The University Record, November 5, 1996

FACULTY PERSPECTIVES

The New President and Faculty Governance

By Wilfred Kaplan
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics

 

Much has been said and written about the desirable attributes of one to be chosen as president of the University of Michigan: scholarly background, administrative skills, ability to work with legislators, etc. Here are views, endorsed by the University of Michigan AAUP Chapter Executive Committee, on what one should expect from a new president regarding faculty governance. I present and comment on six qualities highly desirable for a new president. Throughout, "elected faculty leaders" means either faculty members elected by unit faculties, Senate Assembly members or faculty members chosen in consultation with such bodies.

 

The president should be willing to communicate and cooperate with elected faculty leaders; he or she should meet frequently with them and encourage chief administrators to do likewise.

 

At the University, the president and provost have traditionally met monthly with SACUA. Each vice president generally meets monthly with an advisory committee, elected by the Senate Assembly. In years past, the chair and vice chair of SACUA were also invited to attend portions of weekly meetings of the principal executive officers of the University.

 

The president should support openness in decision-making, except for matters where confidentiality is commonly preserved.

 

Openness of decision-making has been limited, and there have been expressions by faculty leaders of frustration in this regard. A typical administration view is that major decisions must often be made quickly and that there is hence no time to involve faculty leaders.

 

The president should accept and support the authority of the faculty in determining the curriculum and other educational matters.

 

Such authority is spelled out in Regents' Bylaw 5.03. Decisions about curriculum have generally been left to faculty committees in departments, schools and colleges. However, some major Universitywide educational policy-precedents have at times been determined by the administration with minimal faculty participation: the trimester schedule; the elimination or reorganization of departments (such as the Geography Department or the Communication Department); the introduction of VCM (technically, a budgeting system, but one with profound educational implications).

 

The president should encourage deliberation by elected faculty bodies on major policy questions and give serious attention to the views expressed in such deliberation.

 

The issue of regulating research on recombinant DNA (genetic engineering) is an example of one for which such deliberations were held under the auspices of SACUA and the Senate Assembly. In the 1970s, when the topic was of great concern across the country, SACUA sponsored a forum to which leading researchers in the field were invited (including such scientists as David Baltimore). Their views were considered in subsequent meetings of the Senate Assembly, and that body recommended University policy which was accepted with minor changes.

 

The president should encourage faculty members to serve on unit and campuswide committees and regard such service as a significant part of their professional responsibilities.

 

This is a matter of great concern. There are frequent reports of faculty members being told or given the impression that such service will not help them in salary or rank, and may even be counted negatively. The result is a dearth of faculty members willing to devote time to serve on committees, especially elected positions serving the University as a whole (e.g., Senate Assembly, SACUA).

 

The president should appoint appropriate numbers of elected faculty representatives to search committees for administrators.

 

Experience with such appointments has varied considerably over the years. A search committee for the vice president for academic affairs some years ago consisted of SACUA along with several student representatives. In other cases, SACUA has been closely involved in selection of a search committee, often containing the chair of SACUA. In some recent cases, SACUA has been consulted only minimally. For the present search for a new president, no member of SACUA is on the committee.

 

General comment. We hope that the one chosen as new president shares our view of the importance of the six qualities described. We hope further that the Regents agree with our choice of highly appropriate characteristics and that they have made serious endeavors to find out whether each recommended candidate has demonstrated by past performance his or her full endorsement of the qualities.

In preparing this article, we were much influenced by an article by Alan W. Friedman in the July-August 1996 issue of AAUP's journal ACADEME (pp. 41-43). Standards for faculty governance have long been a principal concern of AAUP and much of its manual: "Policy Documents and Reports" (the "Redbook") is devoted to this topic. In the last two years the area has received unusual emphasis. Procedures have been adopted for applying "sanctions" to several institutions whose governance failed to meet AAUP's minimum standards. Several conferences have been held to share ideas on how to improve governance policies and procedures. The most recent one was held in Ann Arbor on Sept. 6-8 and was attended by more than 125 faculty and administrators from this and many other universities.


