The University Record, September 18, 1995


Plans for Senate Assembly and Faculty Governance in the Year Ahead

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

SACUA has been meeting during most of the summer, and plans for Senate Assembly meetings and faculty governance in general are well along for the upcoming year. I would like to present a brief overview to give faculty who might be interested in particular areas a chance to have input and participate in various activities.

It is our plan to enliven Senate Assembly meetings with a point/counterpoint discussion on an important academic topic at each meeting. The plan is to have two speakers for each side, followed by an open discussion. In today’s meeting, we will be debating the responsibilities of tenure and whether there should be sanctions, short of dismissal, for tenured faculty who are failing to meet minimal responsibilities. On Oct. 23, we will be discussing the rights of tenure. Then we will take up a series of three debates on the professoriate. On Nov. 20, the topic will be whether the growth of non-tenure-track faculty, particularly in the lecturer category, is appropriate. On Dec. 11, we will discuss the relative dearth of women among the tenure-track faculty and whether additional steps need to be taken to produce a better balance. This, of course, will get us into the center of the wider discussion about affirmative action going on nationally. That discussion will continue into January, when the focus will be the status of underrepresented minorities on our faculty.

Topics for the succeeding meetings haven’t been definitely established, although many ideas are being considered. We encourage faculty to suggest ideas for these, and also to communicate with the SACUA office if you wish to have input or participate in the earlier debates. Each point or counterpoint group will form a team, consisting of more than just the two speakers. The teams will meet once or twice before the Senate Assembly discussion to formulate ideas about how best to present ideas supporting a particular point of view.

Another important program that is being tried this year, in collaboration with the President’s Office, is a series of speakers who will address the faculty after most Senate Assembly meetings. The speakers in this series will examine from their perspectives how the University needs to evolve to meet the changing needs of society. The first of these speakers will be Charles Gibson, one of the co-hosts of the television show, Good Morning America. He will speak on Oct. 2, the only one of these addresses not following a Senate Assembly meeting. The second speaker is former University of Michigan President Harold Shapiro, currently president of Princeton University. In November, we anticipate a presentation from Mary Good, assistant secretary of commerce. In December, the speaker will be Frank Popoff, former CEO at Dow Chemical Co. Speakers for the winter term are currently being arranged.

Other important topics that are coming up in Senate Assembly this year are a possible revision of Regents’ Bylaw 5.09, the bylaw dealing with dismissal or demotion of a tenured professor, to make it a more workable and fair procedure, and revisions of the faculty grievance process.

Besides the tenure and grievance issues, the various committees of Senate Assembly will be considering a number of important questions. A sampling of these are as follows:

1. The budget of the University has increased 10 percent per year over the last 10 years, yet funds for vital programs are scarce. The increase has primarily been due to new construction, renovations and increases in the number of administrative personnel. New buildings require additional funds for operation. The question: Should there be a freeze on new construction and the hiring of additional administrative personnel?

2. How will changes in health care delivery impact the academic programs of the Medical School, as well as the University as a whole?

3. Is affirmative action an appropriate method for achieving diversity at the University of Michigan, and if so, how can such programs be legitimately carried out?

4. What is the likely long-term impact of relative reduction in research funding, and what strategies can be developed to adapt?

5. Does the University need a student code?

6. How can the faculty help in the interactions with state government?

7. Does the process of selecting the Executive Committees of the Schools and Colleges effectively represent the faculty within those units?

8. Have administrators experienced disproportionately higher salary increases than faculty over the past decade, and if so, is this trend justified?

As can be seen from the above brief recital, the year ahead is full of activities that are potentially very important to faculty. I urge faculty to come to the Senate Assembly meetings and observe and participate (when time allows, and it usually does, non-Assembly members are permitted to speak and add their views to the discussion). Additionally, feel free to communicate with me, the SACUA office or other SACUA members if you wish to be part of one of the point/counterpoint teams. And I hope a large number of you will attend what should be very interesting talks in our speakers series. And of course, if you have thoughts outside the above areas that you think are important to the faculty, please convey them to us.

A Time for Change

By Stuart McDougal, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director, Program in Comparative Literature

Editorial note: Prof. McDougal indicates at the end of his article that he welcomes comments and reactions. The Editorial Advisory Board would also be most interested in comments and reactions to this very thoughtful piece and would like to publish them in subsequent Faculty Perspectives Pages. Please note that comments or full articles can be submitted to this year’s Editor whose address is below.

No one crossing the campus today can fail to notice the extraordinary physical transformations occurring everywhere, as old structures are remodeled and new buildings rise on once empty spaces. When the plaster dust settles and the gypsy caravans of the construction crews move on, the faculty will find themselves working in remarkably new facilities.

