Summary of the Faculty Meeting with Provost Robert Palazzo, August 22, 2007

Having stated his intention to answer questions posed by the faculty, Provost Bob Palazzo clarified the status of governance on the campus in response to the first question from Henry Scarton. A review process involving a committee composed of senior faculty will ensue. The Faculty Senate has been formally suspended from input into the review process on grounds that “those most clearly engaged have a conflict of interest”; the review should be “independent” and the process “clean.”

The Provost stated he had no objection to informal faculty meetings during the review period. He emphasized the need to build trust, the need for “mutual participation,” the need for letting go the history, and for cooperation with a “positive spirit.” He urged faculty to “get over the defensiveness and suspicion” that has historically pervaded the campus, acknowledging that these dynamics occur on the side of the administrative as well as the faculty.

Mike Jensen took issue with the directive nature of the BoT Chair’s letter in which it stated that the senate “will” change its constitution.

Several faculty suggested or demanded that the Provost take back his decision to suspend the FS. The Provost steadfastly refused to do so, stating that he would have to repeat the process through which he had gone with the President and the BoT and this would be taking a step backwards. He stated that he alone was responsible for the decision to suspend the FS, although he had consulted with the deans throughout the period leading up to his decision. Later in the meeting, the provost disclosed that the “transitional governance state” was the result of a general consensus of himself and the deans, but that the process now rolling out was the result of his decision alone.

The Provost was concerned with maintaining credibility with two separate bosses: president/board on the one hand; and the faculty on the other; resulting in his sense of being between the rock and a hard place.  Possessing half or three quarters of a loaf is better than no loaf at all.

Composition of the review committee was discussed, with several faculty speaking in favor of an electoral process in which each school would democratically elect faculty representatives. A viable process has not yet been established. The Provost asked whether he, as provost, should have the right to accept or not accept particular members of that committee. There was a resounding chorus of “no’s” from the audience, in response to which the Provost stated his disagreement (meaning that he wishes to retain the right to accept or reject members). He clarified his discomfort with entering the review process without the “guidance” of the president. Later Gary Saulnier stated that such a body would not be considered legitimate from the faculty point of view if it in fact had no elected faculty representation.

Peter Persans suggested that there was already a process for constituting mediation and hearing committees in the Faculty Handbook. These committees attempted to gain representation from all constituencies, and he urged the adoption of a similar goal.

Spring 2007 elections were a recurrent topic. Palazzo reaffirmed that the election that was conducted did not fall within the BoT’s definition of faculty, and thus would be considered invalid because it was the outcome of a flawed process that must be corrected. Palazzo also underlined that P&T was his biggest concern. Linda Schadler, the outgoing chair of P&T who ended her two-year term on July 31, 2007 and was called back into service on August 7, 2007, when the Provost decided to revert to the previous committee, stated her concern that failure to follow the Faculty Handbook would increase liability. She also stated the committee’s confusion about how to act in the face of becoming “administrative appointees” rather than elected faculty representatives. Palazzo minimized the legal consequences of operating outside the Faculty Handbook.

Larry Kagan, deposed FS president, noted that the unilateral decision to dissolve the FS set a terrible precedent. Throughout spring semester 2007, stated Jim Napolitano, FS president at the time, the FS endeavored to recognize the BoT’s request that constitution be amended so as to implement the new definition of faculty. The FS offered a plan to structure further deliberation by engaging trustees, administrators, and faculty in a rational, evidence-based fact-finding mission to compare what other institutions are doing in terms of: 1) the definition of faculty and clinical faculty; and 2) to examine the role of Rensselaer Clinical Faculty and what contributions they make to Rensselaer. (Please refer to the Faculty Senate Archives, 4/21/07 at which Michael Fortun made the following motion:  The Senate formally withdraws the handbook as submitted to the provost in May 2006, and that the Senate form a committee of faculty, administration, and at least one member of the Board of Trustees, to study models of faculty definition and governance at peer and aspirant institutions, and to recommend to the Senate appropriate language for the constitution and handbook to be taken to the faculty for a vote in spring 2008. This motion was seconded by Henry Scarton, and the vote was: Approved 9; Opposed 0; 2 Abstention. Discussion about this motion resulted in agreement that a task force should be formed.  The administration rejected the formation of this task force.) At the August 22, 2007 meeting, Selmer Bringsjord proposed a similar process of rational deliberation over the status of dedicate detaching faculty at peer and aspirant institutions, turning to Rensselaer’s high faculty-student ratio in relation to MIT and other institutions that depend on clinical faculty to lower theirs and thus achieve higher rankings. 

The status of the BoT’s redefinition of the faculty was debated. George Plopper asked, if the outcome was predetermined by the BoT, why was the FS asked to go through any process at all. Palazzo clarified that the BoT had issued a “broad guideline” that now stood as the boundary condition within which the FS was to execute the necessary changes to the constitution and Faculty Handbook.

David Hess recalled the lengthy process with former provost Bud Peterson, in which it was clear that clinical faculty were part of the faculty as defined. He characterized the new edict as coming out of the blue. He inquired about the rationale for suspending the FS. Why not simply send out a memo, he asked. In response to this question, the Provost replied that the FS was “not able to cope with change.” Yet, Nancy Campbell, deposed recording secretary of the FS, pointed out that those who were deposed were newly elected, and thus *not* those who had been supposedly “unable to cope with change.” In response to her remarks, the Provost clarified once again that there is no role for the Faculty Senate Executive Committee during the period of transitional governance.

Consistently, the Provost spoke of the need to protect tenure, and his relief that the BoT and president have reaffirmed commitment to tenure at the Institute. Heidi Newberg spoke of the disingenuousness of being told that the FS had been dissolved in order to strengthen tenure. Larry Kagan once again stated his reluctance to support the suspension of the FS on the basis of an apparent misunderstanding, and asked that the Provost rethink his first step. Finally, Les Rubenfeld spoke of the internal and external degradation of the Institute in the eyes of those committed to shared governance.

This summary is respectfully submitted by the deposed recording secretary of the Faculty Senate. Apologies for all errors.