Student-Factulty Interchange in Research/Teaching

By Walter Debler
Professor Emeritus, College of Engineering

 

A recent editorial in the Ann Arbor News praised the merits of a program to connect undergraduates with research projects that interim President Neal has announced recently. Good ideas are said to have many fathers, and this one was mentioned about 18 months ago when then-President Duderstadt gave an interview with the then-director of WUOM on National Public Radio. So if it's a good plan, let's give Jim some of the praise too.

But when I heard Jim's highly scripted "fireside chat" I was skeptical. To provide the framework so that ". . . all students could work closely with faculty members . . . " would require massive philosophical and operational changes within the University. For the past three decades, and increasingly so within the last two, this University has moved away from its role in undergraduate education and put on the mantle of a research university. The result is that now about a third of our budget comes from research funds and our national standing in garnering such moneys is highly advertised. (This economic base has permitted our administration to appear arrogant in the state capital when it was observed that only one-third of our operating budget comes from state revenues.)

In recent years, teaching has been in many cases our least important product. And even though it is now highly touted in public, in private the young faculty members, many of whom interim President Neal addressed at an orientation luncheon when he announced this program, know the difference between rhetoric and fact: Teaching is now said to be important, but research and research dollars are critical for tenure. That is the legacy of the past generation, one that lives on because, like fungi, some things are hard to eradicate.

Evidence of the real attitudes of some University units toward teaching undergraduates is obviously evident. Look around the University and see how many classrooms there are with fewer than 75 seats. In auditoriums information can be transmitted, as it can with electronic media and books, and some students can be inspired to continue learning on their own by the force of the lecturer's performance. But intense discussions of ideas and issues, the key to learning, do not take place there. Over the past 30 years the undergraduate class size in the College of Engineering has grown from about 20 to 40 to about 80. These very large classes that are "talked at" by a professor, inhibit or prohibit interactive learning and nearly preclude any personal interactions between student and teacher. This might occur with a teaching assistant should she/he be good and the student willing. And then it might not. It has become fashionable for departments to set aside space for "learning centers" so that students can get help from TAs because professors make very few office hours available. At one time the entire University was a learning center.

Is this the way to prepare students for a one-on-one experience on a research project with a professor? The immediate answer is "Hardly," but a knowledge of the present system would serve to soften this response. Today, it is not uncommon for the undergraduate to work closely with a graduate student on a research project and see the professor only occasionally when he/she happens to pass by. It is not that the professor is an ogre; it is a mode of operation that we thought yielded success when we were pursuing "Star Wars" dollars and trying to lure prominent people with big bucks to the faculty to head research groups under a "Target of Opportunity" program. This was a time in which the salaries and perquisites increased in response to grantsmanship. Many faculty distanced themselves from undergraduates because the day has only 24 hours. Many continue in that mode today when our research dollars are still very substantial.

The manner in which the current faculty in some disciplines were weaned and indoctrinated has formed customs and attitudes that they and the administration must painfully break. Yes, the reward system must be overhauled. Perhaps the quality of the research and not its quantity and economic impact to the University will be more fairly assessed. Teaching must be rewarded in the paycheck and not at the annual awards banquet.

One step to improve teaching/learning can be taken without much fanfare or significant difficulty. More sections of a class should be available throughout the day and these should be smaller in size. Then students can start to have meaningful academic interchange with the faculty. (My memory recalls evening and Saturday morning classes when the fat was in the fire.) That might mean that professors in some units would be assigned more than three or four classes a year, and not just at the graduate level. Getting the faculty to work with small groups of students seems to me to be a more realistic "first step" than the grandiose proposals of providing all students a research experience with a professor. Clearly, some students may not want a research experience, but thirst for tapping directly a professor's knowledge and experience. What about those students?

And if the focus of these education proposals emanating from the Fleming Building is on an improved educational environment, perhaps we should also examine the duties of teaching assistants to determine their roles as assistant to the professor or teacher of the course. Other functions could also come under the magnifying glass. In some units, professors might once again become active in the academic advising of undergraduates, a task now often done by non-academic people. It is certain that others at the U have good suggestions that could make it possible for professors to find the large chunk of time and commitment to work closely with students in some practical manner. In this way the joy of learning and discovery can be experienced by students. With some significant beginnings in this direction, perhaps we can try out Homer's (Jim's?) idea, even though I doubt that it will be widely implemented or subscribed to. It's time that we make Michigan a learning center again, even if this is not currently an overriding criterion in some national rankings.