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March 2, 2000


Approximately 50 faculty members, consisting of a large majority of the Faculty Assembly membership and most of the faculty representatives to the University board's committees, participated in a meeting held on Feb. 9 to discuss the faculty role in University governance. The meeting had no specific agenda; the purpose was to permit a free flow of ideas, without the presence of administration and media representatives.

It is not possible in the brief space available here to describe, or even mention, all the contributions made by faculty during a session of nearly 90 minutes in length. A number of themes were addressed by faculty members, and comments on them deserve mention here, as well as further consideration by those in attendance, the entire faculty, and the University administration.

* Concern about, or criticism of the use of the term, shared governance in describing the faculty's role at this University, was expressed. Some remarked that shared governance is not an accurate description of the faculty's role in governance, given the distribution of power within the University. With the legal organizational structure we have under corporate law, it was noted that the board has the ultimate authority within the institution, although it delegates a considerable authority to the administration, with faculty essentially limited to making recommendations and requests. Some faculty expressed the view that faculty, with even such a restricted formal role in governance, can influence the content and implementation of policies and, thereby, have substantial impact on the University. Health benefits was given as an example of an area in which faculty has influence.

* Some in attendance, although concerned about the limited faculty role in the University structure, were equally, or more, troubled by the apathy of faculty with respect to the Faculty Assembly and the issues on which it takes positions. Put starkly, the question is, if the faculty represented by the Faculty Assembly is not particularly interested in those issues and/or supportive of the positions espoused by the Faculty Assembly, why should the administration and board pay much attention to the Faculty Assembly's position, particularly when it is inconsistent with the view of the administration and board on the subject? Faculty complained that the administration at times has rejected or ignored Faculty Assembly and Senate Council resolutions directed to it. That some requests for action were just ignored by the administration was most troubling to some. They wanted Senate leadership to do something about it, perhaps by serving as a "watchdog." One might well expect the administration to recognize that, if a request by way of a resolution is rejected, the body that adopted the resolution is entitled to a direct response, with the reason for rejection being stated by the administration, and not just silence and inaction. Note that the Senate bylaws, at Article I, Section 7(b), provide as follows: "The Chancellor shall inform the Senate of action on such recommendations (of its constituent bodies on various aspects of University policies) in a reasonably expedient manner" (inserted material in parenthesis). Regarding the administration's response to a recommendation from the Faculty Assembly or the Senate Council, does rejection constitute an end to consideration of the issue, or does an opportunity for further dialogue between faculty representatives and the administration remain?

* Related to the foregoing, several individuals stated they felt faculty representatives should not be silent when a resolution is rejected or ignored, and argued that such administration behavior should be publicized. They reasoned that the conflict should be brought to the attention of the public because the University is not just the administration. Someone said that the faculty can go to the court of public opinion; while the faculty, alone, may not be able to influence the board and the administration to adopt its position, the faculty's position becomes clear to the board and administration through the use of the media, and a favorable public response may give added weight to the faculty's position. The subject of direct confrontation was raised in this context. One attendee used the word "ultimatum." My impression is that direct confrontation was not seen as viable, or even desirable, by nearly all in attendance, based on remarks at the meeting and comments I received from faculty since the meeting.

* One faculty member turned the discussion away from shared governance, preferring to speak of collaboration among faculty, administration and board to achieve the mission of the University. The thought was that collaborative efforts involving the various segments of the University community allow bridges to be built that may well permit the faculty to have a greater influence in policy development and implementation.

The foregoing should give the reader some indication of faculty sentiment on governance. Perhaps, that the meeting was held, was well attended, and its themes reported, will be a message of sorts to the administration and the board that could lead to collaborative activity to advance the University's mission.

Nathan Hershey is president of the University Senate.

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