The University Record, May 21, 1996

FACULTY PERSPECTIVES

The State of Faculty Governance

By George J. Brewer
Professor of Human Genetics and of Internal Medicine,
Outgoing Chair of SACUA

 

I believe it is important for the chair of faculty governance each year to discuss accomplishments and needs---a sort of state of faculty governance report.

I believe communication among the faculty and between faculty governance and the faculty is key to having faculty governance effectively represent faculty views. We have made some progress. I believe Faculty Perspectives is one of our successes. I would like to see it become an even more vital communication mechanism. Additionally, we have developed an e-mail communication system that covers two-thirds of the faculty. We have so far used it to communicate only significant informational items to the faculty, but it can also be used as a systematic method to garner faculty input, and it should be used for just that. There is a separate e-mail group that includes executive committees and Senate Assembly members of schools and colleges. How ever, Faculty Governance lacks unity because there is no effective working relationship between executive committees and central faculty governance.

Our system of evaluation of deans is intended to increase the interchange between a school's faculty and its dean. I believe this system, in operation for about three years now, is also a success story. The results of this kind of faculty feedba ck to their deans is just now beginning to be felt.

It is important that there be mutual respect between faculty governance and the administration and Regents, otherwise the input of faculty governance in decision-making is not sought, or appreciated, and consequently the decisions made by the administration or Regents tend to be constantly criticized by an unhappy, sometimes hostile, faculty governance. I think it is valid to claim that our relationships are good with the outgoing president, the incoming acting president, the provost, and other key executive officers. One key to maintaining mutual respect is to criticize each other only when significant differences of opinion exist about what is good for the University, not over more narrow differences of minor import to one party or the other. The second key is to be positive and praise actions by the other party when praise is deserved.

Similarly, the relationship between faculty governance and the Regents is improving. The Regents appear, increasingly, to take seriously the faculty governance view on items of policy. The key to continuing this improvement is precisely as outlined above.

In passing, I would like to take note of the great job the Regents are doing in helping steer our University through some perilous times. Notably, they gave generously of their time and energy in holding a series of fora on the presidential search. More notably, they developed an effective plan to identify and recruit the strong presidential leadership we need. Most notably, they have proven they can work together effectively as a team.

In the area of faculty rights, faculty governance has put a great deal of effort into drafting a new grievance procedure which has multiple improvements over the old procedure. It remains for us to work with the administration to put this new system in place.

Tenure is undergoing significant attack, as witness recent events in Minnesota. (Next month's Faculty Perspectives will focus on this topic.) It is my position that we, the faculty, must improve the tenure system and strengthen the protections of the system against either administrative injustice or individual faculty abuse, or eventually risk losing the whole system. That is why we had debates on both the rights and responsibilities of tenure, and why we have introduced a draft revision of Regental Bylaw 5.09. It is important that when our tenure system is examined by the legislature, the media and the public, as it surely will be, that it is a rock-solid system that does not allow even the perception of exploitation of the tax-payer. I urge faculty governance to finish the Definition of Tenure document, drafted last year, hand-in-hand with the revision of 5.09.

Regarding our Universitywide faculty governance system, a good deal of experimentation this year went into making Senate Assembly meetings better. We introduced debates, which I think were successful in focusing discussion on key is sues, in increasing participation by Assembly members, and making the meetings more lively and better attended. On the other hand, I was disappointed in the size of the audience attending the talks given by a series of speakers we co-hosted with the president's office. Perhaps fewer speakers, but of higher prominence and/or speaking on more controversial and visible topics, would increase the audience. We did succeed in keeping long, boring verbal reports out of the Senate Assembly meeting, which I think is important.

Our Senate Assembly committees are an excellent resource that SACUA tapped from time-to-time for expert opinion and advice. Some committees functioned well, others not so well. We must continue to try to choose good chairs and commit tee members for these committees, and to value their hard work.

While SACUA has functioned well this year, I think, and respect for it has increased significantly, I am concerned about it from the following standpoint. It is increasingly difficult to get good people to run for it. The reasons are the major time commitment, and the lack of recognition by the University of time spent on SACUA as valuable service. It is critical, in my opinion, that this service, which is extremely valuable to the University, be recognized as such by some support for release time to SACUA members, in addition to that for the chair of SACUA.

Turning to the faculty that we represent, my major criticism is that it is generally too reclusive, and suffers from too much tunnel vision. That is, too many of our faculty stay holed up in their departments and feel that the schools and colleges, and the University as a whole, can take care of their own problems. This is exemplified by the horrible attendance at faculty meetings in our larger schools, and by the relative lack of interest in Universitywide faculty governance. Yet, the potential threat to some aspects of tenure that is occurring at Minnesota has belatedly filled all faculty meetings there to overflowing.

