|< Faculty Governance Review
Letter from Provost Robert E. Palazzo to the Faculty
September 10, 2007
We are now into the next phase of our faculty governance review process: the establishment of the Faculty Governance Review Committee (FGRC). By the end of this week the Deans will have received the names of faculty members nominated by their departments to serve on the FGRC. This committee will review faculty governance broadly and bring forward recommendations to modify governance within the broad directives of the Board of Trustees.
I have met, and will continue to meet, with various faculty groups throughout this process. During my various meetings with faculty over the past few weeks a number of questions have arisen.
1) Why was it necessary to present a plan for review and modification of faculty at Rensselaer?
First, it has been more than 10 years since the last faculty governance review. Second, there are numerous contradictions and inconsistencies within the Faculty Handbook and the Faculty Senate constitution. Third, and most importantly, the Faculty Senate election conducted in the Spring of 2007 was not in compliance with the Board of Trustees December 2006 definition of faculty, and therefore resulted in a compromise of governance and disruption of the faculty-administration-Board communication path essential for shared governance. Thus, the election itself promulgated a state of governance chaos that required intervention, necessitating a plan to resolve these conflicts.
2) Why did the Provost recommend a temporary suspension of the Faculty Senate during the faculty governance review process?
Concern that the Faculty Senate would interfere with a faculty governance review process and university business led me to recommend a temporary suspension of the Faculty Senate, while maintaining all other aspects of faculty governance and advisory processes. It was my judgment that the Faculty Senate had lost credibility as a representative of the will of the faculty at Rensselaer since it acted inappropriately on at least three occasions, and given the obvious lack of interest among the faculty at large to serve as Faculty Senate representatives. This led me to the judgment at that time that the Faculty Senate would continue its destructive behavior by interfering with a fair and open independent faculty governance review process. Three actions by the Faculty Senate provide evidence of such inappropriate behavior.
First, the Faculty Senate violated its own constitution during the fall of 2006 when the senate requested Board approval to modify the Faculty Senate constitution to extend voting privileges to include clinical faculty. This action clearly bypassed the process required for constitutional revision, which calls for review and comment by the Provost, transmission to the President, and final delivery of the proposal with full Presidential opinion to the Board of Trustees. The senate violated this important path of communication required for appropriate shared governance.
Second, in February 2007, the Faculty Senate voted to ignore a Board of Trustees directive. Recall that after the Faculty Senate request to change the constitution was finally reviewed and appropriately considered by all relevant parties in shared governance, in December of 2006 the Board passed a resolution to define the faculty of Rensselaer as the tenured and tenure-track faculty and requested that the Faculty Senate modify its constitution to meet this definition. The Board asked the President to convey the Board’s decisions to the faculty, which she did in a letter to the faculty. In February 2007, the Faculty Senate formally voted to ignore the President’s letter, and thus the Board’s directive. This egregious act compromised Faculty Senate credibility with the other partners engaged in university governance, and brought into question the Faculty Senate’s intention to work in a constructive manner with the administration and the Board of Trustees in a shared governance process. This act compromised the Faculty Senate’s credibility as a fair body that accurately represents the will of the faculty of Rensselaer.
Third, and most importantly, in the spring, the Faculty Senate conducted an election that was not in compliance with the Board of Trustees definition of faculty, automatically sending shared governance at Rensselaer into a compromised state that we must now resolve.
3) Is the temporary suspension of the faculty senate synonymous with a suspension of faculty governance overall and does the suspension of the faculty senate automatically result in a suspension of key committees, such as the faculty committee on promotion and tenure and the curriculum committee?
The Faculty Senate is clearly not synonymous with faculty governance. The Faculty Senate is only one aspect of faculty governance. Faculty engage in university governance through processes that extend far beyond the advisory role of the Faculty Senate. The suggestion that the Faculty Senate somehow embodies the full voice of the faculty is inaccurate. Faculty voice is constantly provided through mechanisms independent of the Faculty Senate through deliberations and advice at the departmental, school, and Institute levels. At the departmental level, faculty play a direct and important role in curriculum development, recruitment, promotion and tenure, and departmental performance planning, among other roles. Similarly, at the school level, faculty are engaged as important members of school committees. Finally, at the Institute level, faculty are engaged in advising the President and the Provost through their participation on important committees and task forces to help guide the university as a whole. It is important to recognize the actual, rather than the perceived, role of the Faculty Senate, which represents only a share of the overall faculty governance process.
To assure the important advisory role of key committees required for shared governance, including the faculty promotion and tenure committee and the curriculum committee, the Board of Trustees resolved to support the transition plan proposed by the Provost and further assured the legitimacy, maintenance, operation, and mechanisms for turnover of committee membership during the transition governance period.
4) Are the faculty committee on promotion and tenure and the curriculum committee legitimate as formed under the transition plan, and how will committee turnover occur during the transition state?
The Board of Trustees resolution endorsed the President’s approval of the Provost’s recommendations for transition governance. With that resolution the Board clearly and specifically recognized the legitimacy of these committees as outlined, and further empowered the members of these committees as the voice of the faculty on matters relevant to these committees. Further, should the need for appointment or turnover of members of these committees arise, the Board resolution clearly endorsed a process whereby nominations for committee membership originate from within the committee, followed by endorsement of the Provost to allow for renewal of committee membership.
5) Are committee members vulnerable to any unique liabilities as a result of the transition state, liabilities that they may not have been vulnerable to before the transition state was approved by the Board of Trustees?
The clear answer to this question is no. The fact that the Board of Trustees resolution formally recognizes these committees and the role that they play during transition governance completely assures the protection of committee members against liabilities. Thus, there is no change in vulnerability for committee members during the transition governance period.
I recognize the enormous peer pressure being exerted on Rensselaer faculty by members of the Faculty Senate, which continues in its attempts to operate as a body that represents the voice of the faculty during the faculty governance review process. Please understand that the Faculty Senate has no official role in faculty governance or the faculty governance review process during the transition governance period. Any formal actions or communications by the remnants of this group bear no weight on the administration or the Board of Trustees as long as the Faculty Senate remains in a state of suspension as approved by the Board of Trustees.
I ask that faculty not yield to misguided peer pressure now being applied under the semblance of an operational Faculty Senate. This group of faculty has no standing in governance decisions beyond their personal roles as individual faculty that we all share. Unless reinstated as a result of a vote of the tenured and tenure-track faculty following proposals and guidelines presented by the Faculty Governance Review Committee, followed by review and transmission to the Board by the President, and finally approval by the Board of Trustees, there is no formal role for the Faculty Senate in university affairs.
Robert E. Palazzo, Provost