The University Record, October 17, 1994

Faculty say issues in grievance procedures need to be addressed

By Mary Jo Frank

The U-M chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has noted a “drastic increase in the number of faculty grievances” it is receiving, according to Wilfred Kaplan.

That increase is one of the reasons the local AAUP, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) and the Academic Women’s Caucus sponsored a panel discussion last week about U-M faculty grievance procedures, how they work and how they can be improved, explained Kaplan, professor emeritus of mathematics and executive secretary of the U-M chapter.

Panelists were James E. Perley, national AAUP president and professor of biology, College of Wooster; Thomas E. Moore, professor of biology; and Eleanor Kay Dawson, director of academic human resources and special assistant to the provost.

Formal grievance procedures are not the only way to resolve disputes in an organization, noted Dawson.

At the U-M, all of the schools and colleges have ombudspersons. Other alternatives include arbitration, mediation and conciliation.

Although formal procedures don’t work for personal disagreements or climate issues, they do provide a forum for complaints about specific decisions and the decision-making process, she said.

Dawson explained the University’s Model Process, which replaced the Senate Advisory Review Committee in 1983. Adopted in some form by each school and college, the Model Process calls for panels of tenured faculty members to hear from complainants and respondents and to review the decision-making process, not the decision itself. The advisory panel reports its findings to the provost, who makes a decision about the procedures used.

Dawson said two dozen faculty grievances were filed between 1983 and 1993, with three to four being filed annually since 1989.

In 1993 on the Ann Arbor campus, grievances were filed by three out of 3,300 faculty and 26 non-bargained-for staff out of 10,200. That same year 1,250 grievances were filed by bargained-for-employees on the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses. Bargained-for employees total 7,300 on the three campuses.

Dawson said the Model Process includes easily identifiable procedures and a time frame for filing and hearing grievances. It requires a clear statement of the problem and documentation. Complaints are confidential and conclusions are issued in a timely fashion and fair way.

Moore cited what he sees as flaws in grievance procedures as they are now constituted, including a lack of recordkeeping on grievances received and their disposition, and failure to adhere to time-lines, particularly on the part of administrators.

Promotion, tenure and salary decisions, and disagreements with administrators were the main reasons 44 individuals contacted their unit ombudsperson during winter term 1993, noted Moore, a member of SACUA.

Mistakes or unfairness in tenure and salary decisions were the most frequently cited reasons for the 20 grievances received by the administration between 1983 and 1993, according to Moore, who also chairs the SACUA Subcommittee on Grievance Procedures.

Moore noted that in addition to the complaints received through the formal grievance procedures and through the ombudspersons, the U-M chapter of the AAUP received 56 requests for help between 1983 and 1993. Those included seven requests from schools and departments.

Moore said issues in grievance procedures that need to be addressed include:

  • Refusals by deans to form a Grievance Review Board (GRB).

  • Lack of records on grievances refused by deans.

  • Inadequate central recordkeeping.

  • No symmetry for meeting procedural deadlines. Faculty are held to filing deadlines while schools and colleges are allowed extensions.

  • GRB recommendations are rejected without a stated reason.

  • The dual system of handling grievances for faculty and for primary researchers disadvantages primary researchers.

  • Process takes too long.

  • Grievances are limited to procedural issues.

  • Process has no equivalent of subpoena power for witnesses.

  • Communication gaps distort and weaken the process; often GRBs never hear what has happened with their recommendations.

  • No equivalent for perjury penalties for parties involved.

    Perley, who served 25 years as the grievance officer for the AAUP in Ohio, said the number of grievances there increased from four in 1973 to 383 in 1992.

    “This doesn’t necessarily mean Ohio is an evil place,” he said. Instead, Perley thinks the increase reflects the growing awareness that a mechanism is in place to help.

    The complaints ranged from the simple to complex, the unbelievable to the predictable, he noted, and included faculty who thought their deans were crazy and administrators who suspected faculty members of poisoning them.

    Perley recommended:

  • Adopt a philosophy promoting the idea of resolving conflict at the lowest level of contention.

  • Recognize the importance of time-lines. Delays create frustration and can make tense situations unsolvable, he said.

  • Accept recommendations of faculty grievance committees, and show respect for their work.

  • Use AAUP for assistance in resolving problems.

  • Adopt preventive measures to reduce the need for formal grievance mechanisms, including formal training of campus officers who handle grievances and workshops to inform faculty of norms of behavior.

    Responding to the three panelists, Kaplan agreed that training should be provided to persons who receive grievances. At the conclusion of every grievance, a statement of the lesson to be learned from the case should be written and added to a list of “mistakes not to make,” he said.

    Often such mistakes are of a contractual nature, noted Kaplan, who recounted a case in which a department chair offered a person an assignment, complete with conditions and salary, only to have the offer retracted by a dean.

    Just as serious are the cases in which faculty are told for six years that they are on the tenure track, and then informed in the seventh year that their services aren’t needed anymore. The University is within its rights to do that, Kaplan said, but it shouldn’t be done unless it is absolutely necessary.

    Systematically circulating such a “no-no” list could avoid a lot of problems, Kaplan predicted.