The Delta State University faculty senate called on the dean of the liberal arts college to immediately resign last week in a no-confidence vote, citing a failure to advocate for faculty and an ineffectiveness in handling tenure and promotion.
The 11-3-3 vote by the body elected by faculty to represent their concerns questioned the leadership of Ellen Green, a biology professor who was appointed interim dean in 2020. It is an extraordinary action at Delta State where faculty can’t remember a time the faculty senate writ-large has taken such a vote.
“There have been allegations of ethical lapses and bias in decision making that raise serious doubts about Dr. Green’s ability to make impartial and ethical choices in the best interest of the college and its community,” the resolution states.
By Tuesday, it was unclear if Green was going to step down. A university spokesperson said the administration had no comment on the vote, and Green did not respond to an inquiry by Mississippi Today.
Christopher Jurgenson, a biochemistry professor andthe faculty senate president, said that Daniel Ennis, the university president, told him the interim provost, Leslie Griffin, would be handling the administration’s response to the resolution.
If Green doesn’t resign, “we need a response and a justification,” Jurgenson said. “That’s what I’ll ask for. If I don’t at least get that, I will demand it.”
At the very least, Jurgenson expects the administration to have a discussion with Green. But it’s still early in the process.
The two-page resolution comes after reporting by Mississippi Today that included Green’s role in hiring Kent Wessinger, a business consultant, to be the interim co-chair of the music department despite his lack of experience in higher education administration and history of domestic violence allegations. Months earlier, the chair of the department had been killed.
In one instance, Green recommended denying tenure to Jamie Dahman, a music faculty member who other members of administration and Wessinger had taken issue with, on the basis that he had “aggressively pounded the table” during a department meeting, an allegation that was not substantiated by a recording of the meeting or eyewitness accounts.
The resolution also cites a lawsuit from an Iranian art professor who claimed he was discriminated against by the university in part because his department chair, who is Turkish, allegedly wanted to replace him with a fellow Turk. The professor, Mansoor Shams, alleged that as part of an effort to push him out, Green invited him to her office, surprised Shams with his department chair and the Human Resources director, then locked the door until he agreed to resign.
After a federal judge ruled the case could go to trial earlier this year, Delta State decided to settle as the campus is staring down the prospect of multimillion-dollar budget cuts.
Jurgenson said that the faculty senate was most concerned with the deposition of Lisa Giger, the HR director, in which she verified some of Shams’ allegations and stated that it is Delta State’s normal practice to not permit employees to consult a lawyer when they are offered non-renewal contracts.
“The fact that the university was sued, and Ellen was named in the lawsuit isn’t necessarily a big deal because it happens all the time,” he said.
Taken together, Green’s actions have contributed to a culture of fear at Delta State that must be confronted because most people on campus don’t operate that way, Jurgenson said. Some faculty who were not senators were concerned that Green or other members of administration would target them if a no-confidence passed.
Jurgenson said he told faculty that “no one is going to lose their job who needs to be here.”
“There was some worry about retaliation, which I don’t think was founded,” Jurgenson said. “I said, ‘Ellen is not a dictator, she can’t do anything to you.’ The culture here has been along the lines of people who have been worried about backlash, but I don’t think under Dan’s leadership it’s like that. The way the university is run right now, it’s about policy.”
Were Green to resign, it would be the latest turnover to shake Delta State’s administration. In August, the provost, Andy Novobilski, resigned for “family reasons” but has stayed to advise the president, Daniel Ennis.
But the turnover at the top, Jurgenson said, is a sign that the administration is getting into shape under Ennis and responding to the faculty’s desire for more accountability. He added that turnover among provosts and deans is normal on college campuses, even if that hasn’t been the case at Delta State.
“Here oddly enough that doesn’t tend to happen,” he said.
Plus, Jurgenson said the administration asks so much from faculty who are expected to take on extra tasks in departments where key positions have gone unfilled for years or work over the holidays.
“The administration is always asking us to do things,” he said. “There needs to be some give and take.”
There would appear to be bigger things to worry about than Green’s situation like the impending budget cuts or the accreditor’s upcoming site visit.
“It’s stressful, I would rather not be dealing with it,” Jurgenson said. “I don’t want to be at odds with administration. I don’t want an administration where we have to do this.”
Before Green became dean, she was the chair of the university’s science and mathematics division and the president of the faculty senate.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.