The University Record, March 11, 2002

Faculty Perspectives

Editorial Note: During the last several weeks, members of the University administration have raised questions about the representative nature of faculty governance and about the asserted key role of the deans in faculty governance. Several years ago, in times not unlike these, former Senate Assembly Chair Thomas Dunn offered his perspective and understanding about representation and process in faculty governance. We reprint his article here. First published in The University Record, October 8, 1997

By Thomas Dunn,
Professor of Chemistry

For over 30 years, I have been both an active participant and sometime critical observer of the faculty governance system, and, following my year as Chair of SACUA, it seems appropriate to make a few comments upon its structure, its strengths and weaknesses, and its possible future directions.

President Emeritus Duderstadt was wont to refer to the “dual faculty governance system” (particularly when addressing the regents and also when meeting with SACUA) by which he was alluding to the existence of the various school and college executive committees as well as the central faculty governance system exemplified by the Senate Assembly and its executive committee, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA).

As most of you know, the Senate Assembly is elected by the faculty at large on a proportional representation basis with the proviso, until recently, that each school or college should have at least two members regardless of numbers. Exceptions to this are the recently formed School of Public Policy Studies and the Division of Kinesiology, which are limited to a single representative. The executive committees of the various schools and colleges are diverse in structure and composition ranging from a form of proportional representation from their internal constituencies (such as Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities in LS&A) to those comprising a significant majority of departmental chairs. These disparate forms make it difficult to generalize about their operational modes or even their classification as a part of faculty governance. Department chairs, for most significant purposes, are part of the University’s administrative structure.

The Role of Senate Assembly and SACUA

The school and college executive committees are assigned a more restricted role than the Senate Assembly or SACUA since their concern is with their own particular school or college. The Senate Assembly and SACUA, on the other hand, are charged by Regents’ Bylaws:

to consider any subject pertaining to the interests of the University . . . The assembly shall have power to consider and advise regarding all matters within the jurisdiction of the University Senate which affect the functioning of the University as an institution of higher learning, which concern its obligations to the state and to the community at large, and which relate to its [sic, the University’s] internal organization insofar as matters of internal organization involve general questions of educational policy. The assembly shall advise and consult with the president on any matter of University policy which the president may place before it. The assembly may request information from any member of the University staff, and may invite any such person to sit with it for the purpose of consultation and advice.

These are broad responsibilities but are limited to the “power to consider and advise.” Unless mechanisms for communication of faculty attitudes at large are both in position and used, these powers are purely academic.

There is another important function of the assembly and this is the directive that:

  • The assembly shall establish standing committees to advise and consult with the vice presidents of the University on matters within the areas of their responsibilities.

  • These committees are nominated by SACUA but confirmed by the Assembly and are among the connective components of the faculty advisory network.

  • The duties of the school and college executive committees are, in general, restricted to the policies and operations of their own school or college and their powers are given explicitly in Regents’ Bylaw 5.06:

    ...the dean, director or head shall be assisted by the executive committee of which he or she shall be, ex officio, the chair. The executive committee in addition to assisting with administrative functions shall be charged with the duties of investigating and formulating educational and instructional policies for consideration by the faculty, and shall act for the faculty in matters of budgets, promotions and appointments.

    It would be invaluable for efficient and effective faculty and administrative governance if the various jurisdictions were understood by all faculty members and administrators.

    There are two other issues concerning executive committees that require further comment. First, even for executive committees, which are composed of nonadministrative personnel, the faculty members are actually selected rather than elected. This refers to the fact that, for the most part, the school or college faculty make their choice from a slate of nominees recommended by a faculty nominating committee but the names of the major vote-getters are then submitted to the provost for his or her selection. This archaic method has been justified on the grounds that the selection process is intended to “balance” the fields of the already sitting members of the executive committees. In fact, this prerogative is really the province of the nominating committee whose task it is to offer an appropriate slate to the faculty. The Senate Assembly and SACUA have the strength of being the only groups fully elected by the faculty and which, therefore, promulgate their views without any “filtering” from the administration.

    The Roles of Executive Committees and Senate Assembly

    The final issue is one that has led to significant problems in the past five years, by confusing the proper roles of executive committees and the Senate Assembly.

    This is that it is not appropriate for any executive committee to inject itself qua committee into the discursive or legislative process of the Senate Assembly. All executive committees are components of the administrative arm of the University and have no standing with respect to the Assembly or SACUA. Each of the faculty members who comprise an executive committee, including the dean is, individually, a member of the senate and entitled to correspond in that capacity with their representatives in the Senate Assembly or to make a request to appear before the assembly by virtue of their standing. All of the executive committees of the schools and colleges do have administrative standing and should, therefore, convey the opinions or conclusions of their committee to an appropriate officer of the administration such as the provost or to an appropriate vice president.

    As an example, the faculty grievance procedures have been under prolonged and intense scrutiny by SACUA, Senate Assembly and by subcommittees of the assembly. Orderly procedure demands that these processes be those of the faculty senate members alone. When the assembly has concluded its legislative phase, any advice is then, necessarily, forwarded to some arm of the administration for comment, conciliation or action and it is only at this stage that executive committee opinions or actions are appropriate, i.e., when the advice or recommendations have been passed on to the administration for their comments prior to any regental action. It should be noted that the assembly is empowered by Regents’ Bylaw 4.01 to make recommendations directly to the regents, but polity and efficiency suggest a consultative and conciliatory approach.

    In the case of the grievance policy issue, the current policies and those recommended by the assembly were subject to a conciliation committee composed of administrators chosen by the provost and faculty senate members chosen by SACUA. This process is nearly concluded, and it should become an excellent basis for all future orderly procedures. In the same vein, any recommendations or actions of executive committees should be forwarded through the administrative structure to the appropriate vice president or to the president when those actions or recommendations are likely to have a wider impact on the faculty at large, rather than being confined within one particular school or college. Thus, any issues concerning tenure, compensation, sanctions, benefits, safety, etc. deserve to be considered by central faculty governance for what they imply for the faculty at large.

    These matters bring me to a comment on future directions. As Justice William O. Douglas asserted on many occasions, correct procedure is the foundation of justice, and without it the substantive issues cannot be adequately or properly addressed. This is true of University governance as a whole. In the past we have concentrated on substantive issues without ensuring due process in either their formulation or implementation. Most recently, faculty benefits became an example where failure to have established a well-defined process for contemplated changes resonated from the faculty right up to the regents. This is not to say that unpopular changes in principles cannot be discussed either by the administration or by the faculty, but even before changes in such policies become matters for discussion, it is desirable for both groups to have a well-defined process for consultation in mind—and even better—in place.

    Members of the Senate Assembly often ponder where projected legislation will be directed once it has been concluded. The Regents’ Bylaws, for the most part, suggest the constitutional solution. With good will on both sides, it is not too much to hope that even when new ground is being broken—whether by administration or faculty—it will be possible to find a process, which ensures an amicable and meaningful outcome. The recent past encourages optimism. Senate Assembly and SACUA must take a long-term positive attitude to ensure that faculty opinions and concerns are presented in a coherent and systematic way to the senior administrators of the University.


    The Faculty Perspectives page is an outlet for faculty expression provided by the Senate Assembly. Any member of the University Senate is eligible to submit a Faculty Perspectives essay. Prospective contributors are invited to contact the Faculty Senate Office. Essay lengths are restricted to one full printed page in The University Record, or about 1,500 words. For contact information or to view past Faculty Perspectives, visit the Web at www.umich.edu/~sacua, or call the Faculty Senate Office, (734) 764-0303.