Dr. F. Javier Cevallos, president of Kutztown University, a publicly funded college located in Pennsylvania, is facing new pressure to step down from his post amid criticism from the university’s faculty union.
The union’s leadership — which is comprised of a 10-member executive board — is planning to call for a vote of no-confidence in Cevallos later this week, claiming that he has mismanaged the day-to-day operations of the university, leading to an increase in class size, cramped office space and poor building conditions across campus. In addition, they charge that the morale among faculty is at an all-time low.
In an interview with Diverse, Cevallos, who is the first Hispanic president of a university in Pennsylvania, says he plans to remain on the job.
“I believe that the union has taken a position that is out of touch with what most faculty on campus think,” says Cevallos, who adds that he has the support of the school’s board of trustees.
Recently, a number of Hispanic leaders rallied on Cevallos’ behalf, pointing out that since arriving at Kutztown five years ago he has dramatically increased the number of minority students from 5 percent to 14 percent. They say that many local residents, and some faculty, have resisted the efforts to diversify the college. Some have also signaled that Cevallos is being targeted because he is a minority.
But Dr. Michael Gambone, the president of the Kutztown chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and Universities, says that race is not an issue.
“We did not inject this element into the discussion,” says Gambone, who also teaches history at Kutztown. “Our concern is that the quality of life is suffering here on campus. The graduation rate is less than 30 percent. That should signal a red flag.”
Gambone says that problems with Cevallos surfaced years ago, and last year, the union reported “serious concerns” to the board of trustees about his job performance.
“These conversations have been ongoing for years,” says Gambone. “We need meaningful reforms. We want to make this school better.”
The issue, Cevallos says, is that Kutztown, like other regionally funded state institutions across Pennsylvania, is experiencing a growth in enrollment. Over the past five years, the enrollment has increased from 8,500 to 10,500.
“We are growing fast, but we cannot turn students who want to come here away,” says Cevallos. “That is the mission of a public institution.”
Community advocates, like Angel Medina, who is president of the Pennsylvania Statewide Latino Coalition, says that criticism of Cevallos by the union is misdirected.
“Universities all over the state are having the same budget problems and fiscal crises because they’re not getting what they need from the state,” says Medina. “We need to look at the larger issue, not just one individual.”
The impending vote has divided the 500-person faculty, forcing many to take sides.
Some faculty members, including Kevin McCloskey, a professor of communication design, are supporting Cevallos.
“The union seems to be directing all of the problems solely at him, and I don’t think all these things can be blamed on Dr. Cevallos,” says McCloskey.
McCloskey acknowledges that there are some institutional problems at the college, but believes that the battle with Cevallos reflects the union’s frustration with what was agreed to in the last contract. There were provisions in the last contract regarding class size and pay, among other issues, that the faculty agreed to, but now wished that they had fought harder back then.
“Somehow this has gotten personal,” he says, adding that he hopes that the vote of no-confidence does not come to pass.
–Jamal E. Watson
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