The University Record, December 7, 1998

FACULTY PERSPECTIVES

Annual Report from the Faculty Chair

Annual Presentation to the Board of Regents by the Chair of SACUA, November 1998

By Bill Ensminger, M.D., Ph.D.

I appreciate the opportunity as Chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) to present this brief report on the activities of central faculty governance. As you are aware, SACUA oversees the operation of the Senate Assembly, members of which are elected by and represent the faculty in the various schools and colleges. In addition, SACUA is engaged with the Senate Assembly Advisory Committees, most of which work directly with the executive officers on policy issues, although several, such as the Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty and the University Budget Studies Committee, focus on particular areas of significant concern to faculty. The Senate Assembly, SACUA, and the Senate Assembly Committees engage fully 10 percent of the faculty in providing vital, representative faculty input to the administration. The willingness of faculty to put forth the effort required is directly related to the appreciation shown and to the value ascribed to that input by the administration. In that regard, we all appreciate the support in time and effort expended by President Bollinger, Provost Cantor and the other executive officers in making the central faculty governance system work smoothly and effectively.

Although I concur with most of what my predecessor Louis D’Alecy said on this occasion last year, I would add that I believe in one aspect that the faculty governance system functions in the University in a manner analogous to the function of canaries in detecting noxious poisonous gases in a mine. As a supersensitive element in the system, the health and vitality of central faculty governance is indicative of the overall academic climate and, says much about the future vigor of the institution. Currently, as demonstrated through multiple productive collaborative efforts between the faculty and administration, relationships are healthy in the faculty governance sphere. Many initiatives described in the Chair’s report of last year have come to fruition and engagement is underway on new areas of mutual concern.

The “Principles of Faculty Governance” document distributed to you last year is being utilized as source material in discussions between the Provost and her faculty advisory group, the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee. This document spells out faculty roles and responsibilities as defined by the Regents’ Bylaws. Based upon that document, one particular area for discussion in the ensuing months will be an examination of the role of faculty in the student admissions process.

The model grievance document has been approved by the Senate Assembly and the Provost and is now in the process of receiving approval and implementation at the unit, school and college level. At the same time, SACUA is working with the Office of Human Resources to generate a revitalized ombuds program that will help to ameliorate the inevitable tensions that occur in this complex institution. An effectively applied ombuds program can serve as a first step in conflict resolution and help defuse some situations, thereby avoiding a formal grievance procedure.

The Faculty Handbook project is complete, on the Web (at www.umich.edu/~provost/handbook/) and in press. This production culminates the dedicated efforts of skilled administrative and faculty representatives working together over several years.

The recent assumption by the President of co-sponsorship of the Academic Freedom Lectures goes a long way toward reconciliation and resolution of what was historically a tragic event in the life of the University. Hopefully, with passing time the circumstances giving rise to the Academic Freedom Lecture can be used to unite rather than to divide us.

Perhaps the most significant area of recent concern to faculty has been the changing nature of the professoriate—in particular, the increasing numbers of non-tenure track faculty. The recent retreat conducted by the Provost focused on this issue and involved both deans and faculty, including the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee. An overview of the topics covered at the retreat has been published in The University Record, and discussed at this week’s Senate Assembly meeting with Provost Cantor. How these issues are dealt with will either strengthen or rend the academic fabric of our University. Incremental changes in staffing producing a trend over time can induce fundamental structural and directional changes for this great public university. Such a trend might be perceived on the Ann Arbor campus where some numbers suggest a change from 28.5 percent non-tenure track faculty in 1987 to 39.3 percent in 1996. At this crucial point in history, we are fortunate to have a Provost and President who are actively engaged in dialogue with the faculty on important core issues.

Another subject of ongoing faculty interest involves the practices of undergraduate education at our University. Three weeks ago, SACUA and other faculty groups conducted a public forum on the topic. We appreciate the participation of President Bollinger and Regent Olivia P. Maynard in that activity. Undergraduate education is of course of keen interest to the people of our state, and faculty correspondingly take very seriously their role and responsibilities in this area.

There are two final areas to which I wish to draw attention. First, I believe the faculty all appreciate the sensitivity shown by the Administration in the resolution of M-CARE steerage. Second, SACUA and the Senate Assembly continue to believe it would be wise for the University to divest of tobacco stocks. The major element to be considered is whether the University should be contributing financial support to, and profiting from, the number one public health problem in our country. Deliberations on this issue should serve to clarify, define and evaluate a number of significant values relevant to the various communities comprising the University as well as to the University’s role in society.

In conclusion, let me thank you all for your time and attention. It has been enjoyable and educational working with so many brilliant and outstanding people. Again, I would like to express my appreciation to the President, the Provost and to the other executive officers for their empowerment of faculty and for constant support for faculty efforts. All of us in the central faculty governance system look forward to working together with the administration and to sustaining our focus on the achievement of the highest of academic values within a community of scholars.


The Faculty Perspectives Page is an outlet for faculty expression provided by the Senate Assembly. Any member of the University Senate is eligible to submit a Faculty Perspectives essay. Prospective contributors are invited to contact the Faculty Perspectives Page Committee at faculty.perspectives.page@umich.edu. Submissions are accepted in electronic form and are subject to review by the Committee. Essay lengths are restricted to one full printed page in The University Record, or about 1,500 words. Past Faculty Perspectives can be accessed through the Faculty Governance Web page at www.umich.edu/~sacua/.


You can always drop us a line: urecord@umich.edu.