Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Faculty governance proceeding toward electronic voting on some issues

The U-M faculty Senate Assembly voted Monday to pursue the concept of electronic voting on selected action items that come before that group and the broader University Senate.

According to the resolution, which passed 34-0, the purpose of the move was "to expand the range of faculty engagement in central faculty governance and to more fully represent the faculty opinion in such matters."

The details of how electronic voting would be conducted and administered still must be worked out, said Senate Assembly Chair Kate Barald, professor of cell and developmental biology and biomedical engineering. "It was approved in concept."

Supporters of electronic voting suggest that using the procedure on selected action items would give the faculty a stronger voice, considering the historically low attendance at University Senate meetings, which typically take place once or twice a year. They say electronic voting will allow faculty governance to more effectively gather input from its broader membership regarding certain issues that come before it and the administration.

Some members cited as an example the discussion during the 2010-11 academic year over a proposal to allow individual schools and colleges to increase the maximum faculty tenure probationary period from eight to 10 years, if they so choose.

The University Senate voted to express "significant reservations" to the proposal at a meeting last March that drew about 120 members. That's a fraction of the full Senate, which consists of all tenured and tenure-track professors, librarians, primary research faculty with full-time appointments, executive officers and deans.

The Board of Regents ultimately approved the change, and many members of the Senate Assembly — a 74-member, elected subset of the University Senate — contend the relatively low turnout for the full Senate vote did not fully illustrate the faculty's position.

Proponents of electronic voting say the process could help the faculty make its case more strongly on issues that arise in the future.

"If we had a few hundred people voting rather than a few dozen people voting, we'd be in a better position," said John Mansfield, associate research scientist of materials science and engineering.