were hoping for that we didn’t get,” Gagliardo said.

Hart said that he hopes that only items related to decisions, policies, or processes instituted by faculty that are contrary to the mission, values, goals or fiscal well-being of the university will be overturned, but as it says in the change, the provost and president are not limited to those items. 

He said he is concerned that if the provost or the president is to overturn a decision, one that might have negative consequences, there is no way for faculty to communicate that to the board anymore since faculty and students’ vote have been removed from the Board of Regents, and representatives are not being invited to certain parts of board meetings.

“I think communication is becoming more challenging,” Hart said. “If we aren’t stakeholders in a community anymore, and we’re just employees, how does that affect how we interact with the university?”

Hart said that, before, there were faculty members who would go above and beyond because they were members of the community, and, although there will always be some that continue to do this, it might just be for the students and not anything else. He said that this is not something that happens right away but over several years.

Butcher said that this turn to only employees with their voices not being listened to and incorporated into decision-making has real consequences and can cause the university to lose something that she thinks is very special about Cal Lutheran.

“I think the reason why CLU works as well as it does, or worked as well as it did, is because even if we were sort of overworked and underpaid, we understood that we were respected, our voice was respected, I have respect for all my colleagues and worked together to deliver the best experience that we could for students,” Butcher said.

Butcher said that this change can cause newer faculty members to never see the example of being engaged and putting themselves forward.

“We will have a university with a bunch of employees that do what they have to do, but don’t go the extra mile,” Butcher said. “I don’t know if the board really gets that ’cause they don’t see it on a day-to-day basis. I’m not sure that the senior administration really gets it either anymore.”

Board of Regents’ vote on burden of proof

As for the decision about the burden of proof when deciding to dismiss a faculty member, Gagliardo said that this makes faculty positions less secure.

“Our job is less secure by them pushing so hard for this extra, lowered burden of proof,” Gagliardo said.

Hart said this result lowers the burden of proof necessary to dismiss a faculty member from clear and convincing evidence to preponderance of evidence for all cases. 

Hart said that Knudsen recommended that for matters of Title IX, per state law, the burden of proof must be preponderance of evidence. He said that Knudsen, Varlotta and Neilson recommended that even things not Title IX-based should be lowered to preponderance of evidence, but that the grievance and separation task force recommended that those cases required by law to be preponderance of evidence be as such, but everything else be clear and convincing.

“It does make it easier for the administration to dismiss a tenured faculty member. So, I think if people did, do, feel fearful, it is completely understandable,” Hart said.

Butcher said that she can see faculty job security being eroded, same with faculty agency and faculty’s voice.

“If I see that one of my colleagues are going to lose their job over something listed as something someone can be dismissed over, I don’t want that to be ‘I think that happened,’ so it feels like that security is eroding,” Butcher said.

Next to be reviewed in the faculty handbook

According to the separation from the university document, the declared financial exigency section will be submitted to the Board of Regents in May for a vote. 

Hart said that to declare financial exigency means that the finances of the university are so dire that it is almost to the point of closing. He said that this would lead to drastic decisions, such as layoffs. 

“Dr. Neilson, in a senate meeting, said they don’t expect the changes to be anything but cleaning up language and typographical changes,” Gagliardo said. “So, as faculty, we aren’t expecting anything major from the changes they propose.” 

Gagliardo said that if the changes to this section are minor, there is nothing to be concerned about, but if there are major changes to the financial exigency section, that would concern faculty greatly. 

Hart said that the grievance and separation task force concluded that nothing in this section was problematic enough to change; however, the administration identified something they want addressed and will come up with a proposal. Hart said that the faculty will not be creating another task force to review this matter. 

“Faculty are concerned because if we start changing that, how does the administration want to change it, does it make it easier for them to declare financial exigency,” Hart said. “We will see what they propose.” 

Butcher said, as far as she can tell, the administration will come up with their own suggestions for what they think this section should say and then faculty will be put in a position to react to the suggestions. She said that there is reason to worry that they’ll come up with something that she doesn’t agree with. 

“At most institutions that I’ve seen, financial exigency is a very specific thing that applies to the entire institution and I am not actually sure how you change that because I thought it was a set thing,” Butcher said. 

Other items approved by the Board of Regents

Julie Kuehnel, the faculty representative to the Board of Regents and psychology professor, said in an email interview that she was invited to the Board of Regents meeting and gave a 3-4 minute report to the board. She said that the staff representative to the Board of Regents, Rachel Ronning Lindgren, and undergraduate representative to the Board of Regents, Associated Students of California Lutheran University President Gregory Pimentel, also gave reports to the regents. 

Pimentel said in an email interview that the meeting included discussion about the campus plan and the prioritization of projects on campus. 

“My goals were to provide the best input on behalf of the student body and would be most helpful and beneficial,” Pimentel said. “It was also my last meeting as representative so I wanted to make sure that I finished strong.” 

Kuehnel said she recalled that there was a discussion about updating and remodeling the Ahmanson Science Center and moving departments currently in the D building into the Ahmanson Science Center, which she said would take two years to complete. 

“With regard to the [capital] (building projects), the Regents were very enthusiastic as was I,” Kuehnel said. “The money comes from a [capital] fund saved for these kinds of projects over many years.”

Kuehnel also said other projects approved by the board would be to returf the William Rolland Stadium and to build a permanent outdoor classroom/gathering space.

“They are going to…have a track designed so our track students don’t have to drive to Malibu to practice – would really like to get it built by the Olympics,” Kuehnel said.

Pimentel said Varlotta, her cabinet, all of the Board of Regents, other representatives and a panel of staff, such as Director of Health Services Saul Miller, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Anna Guerin, Director of Athletics Holly Roepke and Assistant Dean of Students, Director of Residence Life and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Chris Paul were in attendance. He said that the panel discussed the student experience at the university.

“Other topics included the potential addition of new academic programs and the new student health & wellness opportunities, as well as the impact of the pandemic on student retention and student belonging,” Pimentel said. 

He said that he thought the Board of Regents meeting was positive and efficient and that he is happy with the way things went. Pimentel said that he does not know the outcomes of the Board of Regents’ vote because student and faculty representatives were not present during the vote and are not voting members of the board. 

“I feel that it was a very productive and that my voice & the student body’s voice was heard during the meeting,” Pimentel said. 

In a message to staff and faculty, Varlotta said the Board of Regents approved five short-term priorities that have been discussed. These priorities include accelerating the Ahmanson Science Center remodel, constructing a new outdoor classroom/pavilion in Kingsmen Park, completing phase 1 of Hutton Field upgrades, returfing William Rolland Stadium and the designing phase for a practice and competition track. Varlotta said in this message that these items will be discussed at the Town Hall meeting on March 14. 

“First, we expect to receive the WASC Commission letter on or before March 13th,” Varlotta said, “Second, we will share the vendor that a faculty- and staff-research group recommended Cal Lutheran use as part of our Campus Climate Survey project that will unfold during Fall 2023. We will also talk about May Commencement ceremonies and related activities.”