The University Record, October 14, 1998

Faculty Perspectives

Professor Thomas E. Moore, LSA
Professor Louis G. D’Alecy, Medicine

Note- A new model procedure for faculty grievance resolution has been presented by the Provost to the Deans and Directors for consideration and adoption within the Schools and Colleges. This procedure has been the product of years-long negotiations and review. Here, two of the faculty charged by the Senate Assembly with achieving mutual agreement between faculty and administration give their assessment and recommendations of the impending policy document.

 

Misunderstandings, disagreements, or unilateral actions substantial enough to trigger formal complaints from faculty members are increasingly common on college campuses across the nation, including ours. Most disputes involve actions taken by administrators over issues of promotion and tenure, salary, teaching assignments, research and office facilities, or other support and benefits. Several mechanisms exist for attempted resolution of serious disputes within the University. These mechanisms include (1) direct negotiation between the disagreeing parties, (2) use of a school or college faculty ombuds as intermediary in discussion and negotiation, (3) use of the Resolution and Conciliation service of the administration’s Human Relations Office, and (4) appeal to the SACUA Faculty Hearing Committee in the case of disputes for which no other established mechanism exists. These mechanisms are of variable efficacy depending on the nature of the dispute and the positions of the disagreeing parties.

Formal Faculty Grievance Avenues

The focus of this article is confined to formal faculty grievances and the policies recently proposed for adoption throughout all faculty units of the University by a joint administration/faculty committee. The joint committee was established to negotiate reconciliation between the proposed grievance procedure model that was adopted by the Senate Assembly in 1996 and existing positions held by the University administration, specifically in the Office of the Provost. Inadequacies of existing grievance processes had been well documented by faculty studies. For background information on these issues, readers may consult the faculty governance Web site (www.umich.edu/~sacua). The most relevant reports available there are titled “University of Michigan Faculty Grievance Procedures, 1983-1993, Report of the Senate Assembly, 1996,” and “Proposed Faculty Grievance Procedures, 1998.”

Directly elected representatives of the faculty, through regentally-mandated central faculty governance, have consistently tried to improve methods for resolution of faculty grievances. The most recent concerted effort began in 1993 and has continued under the guidance of several Senate Assemblies up to the production of the present reconciliation proposal that is before the Schools and Colleges. The 1996 Senate Assembly approved without dissent a recommended procedure for faculty appeal of decisions concerning their employment. Efforts to achieve Universitywide implementation of the procedure caused SACUA and the Provost to appoint a committee of six, three people appointed by each side, to hammer out any points of disagreement and to work out a compromise procedure for faculty appeals. A mutually acceptable compromise procedure was to be developed between central administration and central faculty governance and then be offered to the faculty and administration of the units.

The negotiations took two years, spanned two administrations, but were finally completed in 1998. Now, the consensus document has been distributed to the deans and directors or chairs of each School, College and academic unit. The faculty of each unit, and their associated administrations, are now asked by SACUA and the Provost to consider the merit of the new model, modify it minimally to match each unit’s unique circumstances, and adopt the recommended procedures as soon as possible during this academic year.

Features of the Proposed Grievance Model

Many of the improvements we have sought with the new proposals have been proved successful as policies at the University of Washington, Seattle, and elsewhere. The U-M faculty brought a series of recommendations to the table that addressed each of the serious deficiencies of current practice that had been documented at the U-M (see the “University of Michigan Faculty Grievance Procedures, 1983-1993, Report of the Senate Assembly, 1996,” previously cited). Not all of the 1996 faculty recommendations survived negotiations to appear in the 1998 consensus document, but, on the other hand, several improvements beyond the 1996 faculty recommendations were incorporated in the final consensus report. Many excellent features were mutually accepted, and now form a strong new policy document defining ways for faculty to appeal adverse decisions.

We worked on this project as representatives of SACUA and the Senate Assembly. The proposals are now coming before Schools and Colleges for individual adoption. To help and encourage this vital next step, we identify here what we see as the most important elements of the faculty proposal, and we explain what was and was not finally included in the 1998 consensus document. The details of the new proposal will be apparent to any faculty member or unit administrator who reads the consensus document.

