Creating a Faculty Senate: First Principles and First Steps

By Kevin L. Cope, AAUP-LA Treasurer, April 30, 2021

Anyone who serves for long as an AAUP Chapter, Section, or Conference
officer will experience the synonymy of the individual with the universal.
Problems are about the only things that are not in short supply in contemporary
higher education. Many colleagues seek help with what they regard as unique
troubles, not knowing that many others have faced those same challenges and
that the AAUP has plenty of pertinent, collected and collective wisdom to share.
One of the most common difficulties facing governance-minded academic
professionals is that of irregular (or, worse, non-existent) “faculty” or “shared”
governance institutions. Some institutions regard the faculty as little more than
hired labor without a voice in campus affairs; others create hybrid or chimerical
governance bodies such as “university senates” that seem to include everyone
but that end up, in their piebald character, representing no one. It is easy to
understand why a clear-thinking faculty member working in such an institution
might propose the creation of a faculty governance entity while simultaneously
being daunted by the difficulty of that task. Uncertainties concerning best
standards and practices for faculty representation in college and university
management make the challenge all the harder.

As a step toward encouraging colleagues to strengthen the faculty voice at
institutions that have yet to establish elected, representative faculty bodies
meeting AAUP standards, the following anonymized letter is being made public.
The letter was originally sent in response to questions that seemed, to the
querist, unique but that, in sad fact, arise on all too many campuses.

First Steps toward Faculty Governance: An Open Letter

Dear and Esteemed Colleague,

Thank you for the more complete picture of what is underway at your
campus, Disenfranchisement U.  I suppose it is good to know that you have at
least a “university senate,” but there is much more to good university governance
than such a body or concept can comprehend. In your letter, you pose a number
of queries, which I shall address serially, in bullet-list form, in the hope that we
can amplify the faculty voice at your institution.

  • Although it is true that many institutions create “university senates” rather
    than faculty senates, those with experience in faculty governance, including
    the AAUP as well as ALFS, discourage this arrangement.  In almost any
    institution, the faculty will be outnumbered by the combination of
    administrators with the staff and other non-tenured personnel who are
    obliged to administrators. Thus, a university, as opposed to a faculty,
    senate is simply a mechanism by which to silence the faculty voice by
    putting it permanently in the minority. The concept of a university senate
    is especially invidious because it seems to be inclusive and plays on
    professors’ liberality and sense of guilt, making them feel ashamed for
    being more prosperous than other workers and therefore reluctant to
    make demands.  In sum: A university senate is illegitimate. It has no
    mandate from anyone other than administrators.
  • What to do: First, you need to assess whether you have support.  Faculty
    governance is a group, collective effort. You cannot manage it alone as a
    solo crusader.  Here you will have to face some facts. Your colleagues may
    turn out to be too timid or cowardly or comfortable to take action. If that is
    the case, you must honestly judge that to be so, give up on them, not give
    them free help, and continue your work for faculty governance in some
    other context, such as the AAUP-LA or the AAUP or ALFS. Warning: If you
    help or stand up for people who lack the courage to fight for themselves,
    you will, in the end, be betrayed by them and left to face administrative
    retaliation on your own.
  • What to do, part two: If you do determine that you have support, you need
    to call a meeting, either on or off campus or on Zoom. In that and any
    following meeting, you must lend order, discipline, and legitimacy to your
    project by writing a faculty senate constitution to which you can all agree.
    Then you must all do just that: openly agree to it—no anonymous
    participants who fear to help their colleagues in public.
  • The creation of a faculty senate should not be dependent on administrative
    permission.  You should not ask the Provost or the President for their
    opinions.  You should act, and you should make it clear that you are going
    to continue to act.  A faculty senate is a check and a balance against the
    administration.  It is not something that operates as a favor granted by the
    administration, to which administration it stands in a collegial but still contrary, regulating relationship.  Cooperation is possible and should be encouraged, but it should never be forgotten that a faculty senate represents the interests and prerogatives of the faculty, which differ from those of the administration.
  • Although I know that you are chagrined about many past, adverse actions,
    ballots, and events, I would not waste time checking to see who voted
    which way on what.  You need to create and build a senate that will
    constructively advance faculty goals.  You may assume that there are some
    who have previously voted against you.  Your goal is not to coddle those
    folks, but to do what you need to do in order to make faculty life better.
  • Regarding one of the most important entities in any faculty senate, the
    grievance committee, and the question of who has the “final say” in
    conflicts:  The normal arrangement is for the grievance committee to make
    a recommendation to the Provost, who in turn, advised by that
    recommendation, makes a recommendation to the President. That would
    seem to suggest that the President has the final say, but there are
    qualifications.  First, the faculty senate and its grievance committee should
    establish a tradition of robust action such that the President is afraid to go
    against recommendations. Second, the faculty senate and its committees
    should develop a relationship with the management board so that it can go
    around the President and complain, thereby, again, making the President
    reluctant to decline grievance committee recommendations.  Third, the
    faculty senate and the grievance committee should develop appeal
    procedures so that the grievant may appeal beyond the President, for
    example to the management board.
  • You should also try to develop a relationship with the press so that, if it is
    necessary to criticize the President in public, it can be readily done.
    Administrators are afraid of periodicals such as The Chronicle of Higher
    Education because they know that bad press will impair their chances of
    getting the next job.

