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Story ran on February 15, 2000

Stephens’ Kierscht under fire
Faculty vote reflects lack of confidence in president.

By JOSH FLORY
of the Tribune’s staff

Stephens College faculty members say it’s time for Marcia Kierscht, pictured, to go.

Faculty members in a meeting early this afternoon voted 34-10 to reject a resolution of confidence in Kierscht. There were six abstentions. The vote aligns with the consensus of a faculty committee appointed to review her performance.

Faculty chairwoman Tina Parke-Sutherland said this morning before the vote that a recent survey left no doubt about faculty feelings.

"The faculty feels as though the life of the college is at stake in this moment in history and that this administration is not able to move us forward in a successful way," she said.

Asked whether faculty members want Kierscht to resign, Parke-Sutherland said "yes." Through a spokeswoman, Kierscht declined to comment.

The faculty chairwoman was careful to say that results of the survey were mixed — faculty, she said, appreciate the president’s fund-raising efforts and the facilities improvements they bring. But in "all the other areas," she said, faculty did not feel the administration was moving the college forward.

Parke-Sutherland cited enrollment, community building and "commitment to the mission of women’s education" as examples of areas where the administration has been ineffective.

The decline in residential enrollment is particularly discouraging, Parke-Sutherland said. In the fall, Stephens had 430 residential students; spokeswoman Amy Gipson said the college has no figures available for past years. Figures from the Missouri Department of Higher Education, however, indicate full-time enrollment at Stephens fell from 950 students to 654 between 1989 and 1998.

Parke-Sutherland said there also has been a decline in residential enrollment. "That is not OK," she added. "While I don’t think this administration can be held responsible for that downward trend, they must reverse it, and in five years they have not."

Today’s faculty vote was the latest chapter in Kierscht’s rocky story. The faculty survey was commissioned in the fall in response to a spring student petition that criticized the president for everything from an aloof management style to damaged relations with the Columbia community.

The student petition coincided with a brouhaha over the college’s beautification plan, which called for parking lots on property occupied by several rental homes the college owned in an historic neighborhood. The plan sparked a city council moratorium on demolition of homes in historic districts. While the college was eventually upheld in court, the episode tarnished its image.

Throughout the ordeal, college trustees expressed unwavering support for Kierscht, granting her a five-year contract extension late last year. Trustee Wendell Rayburn said this morning that board support of the president would probably continue.

"I don’t know what they would say," Rayburn said of his fellow trustees’ response to a no-confidence vote, "but I would strongly suggest they would be very supportive of the president."

Parke-Sutherland said the faculty report was sent to board president Ann Wrobleski and to Kierscht. After receiving no initial response, the faculty wrote Wrobleski, who replied that she had received the report but offered no comments about it.

Parke-Sutherland said the report was sent to the rest of the trustees, but "we have heard nothing from anybody of any substance."

"We understand as a faculty that any negative press probably will hurt the college in some way," she said. "But the faculty feels that the current decisions being made about the college are really endangering its future."


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