Thursday, May 10, 2012

Undermining the Senate, One Member at a Time

I have been writing about the institutional role of the faculty in shared governance.  I have been focusing on the constitution of a faculty government as a means of effectively organizing the aggregation of individual faculty (each holders of fundamental shared governance power) in the furtherance of an aggregate faculty governance role. On the Institutional Role of a Faculty Senate: Part 1; On the Institutional Role of a Faculty Senate--Part 2.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012))

I have also been suggesting the ways in which such efforts at self constitution and aggregate action can be undermined by administrative action.  Today I speak to an important weapon in the arsenal of those who might undermine faculty effectiveness in governance--scheduling. 

For a faculty organization to function, it requires its members to be available to meet.  Many meeting may be scheduled with regularity--the periodic meetings of all faculty representatives, the meetings of unit faculty and the meetings of faculty serving a role on committees of the faculty organization.  Even special meeting may be scheduled with some degree of confidence. for regularly scheduled meetings.  Indeed, it must be conceded that no organization can long survive, or function effectively, if its members cannot meet form time to time.

Shared governance ought to require administrators, form the highest to the lowest levels, to be sensitive to these basic organizational needs of faculty governance organizations.  That sensitivity, at a minimum, ought to impose on administrations at the unit or department level, an obligation to avoid scheduling other activities during the time set aside for university faculty governance organization meetings.  These schooling "conflicts" do much to undermine the ability of faculty members to participate in governance.

But time and again, I have been confronted with a different reality.  Unit administrations and their scheduling personnel, appear indifferent at best to the scheduling needs of department faculty serving on faculty governance organizations.  The indifference turns to hostility when such scheduling personnel ignore  information received both about the time of regularly scheduled meetings and the obligations of faculty serving in faculty governance organizations.  There is little excuse for this indifference.  At best it suggests an attitude that faculty governance responsibilities do not matter.  At worst, it suggests a hostility to such governance by creating low level impediments to its effective discharge. Either way, such scheduling tendencies ought to be avoided, or explained.  They certainly should be exposed. 


  1. "Unit administrations and their scheduling personnel" -- Could you be a little more specific about these roles (without naming names), for the purpose of clarity?

  2. Sure Jeff; those people within departments, colleges or schools (our administrative units) who are tasked with scheduling classes. In some units that task might be assigned at the assistant or associate dean level, in others a department head may schedule, and in other units scheduling may be done some other way.

  3. Jeff, for the most blatant possible example:
    Many years ago down here at Altoona we had someone elected to be senate chair who did not get along well with his division head. The faculty member served his year as chair elect just fine. When it was his turn to actually become chair, his division head scheduled him to teach classes at the same time as the senate meetings. The higher ups refused to override the division head, and the to-be-chair was forced to resign at the last minute.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: While the professor still works here, to my knowledge all administrators who were involved in the incident have since retired. I very much doubt any of our current division head would do such a thing, and, at any rate, I believe our current higher ups would quickly override such a move.

  4. What's even more interesting is that our culture's decisions in politics are made by the amount of people voting and not by the best decision at hand. I find that a lot of teams in business never can agree on anything. This means that nothing gets done. Once in a while a team does good work together. I just find the more people on a team. The slower the production.