The University Record, October 9, 1995

Task forces to address issues raised in ‘transformation agenda’

By Jane R. Elgass

The appointment of two faculty task forces and the pending appointment of a third, the first in a series of activities related to the University’s new “transformation agenda, Vision 2017,” have been announced by President James J. Duderstadt.

The task forces will focus on:

  • The Faculty Contract.

  • The Organization of the University.

  • Recruiting, Retaining and Nurturing the Exceptional Faculty Member and Student.

    “During the past year, retreats with both the Senate Assembly and the school and college executive committees have identified several of the most important issues facing universities in the years ahead,” Duderstadt says. “These include the nature of the relationship between the faculty and the university, the intellectual organization of the university, and our ability to attract, develop and retain students and faculty of exceptional ability.

    “To this end, we have formed several faculty task forces to consider these issues. Since these task forces will report to both the Office of the President and the provost, their impact will be sustained through the upcoming transition in the presidency. I look forward to working closely with these groups to discuss these important issues in the months ahead.”

    The Faculty Contract

    The faculty contract task force will explore what it means to be a faculty member at the University, focusing on the obligations and responsibilities of both faculty members and the administration.

    Ejner Jensen, special counsel to the president, says one of the group’s tasks will be “to clarify the current understandings we have about the faculty contract.”

    In a decentralized institution such as the U-M, “ought the contract be the same across the board or should it vary depending on the needs of individual units?”

    Jensen notes that the task force will deal with a variety of issues, including tenure and how it comes into play.

    “Clearly there are pressures on faculty that we need to understand, and there are new public pressures on the University that the faculty need to understand.

    “In an organization as complex as the U-M, with a diversity of units and activities, there is an enormous range of roles and responsibilities, of definitions of how tenure is regarded in a particular unit, and these can change over time,” Jensen says.

    In addition, there have been changes in recent years in the types of faculty appointments, such as clinical faculty and the increasing use of lecturers.

    “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What does this say about the University and how we understand faculty roles?’”

    Jensen notes that the current discussion on tenure in Senate Assembly is raising many of the concerns that will be addressed by the task force, adding that the president “has opened discussions with the leadership of Senate Assembly and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs about how these groups might aid in moving the discussion forward in a mutually helpful manner.”

    Other issues to be explored by the faculty contract task force include:

  • What the lifting of mandatory retirement means to the University and how it should respond.

  • Joint appointments.

  • Dual career couples within the University.

  • The University’s commitment to diversity.

    The Organization of the University

    Appointment of this 12-member task force is triggered in large part by concerns that the current structure of academic units may not afford the most effective designs to support interdisciplinary work.

    “In the retreats that were held last year with college executive committees and Senate Assembly, it was made clear that much of the work that is advancing knowledge transcends unit boundaries,” Jensen explains. “The barriers are not necessarily intentional, but they are there. We have some old patterns that inhibit interdisciplinary work.”

    Jensen said one speaker put it well when he said: “The units are all running railroads, but not on the same gauge track.”

    “We may need to rethink the way we organize work and respond to opportunities,” Jensen says. “There may be the possibility of new alliances with changes in the ways disciplines function.

    “Our structure is a product of an earlier age. We need to have a design that will be truly effective in supporting the academic work of the University. Stuart McDougal spoke to this issue very persuasively in his recent letter to the Faculty Perspectives page of the Record.”

    Recruiting, Retaining and Nurturing the Exceptional Faculty Member and Student

    Jensen says this issue has been identified by some as “a particular Michigan problem. One of our great strengths is our breadth, our range. We’ve always had the reputation of being strong across the board, but not superlative in any particular area.”

    The task force will be asked to determine if this is a problem and, if so, come up with recommendations “to maintain and enhance current strengths and create some truly exceptional areas,” Jensen explains.

    “We need to make certain that we are managing exceptional people correctly. We’re sometimes known as a good ‘farm system.’ We create good people and help them further their careers, but we can’t always keep them. This applies to recruiting also. Everyone gets stronger when they are surrounded by better people.”

    Jensen says the University has not done a great deal to recruit the unusually exceptional student, apart from Bentley Scholars and those in the Inteflex Program.

    “There are probably great numbers out there who might come to the U-M if the right opportunities were here,” he says. These opportunities might include such things as scholarships, undergraduate research opportunities and living/learning communities geared to the students’ interests.

    Jensen says each task force will be asked to canvass the problem or issue it is addressing and make concrete recommendations, “blueprints for change,” by the end of June.