The University Record, April 4, 1994

Limiting the Faculty

Dean Edie N. Goldenberg’s announced plan to suspend faculty self-governance for the Department of Communication should alarm faculty members across the campus.

The Dean has not yet provided a written explanation of the steps she intends to take, the process by which she arrived at her plan of action, the rationale for the steps nor the authority and rules of procedures she is invoking. So we cannot tell what she thinks is wrong nor do we know the process by which we may seek a collegial discussion of what, at least for now, seems like a uni-lateral action.

This much is clear — if the College succeeds in the course the Dean has announced for our department, any other department will be equally susceptible to a similar decanal takeover on the grounds that its rules are “personally unacceptable” to the Dean.

Some background facts about the Department.

With 761 undergraduate students, we are the eighth largest unit in the college in term of enrollment. But we have one of the smallest tenured and tenure-track faculties — six full professors, one of whom is leaving, one of whom is retiring and two of whom are only 50 percent within the Department; three associate professors, one of whom is attached full-time to a program outside the Department; and six assistant professors, three of whom are leaving after failing to receive tenure. Physics and Political Science, which have about the same number of students as Communication, have approximately three times as many tenure-stream faculty.

The Dean has described the Department as an academic “weak sister,” although during the past six years the Department has remained among the top 10 in the country in external ratings of its undergraduate and graduate professional programs.

If there is a deficiency, it is the direct result of the College’s failure to provide the number of faculty lines appropriate to the teaching, counseling and research demands. To make up for staff shortfalls, teaching in Communication is shared by more than 20 full- and part-time lecturers, some of whom teach as little as one course a year.

The Department bylaws give a vote to what it considers its core, permanent faculty — those in tenure- track positions and those in adjunct positions who have held 50 percent or larger appointment for more than a year. At a faculty meeting two months ago, the dean said this voting process was unacceptable and that all decisions about hiring and curriculum should be made by the tenure-track faculty alone.

It is not clear how the Dean came to this conclusion.

The bylaws of other departments routinely enfranchise non-tenure-track teachers. Political Science, for example, where the Dean holds her appointment, enfranchises anyone with a 25 percent appointment, and History makes the 25-percent appointees eligible to be elected to its Executive Committee. Sociology provides equal voting membership to “all persons holding an academic title above that of Predoctoral Instructor,” and its Executive Committee includes an elected graduate student and reserves a place for instructors and assistant professors.

Psychology goes further yet, granting a vote to lecturers, research associates and teaching fellows. Its eight-member executive committee must include one full professor; two of lesser rank at least one of whom is an assistant professor or lecturer; and five elected at large, of whom two are students.

What is common and admirable in these other departments is their effort to include all ranks in the decision-making process. It undoubtedly contributes to their strength. Has the College asked them to change their rules? Are they doing so?

It is certainly not clear that our present bylaws create or have created any crisis of governance. The non-tenure faculty in Communication have never vetoed any proposal favored by the tenure-stream members. When the Department split last fall on a proposed long-range plan, for example, the voting was limited to the 15 tenure-stream members and two full-time lecturers.

We do not contest the Dean’s decision to name her associate John Chamberlin as acting head of the Department, even though he is not a Department member. The Dean has obvious broad authority to select chairs, but can a dean suspend departmental self-governance? Even when departments are placed under external review, they continue to use their committee structures for routine business and to hold faculty meetings.

Suspending self-governance strikes at the core of academic autonomy and freedom. Doing so without a written explanation or even a hint of the process being followed should alarm all faculty members.

Signed: Professor Frank Beaver

Professor Marion Marzolf

Professor John Stevens

Associate Professor Richard Allen

Jonathan Friendly, Director, MA Journalism