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Updated 10:00 AM February 5, 2007
 

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Faculty Perspective: The rule of two: LSA votes today

At today's LSA faculty meeting (Angell Hall Auditorium B at 4:10 p.m., Feb. 5) faculty will be voting on a motion put forward at its December meeting to follow the recommendations of the University Senate Assembly by abolishing the "Rule of Two" and taking steps to strengthen the role of its executive committee. I urge concerned LSA faculty to attend the meeting and to assert their democratic right of representation. I also hope that faculty in other colleges and schools will take the initiative to ensure their own due representation in the coming months.

If you have never heard of the Rule of Two, don't feel bad—it hasn't been advertised. But if you believe in democratic representation, this rule should trouble you. Briefly, it permits a dean to veto the top vote-getter in a college executive committee election. The mechanics are simple. The dean forwards the names of the top two vote getters to the provost for approval and makes a private recommendation as to which of the two persons should be selected. The provost normally passes this recommendation along to the president and, ultimately, to the regents for their approval. Faculty members in the college typically are unaware that their top choice has been passed over when it happens.

Why would a second place finisher be selected? Well, the winner might no longer be eligible because of a new administrative appointment, relocation, illness, etc. Going to second place in that situation seems quite reasonable. But there is another rationale offered for selecting a second-place finisher that troubles the democratic spirit: "improving the diversity of the executive committee."

Why be troubled? First and foremost, such a practice conducted in secret violates democratic principles at a fundamental level. The executive committee is elected to represent the faculty of the college. Voting faculty decide who represents them. Enforcing demographic, ethnic, or disciplinary diversity a posteriori seems paternalistic, if not downright insulting, to faculty.

Michigan citizens reelected a female governor by a large margin; surely our faculty are enlightened enough to elect female executive committee members. Surely we are capable of electing minority faculty members. If there are fears that one large department may overload the executive committee with its own members, then make transparent rules that guarantee fairness. In the LSA and engineering colleges, executive committee members already are elected according to division/department apportionments. The main point is, at whatever level the micromanagement stops, it should still be under the control of the electorate. Faculty unhappy with some of the prospective candidates should make sure they vote in the election!

A third rationale for the Rule of Two is not advertised officially by administrative representatives, but is acknowledged off the record. The election winner, however demonstrably popular with the faculty, may hold views that don't mirror those of the dean. The dean then fears a challenge to authority that could create a disharmonious, if not dysfunctional, executive committee. The expedient course is to label the winner "disgruntled" and, therefore, ineligible to serve. Having served on my own department's executive committee and having seen how well like minds can work together, I understand that perspective. But we should remember that if faculty members earn the support of their peers, then perhaps there is more than one point of view that needs to be represented on that committee. Although we have come to accept the "executive" committee primarily as "assisting" the dean in his or her duties, the committee should rightfully play a role in checking the power of the dean. That checks-and-balances role is lost if the dean has veto power over membership.

In response to a disturbing use of the Rule of Two in one college a few years ago (uncovered by suspicious faculty through a Freedom of Information Act request), the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), of which I am now a member, formed a task force chaired by Semyon Meerkov to examine executive committee elections and the roles of those committees in governance. I served on that task force, which reported its recommendations to SACUA and the Senate Assembly last year. In response to that report, the Senate Assembly voted overwhelmingly to urge all colleges and schools in the University to abandon the Rule of Two and to adopt the task force's recommendations on strengthening the role of executive committees in college governance.

Concerning that strengthened role, the bylaws of the Regents (section 5.06) state that college executive committees " ... shall act for the faculty in matters of budgets, promotions, and appointments." The LSA resolution to be voted upon today reasserts that role in calling for explicit involvement of the executive committee in promotions, in major administrative appointments, in appointment of named chairs, and in budgetary issues. These provisions are important ones that reinforce democratic representation of faculty in college governance. I hope LSA faculty will carefully consider these recommendations and then vote to ensure that their duly elected representatives have a stronger voice in college governance.

The LSA resolution with relevant links may be found at www.umich.edu/~kriles/NoMoreRoT.doc, which contains links to the report of the Unit Governance Task Force and to the minutes of the Jan. 23, 2006 Senate Assembly meeting, where the assembly first endorsed abolishing the Rule of Two. Interested faculty may wish to read the minutes of the subsequent Senate Assembly meeting on Feb. 20, 2006, in which Interim Provost Ned Gramlich came to answer questions on the Rule of Two, before the assembly again overwhelmingly endorsed abolishing the rule (see www.umich.edu/~sacua/SenAssb/sa02-20-06.htm).

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