On Aug. 7, Rensselaer Provost Robert E. Palazzo announced a proposed plan to review and revise the structure of faculty governance in order to strengthen the role of tenured and tenure-track faculty members. This process marks a significant opportunity to enhance faculty governance at the Institute, and the administration is seeking input from tenured and tenure-track faculty to develop a new, updated structure that clarifies the role of all faculty and instructional staff.
An effective faculty governance structure will play a key role in shaping the future of Rensselaer. In an effort to ensure broad understanding of the process, the administration has developed a Web site that will be dedicated to the issue of faculty shared governance. The site can be found at: http://www.rpi.edu/about/governance/index.html.
It will provide continuous updates on the process and encourage involvement by the tenured and tenure-track faculty in the development of a new structure.
Led by the provost, key members of the administration will be meeting formally and informally with members of the faculty and instructional staff to receive their input.
The Need for Change
Faculty governance helps to shape a number of important aspects of the Institute’s academic functions, including curriculum development, the hiring of new professors, and the promotion and tenure of faculty.
The need to modify the governance structure was spurred initially by a discrepancy between the Faculty Senate constitution and a directive from the Board of Trustees. The current Faculty Senate constitution defines “faculty” as any person at Rensselaer with the title of professor, associate professor, assistant professor, research professor, research associate professor, research assistant professor, librarian, archivist, and assistant archivist, as well as those retired from these positions. A December 2006 directive by the Board of Trustees modified this definition, limiting it to include only active tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Following a request by the Board of Trustees that President Shirley Ann Jackson develop a means to implement the Board’s directive and definition of faculty, the president delegated the task to the provost. Palazzo, a non-voting member of the Faculty Senate, in a memo to Jackson on July 27, 2007, proposed a process to implement the Board’s directive. His plan and memo to President Jackson supporting the proposal were shared with the faculty on Aug. 7.
A news release announcing the process to the general public was issued on Aug. 7. In the public statement, President Jackson said, “A strong university must have strong and effective faculty governance to assure the progress of the faculty and the institution as a whole, and to work and advocate on behalf of the faculty and the Institute. The continued development of the strength of the faculty and the academic stature of the Institute require it.”
A Plan for Change
The provost’s plan outlines a two-stage process. The first stage will institute a period of transitional faculty governance until the review process is completed, and a new structure is developed and approved. During the transitional period, the current members of key faculty advisory groups and current faculty representatives to Board of Trustees committees will have their terms extended to ensure the proper function of key areas of the university, including the promotion and tenure of faculty or, as necessary will be replaced by faculty nominees brought forward to the provost and approved by the president.
Also during the transitional period, a Faculty Governance Review Committee (FGRC) will be appointed by the president. The president will base appointments to the committee on recommendations by the provost, who will work in consultation with the academic deans and the tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Once established, the FGRC will develop a plan for faculty governance conforming to the definition established by the Board of Trustees, and taking into consideration the perspectives of all faculty and instructional staff categories. The FGRC will also establish a process to transition to the new governance structure and prepare a new constitution that reflects the changes.
The recommendations of the FGRC will be reviewed by tenured and tenure-track faculty and other instructional staff, and a new or revised governance document will be approved by a substantial majority of tenured and tenure-track faculty. This document will be reviewed by the president, and her comments and decision will be forwarded to the Board of Trustees for a final decision.
The Process Moves Forward
In an Aug. 13 letter to the faculty explaining his support for the Board’s directive, Palazzo said, “Open and clear communication between faculty and administration is critical for setting the course of a university... 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 the university, provides unique privileges, and brings great responsibility for assisting in the stewardship of the university.”
Later on Aug. 13, President Jackson accepted Palazzo’s proposed process for review of faculty governance, highlighting the need for the process to involve as many members of the faculty and instructional staff as possible. “I encourage you to reach out as broadly as possible in the process so that the final outcome reflects the views of the substantial majority of faculty,” she wrote. Jackson also noted that this “crucial” aspect of the university has not been reviewed in the past decade.
Following the president’s acceptance of Palazzo’s proposal, the Board of Trustees issued a resolution on Aug. 13 to formally endorse the plan and approve the transitional governance structure. Chairman of the Board Samuel F. Heffner also issued a memo to all members of the faculty and staff encouraging wide and respectful participation in the process.
“It is the fervent hope of the Board of Trustees that each member of the faculty and that each member of the instructional staff at Rensselaer will embrace this opportunity to engage in an open and thorough discussion regarding a long overdue examination of faculty shared governance at Rensselaer,” Heffner wrote.
A Web site titled “Faculty Governance Review” has been developed to keep the community informed as the review process moves forward. Check the site for new actions and updates regularly in the weeks ahead. Go to: http://www.rpi.edu/about/governance/index.html
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