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Faculty demand say in final stages of code changes

Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer
Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Updated: April 7, 2015 at 1:11 p.m.

Faculty say the Board of Trustees has breached their trust by cutting them out of making major changes to how professors help govern the University.

Many professors said trustees are ignoring GW’s shared governance principles by rushing to confirm revisions to the faculty code this spring. They said they want the board to follow past precedents and collaborate with the Faculty Senate before making final decisions.

Eight professors said in interviews that while they had concerns about some specific proposals, such as making trustees voting members of dean search committees, they were more worried that the overall process could lead to having a weaker role in shared governance in the future.

Several said they had never before seen such a wide group of faculty members so vocal about a particular topic during their time at GW. In recent years, faculty have been involved in overhauling policies like the sexual harassment and sexual violence policy and forming the strategic plan.

“I’ve been at GW for a while, and GW has had a fairly sleepy faculty in terms of activism,” said Gayle Wald, an English professor and Faculty Senate member. “So the fact that this has woken up faculty, the fact that the Faculty Association has been formed and we have a more energetic senate, is a direct result as what is perceived as direct attacks on faculty governance.”

Faculty attended town hall meetings with trustees last week, which will continue through this week leading up to a Faculty Senate meeting Friday. More than a dozen professors have also posted about the issue in an online forum.

The chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, Charles Garris, said he was concerned that the senate wouldn’t have a chance to vote on the final wording of the code — which he said indicates that “the role of faculty in University decision-making is being diminished.”

At last month’s senate meeting, Garris told the group of about 40 professors that the board’s plan is to complete the revisions by the end of this academic year. The senate wasn’t involved in creating that timeline, he said in an interview last week.

“The executive committee and the Faculty Senate has been pushing for a long time to carry this over to the next year, to take a look at things one piece at a time through our senate committees,” he said. “I disagree strongly with the idea of an approach where it has not gone through the Faculty Senate committees.”

Feeling left out of the revision process
Friday’s Faculty Senate meeting will include a discussion about the proposed changes. Members of the Board of Trustees, including Madeleine Jacobs, who oversaw the faculty code revision process this year, are set to attend.

At the March meeting, many senators expressed concerns about not voting on the revisions, and noted that some changes could require approval from a faculty assembly.

Instead, according to the schedule Garris laid out, the executive committee will meet with some trustees to further discuss the revisions later this month, before trustees vote on a final version at either their May meeting or June retreat.

Garris said that schedule was unexpected because it differed from how professors and trustees worked together last year to approve a new definition of academic freedom. Both groups approved that overhaul last spring.

“We had expected and we had hoped that model would continue,” he said.

Wald said the process seemed rushed and that faculty felt alienated.

“I think that’s a huge cause for concern. I don’t think this is going away anytime soon,” she said.

Groups of professors, trustees and administrators worked for seven months on the proposed changes, to which senate committees have responded.

Jacobs, the chair of the board’s academic affairs committee and subcommittee on faculty governance, said professors will also be surveyed this month about the changes.

“I look forward to briefing the Faculty Senate next week to present the culmination of two years of faculty-driven hard work,” she said in a statement.

Jacobs did not respond to specific questions about faculty’s concerns about the timeline. Nelson Carbonell, the chair of the Board of Trustees, deferred questions to Jacobs through a spokeswoman because he was traveling last week.

Provost Steven Lerman said he wouldn’t “take it as a given” that the Faculty Senate won’t vote, and he said that the board was still deciding what would be the best process.

“I know that’s a topic of conversation. I don’t think the decision has been made. That’s how I understand it,” he said in an interview.

Two years of working to update governance
Faculty and trustees have been at odds about revisions to the code since Carbonell first suggested GW start the process nearly two years ago. After professors pushed for more involvement, Carbonell held town hall sessions and handed out surveys.

He later formed the working groups to address issues that he found through the sessions and surveys.

Dina Khoury, a Faculty Senate and professional ethics and academic freedom committee member, said the working groups didn’t take many of the recommendations put forth by the committees when they responded to their proposals this winter.

“That indicates, points to the possibility, that we are not being taken seriously as a Faculty Senate and as committees working very hard, who want to work with the Board of Trustees,” she said.

Andrew Zimmerman, a history professor, said it didn’t seem like faculty were being consulted throughout the process. Zimmerman is also the president of the Faculty Association, a group that formed as an alternative to the Faculty Senate last year.

“They’ve explicitly differed with senate recommendations on these things. They indicated in the town hall meeting yesterday that they might go over the senate if the senate did not approve some of the proposed changes,” he said in an interview last week.

Potential areas for major change
While faculty have said their focus remains on staying involved in the revision process, they said the proposed changes could infringe on their role in governance.

“Not surprisingly, the content of not all but many of the proposals are also similarly eroding faculty shared governance,” Zimmerman said.

One concern was not having faculty vote on the search criteria for what a school wants in its next dean. While the senate committees suggested that professors still vote on criteria, the working groups did not. Both agreed that trustees could have voting power on search committees.

Another proposal recommends increasing the faculty eligible for participating in the senate, which Carbonell listed as a priority last year.

But a contract faculty member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the member doesn’t have tenure, said that while increasing representation looked good on the surface, it doesn’t make up for other proposals with which professors disagree.

“We are very concerned that even as our inclusion is being allotted by the Board of [Trustees], or included in the Faculty Senate, that there is an overall delusion of faculty governance,” the member said.

The revised code could require schools to have a certain percentage of tenured or tenure-track faculty. Senate committee members said that most schools should require 75 percent of their full-time faculty to be tenured or tenure-track, while the working groups didn’t recommend a certain percentage of tenured professors.

Professors argue that having more tenured faculty within a college makes for a better experience for students.

“Like all great universities, any university that wants to ensure fairness and treat faculty as well as excellent, has to have a large component of tenured faculty,” Khoury said.

Kiara Bhagwanjee contributed to this report.

This post was updated to reflect the following clarification:
Due to an editing error, The Hatchet reported that the Faculty Association formed in opposition to the Faculty Senate. The group formed as an alternative to the senate.

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