Change is also occurring rapidly in the composition of the faculty and staff. Thanks largely to the Michigan Mandate and the more recent Michigan Agenda for Women, the faculty and staff are more diverse than at any time in the University’s history.

Yet, in the midst of this tumultuous change, one thing remains largely what it was a century ago: the organization of the University itself. In spite of the dramatic developments in nearly all fields of knowledge, as well as the growth of entirely new disciplines, the research university—as it was formed in the late 19th century—has changed little. The departments, divisional structures and schools have remained intact. Modifications have been made in the structures of a few units (notably, biology), but the most significant changes at Michigan have been the creation of new area centers, the ISR and new interdisciplinary programs. The area centers grouped scholars with shared interests in a geographical area, rather than a traditional discipline. The ISR grew out of the entrepreneurial energies of faculty in the social sciences. The interdisciplinary programs mapped new areas of research and scholarship that could not be accommodated by the traditional departments. These developments are like the stress-points of a system, revealing the inadequacies of an organizational framework that no longer corresponds to or indeed encompasses new areas of knowledge. They have been grafted onto the old structure, but that structure remains unchanged.

Not only do many of the traditional departments no longer accurately correspond to the varieties of ways in which knowledge has developed in this century, but some of these departments suffered from a Eurocentric bias at the time of their creation. One of the oldest departments in the humanities is the Classics Department. Like most classics departments, the department at Michigan is synonymous with the study of Latin and Greek. And yet, many other classical (non-Western) languages are taught at Michigan, including Sanskrit, classical Arabic, classical Chinese and classical Japanese. Might not the Sanskrit scholar have more in common with the scholar of ancient Greek than with the specialist in modern Japanese fiction with whom he or she rubs shoulders in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures? A dispassionate look at shared intellectual interests would challenge many of the traditional departmental divisions and encourage a broader range of intellectual discourse.

Until just a few years ago, the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures was called the Department of Far Eastern Languages and Literatures. Far Eastern—like Near Eastern—is a designation that only makes sense if viewed from the perspective of Europe. In some fields—particularly literary study—these areas have been relegated to the periphery, with England and Europe remaining the center. Outmoded nationalistic and/or Eurocentric designations limit the ways in which we think of literary works and obstruct dialogue among scholars. Moreover, literary departments now include scholars working in a range of activities (e.g., cultural studies) that create affiliations with colleagues in such disciplines as history and anthropology. A reconsideration of departmental boundaries is obviously overdue, not only in the humanities and social sciences, but in the sciences as well. Many faculty members have intellectual interests that no longer correspond to the disciplinary lines or departmental boundaries set down long ago. Allegiances are now often with centers, programs or the work of collaborators here or elsewhere. Is our present framework the most supportive of faculty interests as we face the even greater challenges that will confront us in the 21st century?

My point is simple: change has affected all outward and visible aspects of the University of Michigan, but its organizational structure remains virtually the same after a century of explosive development in many areas of knowledge. Isn’t it time we rethought the structure of the entire University?

There are other compelling reasons for reconsidering the structure of our University at this juncture. When one looks at the intellectual offerings of the University, one is struck by the duplication from one unit to another. Where does a student go at this University to study statistics? Or biology? Should the basic sciences be taught both in LS&A and in the Medical School? At the very moment when we are trying to foster greater cooperation between schools, we should also be eliminating duplication of services. But VCM may have the opposite effect by encouraging units to offer their own versions of subjects taught elsewhere. Why should a school send its students to study in another college if it can mount its own programs and gain rather than lose revenues? We need to re-define the substance of those nebulous “units” that form the basis of VCM and to reconsider the relationships among them.

Re-structuring the University, of course, means more than re-grouping faculty along lines of intellectual interest. It involves re-thinking the goals of our University as well. What do we value most at Michigan? What kind of university do we wish to become? We are large and diverse: does anything else characterize our mission? How can we foster first-rate—and indeed, groundbreaking— work while enhancing collegiality and cooperation among colleagues? These are not auspicious times for universities like ours. Politicians mirror the skepticism of our citizenry: the recent situation in Lansing does not bode well for the future, nor does the steady decline in state funding for the University over the last two decades. Nor, indeed, does the current state of the economy. We can either stand still and watch change overtake us as our reputation falters and declines, or we can meet these challenges boldly and imaginatively, as we have in other areas, notably the Michigan Mandate and the Agenda for Women. We need nothing less than a thoughtful and far-reaching re-examination of the nature and structure of the entire University so that our institution can be prepared to meet the moral and intellectual challenges of the 21st century.

I welcome your comments and reactions.