Improving Faculty Governance

Wilfred Kaplan

At the University of Michigan, faculty governance has the following structure:  The University Senate consists of essentially all faculty, deans, and administrative officers and meets at least once a year; Senate Assembly, meeting monthly during the academic year, has 72 members, elected by the governing faculties of the various schools and colleges, under rules ensuring a degree of proportional representation; Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), having 9 members each serving a three-year term, elected by the Senate Assembly under rules ensuring some breadth of representation of the units; 18 committees focused on special areas (academics, finances, governmental relations, etc.) whose members are appointed by SACUA on the basis of interest shown.  SACUA elects its own chair and vice-chair; the chair presides over meetings of the Senate Assembly, SACUA, and the Senate.  The secretary of the Faculty is elected by the Senate Assembly.

The Regents’ Bylaws provide some general statements on how these bodies operate.  As the title for SACUA indicates, it is in general purely advisory.  However, strongly expressed views of SACUA, Senate Assembly, and the Senate can have a major influence on University policy.  By tradition, SACUA has an informal meeting with the Regents each year.

The AAUP (American Association of University Professors) is a national organization, founded in 1915, and it has chapters at most universities.  The University of Michigan chapter, one of the oldest, has no formal role at the University, but it serves in an advisory capacity to the faculty and administration.  In particular, it tries to ensure that national AAUP standards are maintained: these concern tenure, appointments, economic matters and many other areas, all described in the AAUP Red Book on policy.

It is a fundamental goal of the AAUP to make faculty governance function well.  Developments last Summer and Fall as described in an earlier edition of this article (University Record) produced concerns in our AAUP Executive Committee as to certain actions of SACUA.  Now is an appropriate time to review subsequent events.

The first concern was how SACUA was handling the action of the Senate in March 2004 to establish an Administrator Evaluation Committee (AEC).   This action had as its goal the evaluation of the central administration officers, deans, and department chairs.  Initially, SACUA seemed reluctant to create the AEC and to establish the machinery to enable it to achieve its goal.  In due course, after appropriate deliberation, SACUA developed an implementation proposal which was approved by the Senate Assembly.  The AEC successfully carried out the evaluations, the results of which were shared with appropriate faculties and officers.  A report on the process was given at the March 21, 2005, Senate Assembly meeting.  The AAUP applauds SACUA and the Senate Assembly for fully supporting these evaluations which should only improve and gain in value with time.

The second concern relates to the position of Secretary of the Faculty.  Apparently the bylaws of Senate Assembly give little details about this office.  By tradition of at least thirty years, the person holding the office has been a faculty member and the same elected person has served as secretary of the Senate, Senate Assembly and SACUA.  However, with no notice or discussion, SACUA last spring designated a staff person to serve as secretary for SACUA.  Here there were two aspects of concern:  whether it was appropriate for a staff person to hold this office; and whether such action should have been discussed first at Senate Assembly.  It would seem that there should be an open discussion leading to bylaws defining who can serve as secretary, how selection occurs, duties, and term of service.  The position of secretary for SACUA appears to have risen in importance as a result of a desire to make sure the minutes are refined and reflect what members wanted to say (upon reflection) and not necessarily what was actually said.  A broader, open discussion of what minutes represent would seem to be in order.

Finally, the leadership and membership of SACUA and the Senate Assembly are to be commended for the increased attendance at Senate Assembly meetings which has led to improved dialog and discussion.  SACUA should be encouraged to bring issues to the Assembly so that resulting actions reflect the input from a larger representation of the faculty.  This is especially important when there are divisions within SACUA.

An earlier version of this article appeared on the “Faculty Perspectives Page” of  The University Record, September 20, 2004.

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