Below is a response to the transition to the new governance system written on behalf of the AAUP Executive Committee. This was presented to President Pollard yesterday, and at her request was not distributed until a meeting could be held today between the chairs of the 3 faculty councils, the co-chairs of the governance taskforce, Steve Cain, Mary Furgol (who had previously raised several concerns herself) and myself. The meeting was productive, and led to acceptance of ideas which originated in the faculty councils on ways to increase the faculty’s representation. I am appreciative of the willingness of all involved to participate in such a discussion to improve the system. However, the primary concern brought by the Chapter, that the faculty’s right to ratify any changes in governance has been disregarded, has not been adequately addressed as of yet.
The big topic on everyone’s mind these days is the new governance structure. There is a lot to be said, both pro and con, about the changes that will be implemented with this new structure, and I will share my thoughts on these– and ask for yours – in an upcoming article. However, of more immediate concern is the process by which we transition from here to there, including the soliciting of appropriate buy-in.
At the last meeting of the Academic Assembly, a Rockville faculty member voiced several concerns, previously raised as well in other forums, including that bylaws of the current governance system which detail the process to change any aspect of governance have not been followed. The bylaws in question appear in Appendix II of the P&P, where the following is written:
“Procedures for Changing the Collegewide Governance System·
- Any member of the College community has the right to recommend to the Academic Assembly changes in the existing collegewide governance system, including changes to the Constitution.
- Recommendations for changing the collegewide governance system, including changes to the Constitution, shall be submitted in writing to the Academic Assembly and then distributed for collegewide consideration.
- Disposition of a recommendation is decided by a majority of the aye and nay votes cast by faculty either at a collegewide meeting or by ballot.”
It is worth noting that that these procedures do not specify a proposed modification to the Academic Assembly, but rather any “changes in the existing collegewide governance system,” which would seem to render moot any question of the applicability of these bylaws to a situation such as this one where the Assembly will cease to exist.
Later in the same appendix are the constitutions of the 3 faculty councils. Each contains similarly worded provisions for modifying the respective constitution, requiring a proposal to be made by a faculty member, and requiring for ratification a vote in favor by 2/3 of the full time faculty.
The administration’s response to these concerns is troubling. First, I have been told that although these bylaws appear as an appendix to the P&P, they are not the product of any Board action nor attached to specific Policies elsewhere in the document, and so are not truly part of the P&P. While it may be true that the Board did not approve these, the Chapter has received a legal opinion that absent explicit indication to the contrary, an appendix is considered incorporated into the document and would therefore carry its weight. The important fact to me, however, is not whether the protections described above were officially a Policy in the P&P or just a policy accepted for over 30 years. The Board can, after all, modify the P&P without input from the faculty or any other constituency when it so desires. The problem is that a long standing protection of the rights of the faculty has been unilaterally dismissed. If the Board and the President are willing to set aside agreements and safeguards that have been the basis of governance of the College since before almost anyone currently associated with the College was hired, how can we trust any agreement they make unless it is made legally binding through contractual negotiations?
The Board and President Pollard have made it clear that they consider a governance system in which every member of the College community has a voice to be a more fair and more effective system the one currently in place. I question some aspects of this belief and note that it does not conform as well as should be desired to the ideal of shared governance as described in the AAUP’s Redbook; despite this, I do accept that by and large it is a reasonable perspective, and it is within the rights of those offices to hold such a philosophy and to implement policies to further it. However, an ethical obligation exists, even if no legal one does, to recognize the impact that implementing such a change will have on existing agreements, and not to simply sweep under the rug any commitment previously made that is no longer convenient.