The faculty recommended in 1996 that decisions reached by faculty Grievance Review Boards (GRB) be determinative in resolving disputes, subject to a final appeal by either party to the President. Most grievances are against chairs or deans, and the idea behind this proposal was that the members of the review board and the President would uniquely each be at least one additional step removed from the chain of appointment that installed the respondent with authority for the initiating action triggering the complaint. Determinative authority for the GRB was not acceptable to the central administration, however. The consensus document continues existing administrative policy in that the GRB decision is communicated as a recommendation to the dean, who must respond in writing within 10 working days, explaining the reasons for accepting or rejecting the recommendation. A final appeal can be made to the Provost, whose recommendation must be reviewed and approved by the President.

The faculty had also recommended that Grievance Review Boards be appointed by the relevant dean whenever a grievance was formally announced in writing, and that the GRBs determine for themselves what issues they would hear and whether or not a grievance had been filed in a sufficiently timely manner. These improvements in courtesy and fairness from previous policy have been included in the consensus document, and specific time-lines are detailed for each step. Grievances brought pursuant to the consensus document may challenge all aspects of the decision-making process that led to the grieved action or condition, except ultimate judgments about professional competence. Judgments about professional competence remain the province of a grievant’s units of appointment.

The faculty proposed that a faculty member be appointed to monitor each step of grievances from initial filing to final resolution, a practice that would help move them along promptly and fairly. The faculty monitor would not participate directly in any of the proceedings or decisions. The 1998 consensus does indeed include a central Faculty Grievance Monitor (FGM), to be appointed annually by SACUA, in accord with the 1996 recommendation. The consensus document goes one step further than the faculty had proposed in 1996 and lists 20 specific events, or mileposts, in the grievance process where notification of the FGM is mandatory. Never again should grievances be permitted to hide below the radar screen of fair treatment and avoid resolution.

The faculty proposed a reduction in the role of deans and the Provost on the Ann Arbor campus in influencing appeals or directly hearing appeals of grievance decisions. The obvious reason for this is that most grievances are against chairs or the deans who appointed them. Detailed description in the consensus report of the role of the GRB and the FGM, as well as improved definition of the roles and responsibilities of the grievant, the respondent, and the Director of Academic Human Resources acting as the Provost’s representative, will help constrain the process and protect both faculty and administration through greater “truth-in-advertising.”

The faculty had recommended in 1996 a streamlining of the process to allow a single appeal by any party of a Grievance Review Board decision to the same or to a new Grievance Review Board. There is now in the consensus policies a procedural appeal, a parallel substantive appeal and a final appeal, each with well defined structures, pathways and limits.

Faculty initiatives to revise and improve grievance policy have been strongly and consistently supported in recent years by SACUA and by the Senate Assembly chairs George J. Brewer, 1995-96; Thomas M. Dunn, 1996-97; Louis G. D’Alecy, 1997-98; and now by William D. Ensminger, 1998-1999, as well as the Senate Assemblies themselves during each of those terms. The grievance policy proposals issued by the joint administration/faculty committee in 1998 differ in several significant ways from those originally proposed to the administration by the Senate Assembly in 1996. The path to consensus is paved with compromise, and in this case both faculty and administration representatives contributed to the give and take. The proposals before you now are better than the existing policy.

Conclusion

We urge adoption with minimal revision of the new model policy that is now before you in the Schools and Colleges. Then, we urge that faculty and administrative efforts shift to reducing the causes of grievances in the first place. Thoughtful faculty members and administrators will recognize our grievance policies as evolving procedures, to be revised from time to time as we learn by experience and find something better. Nonetheless, policy and procedure alone cannot solve everything. Resolution of genuinely serious disputes that rise to the formal grievance level cannot be achieved without good will and fairness demonstrated by all participants. Four weeks ago on this page Professor Yohn speculated that less adversarial, more collegial attitudes in high places could work wonders in resolving drawn-out, seemingly intractable problems. Those same improved attitudes at all levels would be expected to reduce dramatically the calls for formal dispute resolution.


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 elctronic 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.


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