The leading faculty governing body’s authority came under question by its own members at the group’s meeting yesterday afternoon.
Members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discussed whether conducting a poll to ask faculty members’ opinions on extending the tenure probationary period would strengthen or undermine democratic process. Though the motion was ultimately withdrawn, SACUA members unanimously passed another motion calling for polls would be conducted in the future to help decide SACUA’s position on issues.
The discussion arose when SACUA member Rachel Goldman, a professor in the College of Engineering, made a motion to conduct the poll of the assembly members.
“The question remains,” Goldman said, “are we going to have democracy?”
But, she later withdrew the motion because of concerns about timing and the methodology that would be used to conduct the poll.
The University Senate voted last month to recommend the tenure clock be subject to more flexible guidelines to accommodate extenuating personal circumstances. The body also expressed its hesitancy about changing the University’s Board of Regents bylaws to extend the probationary period for each school.
University Provost Philip Hanlon discussed a change to Regents bylaw 5.09 in January that would add two years to the maximum probationary period schools and colleges can offer its tenure-track faculty. Schools and colleges are currently able to offer tenure-track faculty up to seven years probation and a terminal period of one year.
Christina Whitman, the University’s vice provost for academic and faculty affairs, said at the meeting yesterday that Hanlon hasn’t decided what his recommendation to the Regents will be.
SACUA member Kate Barald, a professor in the Medical School and College of Engineering, submitted an amendment to the motion for SACUA to conduct a poll, proposing the poll be conducted by an uninvolved third party.
SACUA Vice Chair Gina Poe, an associate professor in the Medical School, suggested the use of a publication like The Michigan Daily or The University Record, while others suggested the Administration Evaluation Committee, a committee of the Senate Assembly that organizes faculty evaluations of University officials. However, the AEC was later removed from consideration because it interacts with SACUA.
The issue of whether to extend the tenure probationary period is on the agenda for the Regents’ April 21 meeting.
After Goldman withdrew her motion, Poe made a motion that polls regarding other issues be conducted in the future to gather faculty members’ opinions.
SACUA Chair Ed Rothman, a professor of statistics, said the motion would result in the creation of a subcommittee of SACUA members that would prepare the polls. The motion passed unanimously.
Poe said it’s always good to get more opinions, but she thinks it is too late to do so for the tenure probationary period issue.
Barald, too, said she thinks the “train has left the station” for conducting a poll at this late stage in discussion of the issue.
“I think we missed our moment of opportunity, and I want to make sure we don’t do it in the future if possible,” Barald said.
SACUA member Kim Kearfott, a professor in the Medical School and College of Engineering, said the disagreement among SACUA members was indicative of a “two-part dysfunction” — miscommunication between faculty and SACUA and miscommunication between faculty and the administration.
Senate Secretary John Lehman, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said while SACUA followed internal procedures “to the letter,” SACUA members were largely uninformed of the reasons for proposing changes to the tenure clock.
Goldman agreed, but made the distinction that SACUA was informed of potential implications of changes to the policy.
“We have to be careful when we say we’re uninformed,” Goldman said.
SACUA member Stephen Lusmann, an associate professor of music, said instituting a poll at this juncture would undermine SACUA’s authority.
“We have done this by the book,” Lusmann said. “A poll by us makes us look weak.”
SACUA approves proposal about FOIA to Civil Liberties Board
SACUA members unanimously passed a motion asking the University’s Civil Liberties Board for advice on a recent Freedom of Information Act records request filed with the University.
Rothman said SACUA is seeking recommendations from the CLB about how to treat the academic freedoms and First Amendment rights of faculty in the context of the recent records request filed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a non-profit organization based in Midland, Mich.
The records request, submitted at the end of last month, seeks e-mails containing information about the public union dispute in Wisconsin. Similar requests have also been filed with Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
The Mackinac Center requested e-mails from faculty who work in labor centers, seeking e-mails with the words “Wisconsin,” “Scott Walker,” and “Maddow” — referring to Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. Last month, the Wisconsin Republican Party submitted a request for the e-mails of University of Wisconsin Prof. William Cronon, who has expressed criticism of Gov. Scott Walker (R–Wisc.).
Rothman proposed the motion at last week’s meeting, expressing concerns about the search of employee e-mails. The passed proposal asks for a report back from the CLB advising further action.