Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Faculty governance group prefers insiders on grievance panels

The Senate Assembly on Monday overwhelmingly expressed a preference for faculty-grievance hearing panels that contain members from inside the unit where the grievance originated, but not in a majority role.

In a non-binding straw poll, the faculty governance body unanimously supported a suggestion that Grievance Hearing Boards (GHBs) should consist of five members, three from outside the affected unit and two from within.

Senate Assembly Chair Michael Thouless said the vote clearly indicates a sense that insiders are desired on the GHBs to provide a sense of the affected unit’s culture and various policies and procedures that may figure into a given dispute.

The GHB composition was the most significant of several issues addressed by the Faculty Grievance Process Task Force, a provost-appointed committee charged with revising the grievance process. The proposals now go back to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, which will consider the Senate Assembly’s wishes before making a formal recommendation to Provost Teresa Sullivan.

The ultimate makeup of the grievance panels still must be determined, said Thouless, who suggested after the meeting that specific suggestions to increase the size of GHBs could be “premature.”

There may be problems associated with larger panels, such as difficulty finding people to serve on them and a smaller ratio of outsiders to insiders, Thouless said. But the general sense was clear: Assembly members did not want hearing boards solely made up of faculty outside the unit from which the grievance arose.

“The message I got was, there was a compromise,” Thouless said.

Currently, grievance review boards contain three members, two from inside the unit and an external chair. The process task force kept board membership at three, but recommended two outsiders and one from the affected unit. An earlier task force appointed by the provost in 2007 to review the policy suggested a three-member panel of all outsiders.

The argument for a totally external hearing board took into account the concern that insiders could have prior knowledge of the grievance and could be subject to “negative repercussions” by unit administrators.

But some Senate Assembly members said practical knowledge of a unit is an important element of the hearings. “We have to respect how units operate,” said Robert Ortega, associate professor of social work.

That prompted John Carson, associate professor of history, to suggest a system that maintains an outside majority but allows for insiders on whom both parties agree. He proposed that the grievant and respondent each suggest a list of inside members. Each would then pick one member from the other’s list.

The grievance process provides for redress when a department, school or other unit at the Ann Arbor campus takes action concerning a faculty member’s conditions of employment that he or she believes violate university policy or is otherwise “manifestly unfair.” It would apply to tenured, tenure-track, clinical or research faculty. It would not apply to adjunct or visiting faculty or lecturers.

The revision process was undertaken in an effort to streamline the current process, which critics say is too cumbersome, takes too long to resolve grievances and was prone to delays.