Commentary by Leonard Hitchcock
Printed in the Idaho State Journal on Sunday, April 29, 2012
Idaho State University has a king at its helm Each of Idaho’s institutions of higher learning is unique. For each there is a list of distinctive programs and initiatives that sets it apart from its peers. Idaho State University’s list includes, for example, the possession of a College of Pharmacy and a College of Technology. Recent events on the ISU campus make it clear that we must add a new distinguishing characteristic to that list. ISU’s sister institutions all have presidents; ISU has a king.
Though there had been no public coronation upon his appointment, it became apparent soon after he arrived at ISU that Arthur Vailas believed himself to have ascended to a throne. When his plans for the reorganization of the colleges and the alteration of promotion and tenure criteria met with opposition from disgruntled factions of the faculty, he did what a king would, and must, do: he implemented those plans by edict. It is no doubt disappointing for a monarchto discover that there are naysayers within his realm, but when this occurs, firmness and discipline are called for. King Arthur found it necessary to banish an obstreperous
– ing department. The royal patience was also stretched to the breaking point by the surly obstructionism of the faculty senate and ultimately it was necessary to follow the example of Charles the First and dismiss that body. Then, in a generous and gracious gesture toward his subjects, the king permitted the seating of another, temporary, faculty senate, but it, too, set its face against the sovereign’s will and ended its days in royal disfavor.
In the manner of his namesake, King Arthur has governed by means of a coterie of close advisors, a Round Table of nobles that owe their statusto his beneficence and have sworn fealty to the Crown. It is generally these courtiers who deal with the commoners of the realm, for the king must maintain a proper distance from hissubjects. That is not meant to suggest that the king isn’t as filled with bonhomie as the next man, but when those over whom he rightfully rules show a tendency to kick over the traces, when the spirit of rebellion spreads through the kingdom, when there is seditious talk of political rights and faculty governance, the king must adopt a stern aloofness and wield his authority without hesitation. A king must never dignify the complaints of the rabble with a response, and so our king seems to have concluded that it would be demeaning for him to argue with those faculty who presumed to question his wisdom and leadership. Afterall, to do so would have been to suggest that those faculty were his equals and not, as God has willed it, his vassals.
The peace of King Arthur’s kingdom was ruffled, this past year, by the State Board of Education’s unexpected command that the faculty should assist in the formation of a novel form of university governance: a constitutional monarchy. The intent of this command was hard to fathom. Historically speaking, constitutional monarchies have always limited, to a greater or lesser extent, the power of the king, yet the SBOE has demonstrated again and again that it has granted Dr. Vailas carte blanche. The inconsistency may be illusory, of course. Had the king been assured by the State Board that he would have the right of final approval on a constitution, any limitations imposed upon him would be of his own choosing and hence not onerous?
As it turns out, the actions of the king, and the board, bear out this supposition. King Arthur rejected the constitutionproposed by the Provisional Faculty Senate and, with the board’s approval, promulgated his own version of it as the operative rules for the kingdom. Though there will be another faculty senate that will continue to work on the constitution, it is now an established precedent that if a constitution displeases the king he may simply refuse to accept it. Moreover, though new faculty senators will be elected, his majesty has created a rule whereby many of those faculty who had most resolutely opposed him in senates-past will be ineligible to serve on the new one. The board has concurred.
Every prudent monarch must guard against the possibility of popular revolt. King Arthur took a significant first step in combatting such uprisings by demonstrating that the SBOE, at his behest, will dissolve the Faculty Senate. He has provided for further protection in his self-authored constitution. Having already experienced an affront to his royal authority through the traitorousmachinations of senatorial malcontents, he has altered the senate’s rules so as to ensure that his subjects’ political representatives will never again succeed in engineering a vote of no confidence.
All in all, it seems clear that those who anointed Arthur are in full accord with his overarching principle of governance, which might be summed up in the maxim: “The faculty proposes; the king disposes,” or, as the king himself might put it, “L’Université, c’est moi!.” Nonetheless, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Divine favor has been withdrawn, and kings dethroned, ere now.
Leonard Hitchcock, of Pocatello, is a professor emeritus at Idaho State University’s Eli M. Oboler Library.