University Faculty Ombuds Michael Welsh, who’s also a biology professor, discussed concerns about the faculty arbitration process in a speech to members of the Senate Advisory Committee for University Affairs yesterday.
Welsh addressed the issues he has often seen as the University faculty ombuds – an intermediate who deals with members of faculty who file grievances against their peers and the administration – at yesterday’s SACUA meeting.
Though Welsh told the leading faculty governing body that the majority of incidents he sees are unique, he has dealt with many complaints from faculty who alleged that they did not receive fair treatment from the University when they were faced with an accusation. Faculty complained they were not privy to the nature of the accusations made against them or to the identity of the accuser, Welsh said.
Welsh added that he recognizes the need to protect the safety of the accuser but that the current process may be too biased against the accused.
“I can understand the need for (confidentiality) in that there is a concern for retribution, but who are you going to go overboard in protecting?” Welsh asked. “The person who comes up with the accusation? Yeah, I think you need to protect those people, but some people will use that protection and that shield to unjustly accuse someone.”
Ed Rothman, SACUA chair and professor of statistics, said he brought Welsh before the assembly because he wants the committee to play a more active role in faculty grievances. He added that if common issues were identified across several cases, SACUA could help construct rules for dealing with the specific problems to eliminate doubts over proper procedure.
Rothman said another issue he often encounters concerns the similar language used to describe faculty titles across different schools. The common underlying language leads some faculty members to believe they have certain rights that are not specific to their departmental role, Rothman said.
Robert Frost, SACUA member and associate professor of information studies, said experts of the arbitration process ought to be brought in to SACUA meetings to further define the rules of grievance policies.
Whitman talks changes to discrimination harassment policy
At the meeting, Vice Provost Christina Whitman and Associate Vice Provost Anthony Walesby later discussed changes to the University’s discrimination harassment policy standard practice guide.
Walesby said the revised policy features language taken from both the sexual harassment policy and the previous interim policy, adding that all changes follow discrimination policies outlined by federal law. These changes, he said, were approved by the University Board of Regents.
Whitman said the University previously relied on its 1992 interim policy to address issues of discrimination harassment. For procedural questions, interested parties were referred to the more specific sexual harassment policy, he said.
Walesby said that under the current practice guide, the University approaches a person immediately after an accusation is made against them to keep both parties updated throughout the investigation process.
Biology Prof. John Lehman, who is also a member of SACUA, said he was concerned about the due process system in place at the University, which leaves the accuser unaware of the potential consequences of a guilty verdict until later in the investigation process.
SACUA Vice Chair Gina Poe echoed Lehman’s sentiments, suggesting that the accused person be made aware of all of the consequences initially.
Following federal regulations, the standard practice guides prohibits discrimination based on height, weight, color, age and sex. Poe raised a suggestion first put forth by one of her students, proposing that the categories all be encompassed under the heading of all physical characteristics.
Rothman said he was also concerned that the existing categories are not defined, so that they do not specify an age or height range.
“The clarity issue I think is really a challenge in figuring out what the class is that’s defined by this,” Rothman said.