Faculty governance group prefers insiders on grievance panels
The Senate Assembly has overwhelmingly expressed a preference for faculty-grievance hearing panels that contain members from inside the unit in which the grievance originated, but not in a majority role.
In a non-binding straw poll last Monday, the faculty governance body unanimously supported a suggestion that Grievance Hearing Boards (GHBs) should consist of five members, three from outside the affected unit and two from within.
The development came as university administrators and faculty governance leaders consider a proposal to streamline procedures for resolving grievances and make the process more "peer-based."
A key issue is how many members of the hearing board should come from inside the affected unit.
The most recent of two provost-appointed task forces charged with reviewing the grievance policy and process suggested two outsiders and one insider. An earlier task force recommended three outsiders. Currently, review boards consist of two insiders and an external chair.
Senate Assembly Chair Michael Thouless says the group's vote indicates a clear desire for insiders on the GHBs to provide a sense of the affected unit's culture and various policies and procedures that may figure into a given dispute.
The revision process was undertaken in an effort to streamline the current process, which critics say is cumbersome, takes too long to resolve grievances and was prone to delays. A 2007 panel formed by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs cited several deficiencies in the current system, including potential conflicts of interest; lack of access by grievants to information and personnel; inadequate, ambiguous and conflicting definitions and standards; and a lack of effective enforcement.
The proposals now go back to SACUA, which will consider the Senate Assembly's wishes before making a formal recommendation to Provost Teresa Sullivan.
The grievance process provides for redress when a department, school or other unit at the Ann Arbor campus takes action concerning a faculty member's conditions of employment that he or she believes violate university policy or is otherwise "manifestly unfair." It would apply to tenured, tenure-track, clinical or research faculty. It would not apply to adjunct or visiting faculty or lecturers.
Theodore St. Antoine, a former Law School dean who chaired the 12-member Faculty Grievance Process Task Force that studied the process earlier this year, says the composition of the GHBs was the most disputed issue during the group's discussions.
The change from two insiders to one was proposed to ease fears that insiders would have prior knowledge of the grievance or that they could be subject to "negative repercussions" by unit administrators, St. Antoine says.
The argument for a totally external hearing board took into account the concern that insiders could have prior knowledge of the grievance and could be subject to "negative repercussions" by unit administrators.
The administration objected to hearing boards made up totally of outside faculty. Some Senate Assembly members also say practical knowledge of a unit is important to the hearings. "We have to respect how units operate," says Robert Ortega, associate professor of social work.
John Carson, associate professor of history, suggested a system that maintains an outside majority but allows for insiders on whom both parties agree. He proposed that the grievant and respondent each suggest a list of inside members. Each would then pick one member from the other's list.
Although the full assembly informally endorsed the idea of a five-member GHB, the ultimate makeup of the grievance panels still must be determined, says Thouless, who also chairs SACUA. He suggested that specific suggestions to increase the size of GHBs could be "premature."
There may be problems associated with larger panels, such as difficulty finding people to serve on them and a smaller ratio of outsiders to insiders, Thouless says.