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.