|< Faculty Governance Review
Letter from Provost Robert E. Palazzo to the Faculty
August 13, 2007
I thought it might be helpful at this time to share my views on the significance of faculty governance at a university, the privileges and responsibilities of various categories of faculty, and the reasons that we now face the need for a faculty governance review at Rensselaer.
In my view, the purpose of faculty governance is to provide a rational mechanism that assures that the key decision makers of the university (administrators) benefit from the collective wisdom and vision of the faculty on matters of importance in setting the university direction. Open and clear communication between faculty and administration is critical for setting the course of a university. In this process, faculty serve as sentinels to assure the maintenance of appropriate standards for excellence in scholarship, teaching, and research. Of primary significance is the role of the tenured and tenure-track faculty as key stewards of the university. Tenure confers a career-long commitment to faculty by the university, provides unique privileges, and brings great responsibility for assisting in the stewardship of the university.
Some have suggested that adversarial relations between administration and faculty are inevitable and even healthy. I reject that premise and strongly disagree with that view. I believe that a system of trust and cooperation that enables debate and collegial expression of views, while providing mechanisms to assist in the resolution of conflict, however it may arise, is a preferred state that we should strive for. Indeed, the vitality of a university as a whole depends on a faculty governance system that encourages mutual respect, the greatest possible participation of the tenured and tenure-track faculty, and provides avenues for trusted and fluid communication between tenured and tenure-track faculty and key administrators.
Since I sent forward my recommendations to review faculty governance, some have asked why we need to undergo such a process at all. One important reason is that the Faculty Senate constitution is not in compliance with Board of Trustees directives. This potentially compromises the promotion and tenure review process. Furthermore, I have uncovered inconsistencies within the Faculty Senate constitution and between the constitution and the faculty handbook.
You will recall that in the fall of 2006, the Faculty Senate communicated directly to the Board of Trustees a recommendation to alter the Faculty Senate constitution to change the voting privileges of part of the instructional staff. In response, the Board of Trustees requested that the Faculty Senate proposal be reviewed first by the administration, and that its reviews on the proposal be transmitted from the Provost to the President for review and comment, and then to the Board as appropriate. In my response to the President, which I shared openly with the faculty, I pointed out peculiar aspects of the Faculty Senate constitution, notably that retired faculty retain voting privileges. The action of the Faculty Senate triggered a discussion among members of the Board about key issues related to faculty governance, and the faculty advisory process at Rensselaer. These deliberations ultimately resulted in the change of the definition of faculty by the Board of Trustees as expressed in its December 2006 resolution. In addition, the Trustees requested that the Faculty Senate initiate a process to modify its constitution and all other aspects of faculty governance to align with the Board’s definition of faculty, while assuring the input of other instructional staff to protect the intellectual vibrancy of the university.
The Faculty Senate did not comply with the Board of Trustees directives as a result of perceived mechanistic problems under the current constitution, resulting in what has been referred to as an “impasse” situation.
Beyond these considerations, I have found inconsistencies within the Faculty Senate constitution and between the Faculty Senate constitution and the faculty handbook. Furthermore, it has been more than ten years since the last comprehensive review of our faculty governance structure.
Given all of these concerns, my conviction that the progress of tenure-track faculty and the university as a whole would soon be in jeopardy, and the fact that more than eight months have elapsed since the Board of Trustees resolution was delivered, I developed the recommendations that I communicated to the President and shared openly with the tenured and tenure-track faculty.
If approved, my recommendations to the President will begin an important and necessary discussion regarding faculty governance that will assist Rensselaer in its transition to higher levels of prominence as a research university. A rational process, unencumbered by personal emotions and history, must be undertaken to correct current faculty governance issues, and to establish an appropriate faculty governance structure that will represent the faculty while assuring appropriate deliberations with key decision makers.
In the near future, I expect the President’s decisions on my proposal. If approved, I intend for the faculty governance review process to be broadly participatory, and I personally intend to reach out to all categories of faculty and instructional staff as we go forward.
I continue to rely on your good will and support as we journey through a delicate process that I am confident will put us on a good footing to assure the progress of the faculty and the Institute as a whole.
R.E. Palazzo, Provost