Faculty rights, the strength of the faculty, and maintaining the excellence of the University are not something we can ignore for years on end and expect to be there when we suddenly turn our attention back to them. I believe every faculty member, at the time they receive tenure, should receive a packet of information from faculty governance and perhaps a visit from a Senate Assembly member in their school. The central message would be about t heir expanded responsibilities to the institution in which they have now been awarded lifetime privileges.

And finally, what about the current state of the University of Michigan? Space does not permit me to dwell at length upon her strengths, but in the process of passing over them briefly I do not want to leave the impression that I have anything but the greatest respect for those strengths. For this is not only the flagship university of this state, but the flagship for the country's public institutions, and in many ways the flagship of all the country's universities. I have great pride in having been part of the University of Michi gan for 33 years. So she is strong, and she is loved!

There are storm clouds. We are in the midst of a presidential search which is of critical importance. We must have a president with a background in scholarship and its values if we are to maintain what is special about the University of Michigan, and what makes it great. A second storm cloud is managed health care. This is the storm that has hit the University of Minnesota and many other academic health centers. We have planned and prepared better than most universities, but in the end we must compete with other health care delivery systems that have more modest training or research missions to finance. Can we do that? I don't see how our Medical Center can survive without very profound changes in the way our Medical School faculty carries out its missions. As an aside, I do not believe the public realizes that significant impediments to medical care advances are a trade-off for decreased costs in academic health centers.

I would summarize by saying that during my period on faculty governance I have seen definite positive results, and a number of areas that need further work as discussed above. While there are storm clouds, there is nothing on the horizon that our faculty and University can't handle if we all apply ourselves to the tasks ahead

 

Future Presidential Accomplishments

Descriptions of desirable character traits of the next University of Michigan president abounded in the presidential forums, but less was said about what the next president should actually accomplish. It is in the nature of things that presidents attend to raising funds and to communicating with extramural groups. But in addition to these perhaps inescapable expectations, what further changes and innovations should be in place a decade from now? Faculty Perspectives asked several former Henry Russel Lecturers to scan the academic panorama and consider the matter.

 

Bernie Agranoff: "In addressing the academic issues facing the next U-M president, I find they cannot easily be separated from administrative issues. So here are my thoughts on goals for the next U-M president.

Political: Establish a good working relationship with the state government that will foster trust and respect for our autonomy and a more effective interaction with the Board of Regents. Some restructuring is in order, perhaps enlarging the Bo ard of Regents with members appointed for their expertise in relevant areas.

Academic: Seize the opportunity of multiple vacancies in the ranks of University officers to appoint candidates who share common academic goals, including retention of the image of excellence the UM has earned in the past. Pressures to serve social needs will continue, but they must be balanced by a quest for the most qualified officers, faculty and students that we can recruit on a gender- and color-blind basis. With excellent faculty and students, we are doomed to success! On the Medical Campus a stable governance system is sorely needed. I will not elaborate here the many possibilities.

Research: In general, the new president should avoid initiation of policies that fragment the fabric of our academic structure, but at the same time must encourage one of our historical strengths: innovative interdisciplinary research programs. This may be difficult under Value Centered Management.

Development (fund raising): One hopes that the next UM President will also have talents and new ideas on how to inform our alumni about our ongoing efforts, accomplishments, and future plans. A tall order!"

 

Robert Axelrod: "Promoting intellectual excellence should be the central objective of the next President of the University. Professor Rebecca Scott has a good formulation, saying she wants to be in a university where it can truly be said that "the joint is jumping." Don't we all? Promoting a lively intellectual environment will make the University and its various units more rewarding for students and faculty alike. To be credible in promoting intellectual excellence, the next President should not only articulate the message, but should also embody the theme in his or her own career."

 

Elizabeth Douvan: "I would be perfectly happy to see Homer Neal chosen for the permanent position. Homer has a style that is both impressive for its intelligence and generosity/inclusiveness. I think he would be on the side of humaneness and community---and those qualities could use a little boost in our community. I also think Homer would work with the Regents nicely: with patience and respect (I must say there are times when I am not sure I could do that with this particular Board.) And I think he or anyone else who comes into the role MUST try to bring the Regents along on any important decisions. Political savvy and a desire to educate are both qualities that will be important---and I think, again, Homer has these qualities in abundance. There are probably other people who could do the job, but we have seen Homer in action and he has a good sense of the University and its particular strengths and problems."

 

Vincent Massey: "The new president must be a scholar with the wit and charm to persuade others without alienating them. The president should be thoroughly committed to fostering original research in all fields and be a national spokesman for the importance of fundamental research. Personally, I hope the president will resist the concept that our resources be channeled into the support of a few "superstars" as a way of reinforcing the resea rch reputation of the University. A Nobel Prize or two would be good for Michigan, but it is the overall strength of the faculty that counts most, not the brilliance of a few."