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Faculty Senate, admin. talks remain stalled

Provost hopes to reopen dialogue with new leadership

Published: September 5, 2008
Section: Front Page

At the close of last semester, the administration and the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities had yet to come to an agreement regarding the faculty grievance policy. The Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities chose to suspend the hearing of faculty grievances in March, according to a report authored by former committee chair Prof. Richard Gaskins (AMST) in May.

As the Faculty Senate leadership changes hands, Prof. William Flesch (ENG) was appointed chair Thursday, and the composition of the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities remains to be confirmed, a new crop of faculty leaders will be called upon to address issues with the administration that are, as of yet unsolved.

The disagreement began over the administration’s treatment of Prof. Donald Hindley (POL), who, last fall, was accused by a student of making racist remarks in class. A monitor was subsequently placed in his classroom and he was threatened with termination, as reported in the November 30, 2007 issue of The Hoot. At this point, the Faculty Senate declared Hindley’s punishments unfair and Provost Marty Krauss’ treatment of him in violation of the university’s Non-Discrimination and Harassment Problem Resolution and Appeal Procedure.

Over the following six months, the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities went back and forth with the Provost and Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe regarding Hindley’s treatment and grievance procedure. After the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities released its report May 15, the school year ended without a resolution satisfactory to the committee.

In the committee’s May 15 report, Gaskins wrote that the Hindley case “called into question the integrity of the whole grievance process.” Because Krauss had “challenged the jurisdiction of our Committee to hear appeals in certain cases, as well as our authority to investigate violations of core faculty rights to fair treatment and academic freedom…[t]he Committee could no longer promise our colleagues a grievance process where everyone was playing by the same rules.”

With this concern in mind, the Faculty Senate, chaired by Prof. Marc Brettler (NEJS), approved a resolution in support of the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities. The resolution, included in the minutes from the Senate’s May 1 meeting, states, “The Faculty Senate supports, as a matter of principle, the recent judgment of the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, which found serious violations of the Faculty Handbook in a grievance case concerning Professor Donald Hindley.”

The Senate resolution continued, “The Faculty Senate affirms the Handbook provision that authorizes the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities to interpret the Faculty Handbook on behalf of the faculty. We recognize that unanticipated situations may arise where the Provost must contravene the Faculty Handbook. Nevertheless, in such cases the contravention must be acknowledged as such and cannot be based on a claim to an alternate interpretation of the Handbook.”

Discussions were held regarding the Faculty Senate’s concerns, however, discussions with Krauss, according to Gaskins’ report, were unsuccessful after the two parties could not come to an agreement regarding who would have ultimate power to determine how the rules of the Faculty Handbook were interpreted.

“The Provost and Dean,” wrote Gaskins, “are looking for maximum flexibility and discretion,” in interpreting the Faculty Handbook.

For the committee, such flexibility was an affront to the integrity of the grievance process. “Under the Provost’s approach,” Gaskins remarked in his report, “she is not only the final judge of her own actions, but also the final interpreter of the very rules by which her actions are being judged.”

He continued, “At the end of the day, these rules will mean whatever she decides they mean, applied retrospectively to her own actions that are being challenged. It is hard to reconcile this approach with basic notions of accountability.”

In order to reach a compromise with Krauss and Jaffe, Gaskins and his committee “proposed [what] is best described as a division of authority along with mutual accountability. The faculty interprets the rules of the Handbook and applies them to grievance cases…[t]he administration retains the power to override any particular decision, but it would be expected to acknowledge the divergence from the formal rules.”

Gaskins continued, “This may not be a perfect system from the standpoint of faculty governance, but it is a strong improvement over the current system, where the Provost’s reasons can be presented simply as differences over interpretation. This division of authority seems workable to the Senate and to this Committee—indeed, it is the only structure that would still protect a faculty-run grievance process.”

Ultimately, the committee’s document expressed a lack of faith in its ability to be effective without any commitment from Krauss.

“What concerns us most is the next faculty member…who comes to this Committee with a formal grievance. If it involves the campus harassment policy, right now we have no confidence that the Committee can take jurisdiction in your case. We have no confidence that the Committee can investigate whether you were denied your basic right to fair treatment under University policies, or your right to academic freedom…[a]nd we can give you no assurance that the rules as written and interpreted by your faculty peers will be the rules under which you and others on campus will be judged.”

In a letter to the faculty dated May 15, Krauss responded to the committee’s report, saying, “I regret that after only one meeting, the R&R committee decided unilaterally to suspend future meetings with Adam and me. We need to continue, not stop, discussions about our respective roles in interpreting the Faculty Handbook.”

While Krauss declined to discuss specifics, she commented in an e-mail to The Hoot, “I seek, with Prof. Flesch, and whomever is the next chair of the committee on rights and responsibilities, a reasoned and appropriate resolution on outstanding issues.”