President’s Newsletter, April 27, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

Our annual meeting was held by Zoom April 24, with 18 people present including all members of the executive board except Secretary Tom Miller, whose Internet connection had been knocked out by the evening’s storm. Following are my notes. Solidary greetings from LESLIE.

  1. New work arrangement: the executive committee/committee chairs will henceforth look at feasibility of projects proposed and taken on in these meetings, before we commit too hastily to large projects without personnel (as has happened in moments of Zoom enthusiasm in the past year). The first such project now underway: we need a post office box and letterhead/official envelopes. There are great benefits to increasing our visibility and enhancing our professional profile. We would like a post office box near the Capitol, in the 70802 zip code also used by lawyers and lobbyists.
  2. AAUP Redbook: Every chapter and every institution should have one. They cost $35 from JHUP with the AAUP member’s discount, and the state conference will reimburse chapters who buy them (it is suggested they be placed on reserve at the library).
  3. Membership: Leslie will resend the most recent roster to chapter leaders, so they can make sure all their members are on it. Some people have inadvertently let membership lapse, and transition to new membership software at AAUP national has apparently not picked up all renewals. We need more members, and every campus that has 7 members should create a chapter. There are great benefits to increasing our numbers.
  4. Membership: John Worsencraft pointed out that the AAUP national website is antiquated/difficult to navigate, and the e-mailing of rosters in Excel is insecure and so 20th century. Laura R. Adderley has knowledge of online membership software and is composing language to suggest to the national office that they get some.
  5. Faculty Handbooks: Jana Giles is looking at ways to compare language in these: should we aggregate them in a Google drive, or create space on the website to aggregate links to system policies and faculty handbooks statewide? Handbooks, it was pointed out, have a variety of statuses. Practices outlined in them may or may not be binding, and there is a difference between policy statements and handbook text. Hugh Wilson pointed out that the Faculty Senate at Grambling has not ratified the handbook, since it contains a version of the UL System policy on intellectual property that they do not agree to and will not support.
  6. HB 564: our letter on this bill has been circulated. Karissa Haugeberg reported that the Tulane chapter used this letter by having individuals write their deans on the problematic implications of the bill, so that deans discussed the matter with the upper administration which is now poised to interact with the state government on the matter. We should all adopt similar strategies, and it would be beneficial if students would also contact legislators.
  7. Our next meeting (by Zoom) is July 17. The agenda includes: a/ update and plans for post office box, letterhead, envelopes; b/ update on membership software; c/ interim policy on listserv, e-mail, and circulation of roster; d/ report from Leslie and Vipin, our decision re website management; e/ charge of Committee on Outreach and Communication; f/ use of resolutions on funding (let’s talk about why education should be publicly funded!) and faculty representation on higher education boards (students have representatives!); g/ fall organizing drive.

President’s Newsletter – Winter 2021

Dear Colleagues,

The minutes of the January 30 meeting are up in this site under Minutes (tab to the left), and will be mailed out over the listserv. Our April 24 meeting will be virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. News of our resolution on higher education boards, and our letter to the University of Kansas administration is forthcoming, and we have committees working on COVID-19 as well as media/outreach strategies. Committee A has a case on the language of faculty handbooks, that will affect us all.

In Louisiana we have 249 members at this time, and a new chapter has formed at the University of Holy Cross. I am hoping we can increase membership this quarter, replacing anyone who retires or moves, and pushing beyond that 250 mark.

I wish you the best this semester, and hope to see you in the spring.

In solidarity,

Leslie Bary
2020-2022 President
Louisiana Conference AAUP

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