This week, the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance released a draft statement, entitled “Confidentiality and Faculty Representation in Academic Governance”, which in part originated with the following presentation that I have given at several state conference meetings over the past year.
A couple of years ago, I served as chair of a committee that advocates for faculty and staff on issues related to health insurance on my campus: the Health Care Advocacy Committee. For several years, the primary issue that this committee dealt with was retiree health insurance and its effect on the university’s balance sheet because of accounting rules categorizing the benefit as an “unfunded liability.” The committee was provided with actuarial analyses, including some different scenarios for making changes to this benefit. These analyses, which contained no information about individual faculty or staff members, were provided to the committee under the condition of confidentiality. The main reason that was cited by the administration for requiring confidentiality was that, because the proposals were still in a preliminary stage of consideration, sharing them across campus could lead to faculty or staff being “overly concerned” regarding the details of a proposal that was, perhaps, not even going to be seriously considered. Because of significant pressure by the board of trustees, the plan subsequently adopted by the university completely disregarded the views expressed by members of the committee. At a subsequent faculty meeting, a faculty member asked the president of the university whether an open forum scheduled on the topic of retiree health insurance was going to provide an opportunity for faculty and staff to comment on the proposed changes. The president replied that he had already “consulted” with the relevant committees, so the purpose of the open forums was simply to inform. I distinctly remember my colleague protesting that it was illegitimate to claim that there had been faculty consultation, given that the information provided to the committee had been provided under the condition of confidentiality, thus preventing the faculty representatives to the committee from consulting with their constituents.