The MU Faculty Council approved a statement Thursday expressing disapproval for Chancellor Mun Choi's conduct in reviewing promotion and tenure candidates.
A resolution presented to the council censured Choi for failing to read the written recommendations of the Campus Promotion and Tenure Advisory Committee during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Choi reviewed the committee's votes of recommendation without its accompanying memos on each candidate. It is part of his duties to do so, according to University of Missouri System rules.
The censure is a statement of formal disapproval for the conduct of Choi. Censures, as meant by the American Association of University Professors, occur when university officials or administrations do not adhere to the rules and standards.
Choi supported the committee’s recommendations for 54 of 61 candidates. In the seven cases he denied, he said he stands by his decision, according to a response included in the resolution. Choi consulted the provost, deans and faculty before making his decisions. He said the committee’s memos, which he read after the fact, did not change his mind after the final decision.
The resolution, requested by council member Johannes Strobel, states that by not reading the Campus P&T committee memos, Choi failed to acknowledge the advisory role of an MU standing committee, violating UM Collected Rules and Regulations §320.035.A.3.a.
The resolution asks Choi to explain how the input of the Campus Promotion and Tenure Advisory Committee will be respected in the future. It also asks for a written apology for "displaying a lack of care and diligence required for as grave decisions as the ones on tenure and promotion impacting faculty members’ careers" and livelihood.
At the end of the meeting, Choi's leadership style, and what some see as "retributions" toward dissent, came into question. His conduct has already caused concern about a "chilling effect" on faculty free speech.
The topic was broached during a review of possible intimidation during an MU Police Department investigation of Sebastián Martínez Valdivia, health reporter for KBIA, Columbia’s NPR affiliate station and one of the MU School of Journalism’s newsrooms, as well as an adjunct professor of journalism. An email Choi sent to Valdivia following his questioning by MU police about vandalism of the Thomas Jefferson statue on Francis Quadrangle was discussed as being potentially intimidating.
Council member Rabia Gregory, who received a similar email from Choi at that time, said she felt intimidated by his methods.
Choi, who attended the meeting, said that he would like to hear examples of retaliation and that examples would make him "think that fear really does exist."
"I do have to say," Choi said, "Johannes (Strobel) has a weird fascination with me, and there is some personal vendetta that I think needs to be reflected in our discussions."
There was a heated back and forth between Choi and members of the faculty over their concerns about fear of retaliation if they voiced feelings on his leadership methods.
"Dr. Choi, isn't you calling out an individual in this meeting ... an example" (of retaliation)? council member Tom Warhover asked.
Choi doubled down, saying he found Strobel's past questioning of his conduct "aggressive" but hoped to have dialogues with faculty free from concern for retaliation.
Other faculty, however, made clear this fear was not baseless. Gregory said she was troubled Choi chose to question the credibility of a colleague during the meeting rather than to pursue constructive conversations.
"If you have not heard that you are a person we are all concerned about upsetting, you are hearing it now," Gregory said. "Most people are not comfortable telling you this because they are, in fact, afraid of retaliation.
"When you appeared in this meeting as we were voting about a possible censure measure, I did a quick number count: A number of people who might have otherwise voted did not vote at all," she said.
Choi said he welcomed having open conversations in the future.
A couple members of the faculty also chimed in to say they generally found Strobel's conduct to be objective and reputable.
Late Friday afternoon, Julia Brncic, chair of the UM System Board of Curators, issued a statement via email affirming Choi.
"The MU Faculty Council’s censure of President Mun Choi approved by a small group of 12 members asserted that he showed a lack of care and thoroughness in tenure promotion and review. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the statement read. “President Choi and Provost Latha Ramchand performed rigorous and comprehensive reviews of information provided by departmental committees, department chairs, college committees, deans and the campus committee.
"The Board stands behind the integrity of President Choi’s reviews and is committed to upholding high academic standards to achieve excellence,” the statement concluded.
Earlier in the meeting Thursday, the council approved resolutions on statements on the 2015 protests and Election Day volunteering.
The "We Remember" statement recognizes the racism, sexism, religious discrimination and other inequalities that prompted the protests of 2015. The letter promises a continued dedication to ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion on campus and state that complacency toward the status quo is unacceptable, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The council also approved a statement encouraging professors to suspend or conduct asynchronous class on Election Day to accommodate student voting and participation in poll-working.
A resolution regarding updates to MU's COVID-19 dashboard, slated for a vote Thursday, was tabled for a later date, due to changes planned to add additional information to the dashboard.
At its next meeting, the council will vote on whether to hold a normal spring break or spread five extra days off throughout the spring semester.