The University Record, October 24, 1994

Assembly refuses to endorse subcommittee report on the Department of Communication

Senate Assembly overwhelmingly refused to endorse a report critical of the January suspension of faculty governance in the Department of Communication but will forward the report to the LS&A Executive Committee, faculty in the Department of Communication and the governing faculty of LS&A for responses.

The Assembly voted 27-10 with one abstention last Monday to forward the report, which was generated by a four-member subcommittee of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), after earlier defeating two other motions—one to accept the report and another to refer it back to SACUA and the subcommittee for clarification and corrections.

SACUA’s “Report on Suspension of Faculty Governance in the Communication Department” outlined a brief history of the dispute between some faculty in the Department of Communication and LS&A Dean Edie N. Goldenberg after she announced her decision to suspend the departmental executive committee, the departmental bylaws and an ongoing search for a new faculty recruit.

Prior to the Assembly meeting, Goldenberg and LS&A’s Executive Committee distributed a statement to all Assembly members charging that the SACUA report “seriously misrepresents events concerning the Department of Communication.”

The LS&A statement also explained the shared governance system used in LS&A.

Noting that the SACUA report raised important questions about the authority and responsibility of a dean and an executive committee, the LS&A statement said, “Deans at Michigan are appointed by the Board of Regents, on recommendation of the president, to act as executive officers of their schools or colleges.”

Goldenberg and the LS&A Executive Committee cited an opinion of the University General Counsel: “... inherent in the Dean’s powers as the executive officer of the College under Regents’ Bylaw 5.06 is the authority to suspend department bylaws and other rules, to appoint chairs, and to take all other action deemed reasonable and necessary to properly manage the resources and programs of the department.”

The tradition in LS&A has for many decades been one of shared governance with a strong executive committee, according to the LS&A statement.

The SACUA subcommittee has questioned Goldenberg’s authority to suspend the communication department’s executive committee and bylaws.

Noting that under Section 2.01 of the Regent Bylaws, the president is given broad powers to oversee the functions of the University, the SACUA subcommittee also cited Section 5.02, which states that “the governing faculty shall be in charge of the affairs of the school, college, or division, except as delegated to the executive committee, if any.”

The subcommittee concluded that only under exceptional circumstances should the presidential authority referred to in Section 2.01, bypassing the governing faculty, be invoked.

The SACUA subcommittee wrote: “It is our opinion that suspension of faculty governance in the Department of Communication was not justified. It appears to have accomplished very little in a positive sense. In a negative sense, it makes some of the faculty feel they are being punished.”

The subcommittee concluded: “The suspension of faculty governance by Dean Goldenberg taken without clear authority, without justification, without due process and without consultation with the governing faculty, sets a bad precedent with respect to the responsibilities and authority of faculty.”

Among Senate Assembly members who were critical of SACUA and the subcommittee’s report was David S. Potter, associate professor of Greek and Latin, who said the report should be sent back because it contained “a number of serious factual errors.”

The report made it appear that the problem between the communication department and LS&A’s Executive Committee and dean began in January, Potter said, when in reality consultation has been going on for a number of years.

He also questioned why the subcommittee had not consulted with other parties involved, including Neil Malamuth, who had resigned as department chair, former chair Frank Beaver and former acting chair Rowell Huesmann.

Thomas M. Dunn, professor of chemistry and a member of the SACUA subcommittee, said the group tried to talk with the LS&A Executive Committee and the dean but the request was denied.

Goldenberg has stated she would not meet with the subcommittee because of earlier remarks by Prof. George J. Brewer, one of its members, which she believes revealed that the subcommittee’s work was biased from the start.

Members of the subcommittee said Huesmann and Beaver were not available when the group was deliberating.

Huesmann, who was in the audience, said a time had been arranged for the subcommittee to meet with him but subcommittee members had to postpone the meeting and he was not called to arrange a new meeting time.

Michael D. Kennedy, associate professor of sociology, noted that one of the subtexts of the Assembly discussion was a “growing level of hostility” between SACUA and Goldenberg. He predicted SACUA’s report would generate more hostility.

Jens C. Zorn, professor of physics, asked if perhaps the SACUA document had not already done its job. The dean has received the message that faculty are concerned, said Zorn, who added, “Clearly sharpening the ax will not help us move forward.”

Wildred Kaplan, professor emeritus of mathematics, noted that many years ago the Regents adopted procedures for program discontinuance, which he said are relevant to the communication department situation.

In light of the tension between the SACUA subcommittee and the LS&A dean and Executive Committee, mathematics Prof. Peter G. Hinman suggested a new committee with more representation from LS&A and without a history of antagonism be appointed and charged to investigate the suspension of faculty governance in the communication department.

Brewer supported Hinman’s suggestion, noting that it would be good for another group to take a fresh look.