If the fiasco surrounding Spring Commencement has left students feeling unappreciated, they’re not alone. The Michigan Stadium construction and other such endeavors has provoked protest from University faculty as well. According to the results of an annual survey of faculty members, the overwhelming majority is dissatisfied with its lack of voice in University affairs. This news, along with students’ outrage over graduation, highlights a larger problem: This administration’s lack of consideration for outside views and input. A shared governance document between the Senate Assembly and the Office of the Provost, however, gives the administration the perfect chance to address at least part of this issue.
Judging from survey results, there is a clear air of discontent. Of the 30 percent of eligible faculty who responded, roughly 70 percent felt that the administration should “consult elected faculty representatives . early in the planning of any major construction projects, including those for sports facilities.” The concern stems in no small part from the this summer’s much-publicized University Board of Regents final decision to go ahead with adding luxury boxes to the Big House. At the time, 600 staff and faculty members signed a petition against the proposed expansion. In October, the Senate Assembly – the faculty’s chief governing body – passed a related motion asking the University to reconsider its stadium plans. Ultimately, the University’s administration largely ignored both actions.
Now, the shared governance document may change things for the better. The document, crafted by the Senate Assembly and the Office of the Provost, is meant to define the role of the faculty in administrative affairs. The key issue here is exactly what influence faculty representatives would have in supposedly non-academic matters like construction projects. At any university, the line between what is strictly an academic matter or a non-academic matter is unclear. However, professors are a large part of what make this university what it is. It’s embarrassing that they are left out of the loop. More broadly, having more faculty influence would be a breath of fresh air in decision making, especially given the administration’s insistence on executing decisions from the top down.
Democratization needs to happen because the administration’s decisions affect all of us. The addition of skyboxes to the Big House, for example, has repercussions that extend far outside the walls of the stadium. On an immediate level, the graduating seniors know all too well the way it has negatively affected their experiences here at the University. Beyond that, however, the stadium is a symbol of the University as a whole; if the project attracts criticism, it works against the University’s image and carries consequences for students and faculty as well. In strictly financial terms, when the University takes out loans for construction, it doesn’t matter if these loans are for a Medical School building or an Athletic Department project – debt is debt. Every project affects whether the University will be able to borrow for a future project.
In agreeing to a shared governance document that gives the faculty a greater voice, the administration will show good faith in addressing the concerns of the greater University community. After all, University President Mary Sue Coleman and her administration’s legacy won’t be judged by the gentlemen’s club that will occupy her luxury boxes – it will be decided by the entire University community. This community has had distressingly little say in the issues that directly affect it. Fixing this problem could start with the faculty.