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SACUA inquires into increase in grievances filed by faculty

By Austen Hufford, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 12, 2012

An uptick in the number of faculty complaints filed under the University’s grievance procedure this year led to concern among faculty members at Monday’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting.

Under the procedure, which was approved in April 2011, University faculty have filed at most one complaint in an academic year. The program serves as a tool for faculty to raise issues with the administration of academic units and their leadership.

The three grievances filed already this year prompted speculation at Monday’s meeting about whether the increase in the incidence of little-used procedure is an aberration or a sign of unrest among faculty.

Social Work Associate Prof. Karen Staller, SACUA vice chair and the faculty grievance monitor, said it is unclear whether this increase is an anomaly or the start of a trend.

At their weekly meeting, SACUA members also discussed a model for appointing faculty members to executive search committees, such as the search for the next University president, and methods of alleviating low attendance at the some subcommittee meetings.

In a typical year, there are zero complaints filed by faculty, but so far this year, there have been three. Social Work Associate Prof. Karen Staller, SACUA vice chair and the faculty grievance monitor, said it is unclear whether this increase is an anomaly or the start of a trend.

The model faculty grievance procedure was adopted in September 2010 and allows professors, research scientists and other members of faculty to file complaints with the University about decisions made by academic units, departments, deans or department chairs. The grievance board is run by the University’s Academic Human Resources Department and attempts to confidentially resolve conflicts.

The University’s grievance procedure is only a model, and it is in the process of being adopted by individual schools and colleges. While some colleges have adopted the procedure verbatim, schools like the Medical School, have changed the procedure to fit their needs.

The faculty grievance monitor, appointed by SACUA, attends grievance board meetings and reads papers submitted to the board to ensure the faculty’s needs are met and proper procedure is followed.

Several SACUA members applauded Staller for her work as the faculty grievance monitor, but were concerned that the job was too much for a single person to handle. They brought up the possibility of appointing multiple people to fill the position in the future, especially if the increased number of complaints becomes normal.

“If there is only one case filed a year it’s not so bad,” Staller said. “But when there is three all at once, it changes things.”

SACUA calls for more professors on University search committees

SACUA members also discussed the need for an increased number of faculty members sitting on executive search committees and passed a resolution asking the regents to choose faculty members on future search committees from a list created by SACUA and ratified by the University’s Senate Assembly, the

The committees are created by the University’s Board of Regents to fill a specific vacancy in important leadership positions. Currently, the committees are being used to find the next University General Counsel and the permanent director of the University Police Department, which is currently run by interim director Joe Piersante.

SACUA chair Kimberlee Kearfott, a engineering professor, said she is especially interested in the makeup of the University’s Presidential Search Committee, which will most likely be formed in the coming year. University President Mary Sue Coleman does not plan to stay at the University after her contract expires in 2014.

Kearfott said she wants to ensure that faculty members are properly represented.

“We want to make sure that our voices are included in any selections of executive officers so that our perspectives are made known during the search and so our insights are taken advantage of so the best possible people can be found and selected,” Kearfott said.

SACUA discusses committee attendance concerns

Several SACUA members also addressed low attendance numbers at various committee meetings. Many members thought the enthusiasm of a committee’s leader plays a large role in encouraging faculty to attend.

Sally Oey, an astronomy associate professor and a SACUA member, pointed out that if faculty members want more control over the University, they need to show up at meetings.

“When the administrators take time from their day to come have lunch with us, the least we can do is to try to reciprocate,” Oey said. “It just doesn’t look that good when we say we want to be more involved (with University affairs) and there are no-gos.”

Correction appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated which meetings were receiving low attendance. It also misidentified the title of Engineering Prof. Kimberly Kearfott.


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