The Quest for Shared Governance at Boston College

The following piece is being re-posted from the Catholic Higher Education Advocate [http://cheausa.org/], which reprinted it from The Heights, the Boston College student newspaper.  The Catholic Higher Education Advocate is currently including this op-ed as part of a broader feature story, “Battle Intensifies at Boston College over Shared Governance,” covering the public back and forth between the Boston College faculty and administration on shared governance issues [http://cheausa.org/battle-intensifies-at-boston-college-over-shared-governance/#comment-56].

 

This is the lead provided by the Catholic Higher Education Advocate to the op-ed:

This op-ed by Susan Michalczyk, Boston College AAUP President, details the faculty’s ongoing quest for a university faculty senate and the sad state of faculty governance at a prestigious Jesuit college.  Perhaps the reality of the first Jesuit pope, who is a man committed to social justice, will enliven Boston College’s administration to improve faculty representation in the name of genuine collegiality.

 

Boston College: The Search for Faculty Governance Continues . . .

 

Boston College, founded in 1863 by the Jesuits to serve Catholic immigrants, adopted a typically Catholic hierarchical structure and has never had a university faculty senate, let alone true faculty governance. A model that works for clergy or the Vatican may not be best suited for proper expression of academic freedom and transparent decision-making with faculty participation.

For more than 20 years, faculty of Boston College have worked diligently to take an active part in decision-making at the university, yet the hierarchical structure remains firmly in place. The current administration feels that it allows faculty participation in decisions by appointing faculty to committees, allowing them to be elected to committees that have significant administration membership, or allowing them to be elected to committees that are strictly advisory and often ignored.

In January 2010, in response to the current administration’s hierarchical structure that restricted attempts to create a faculty senate, BC faculty voted to establish an AAUP advocacy chapter with the primary goal of working for real faculty governance and a recognized and independent voice on campus. BCAAUP resolved to address the most pressing concerns of all faculty (non-tenured, tenure track and tenured). Since that time, BCAAUP has worked with our colleagues across the university and across the country, committed to addressing the lack of faculty governance at Boston College and advocating for a recognized faculty role in decision-making, and a less centralized, more democratic decision-making process.

A 2003 Faculty Compensation Committee survey of faculty with a roughly 40% response rate, showed that 80% of the respondents desired the formation of a faculty senate and as a result, the FCC organized a task force to study the workings of faculty senates and draft a proposal. The Academic Vice President’s (now Provost’s) office provided some logistical and financial support for this.  In December of 2003, the task force presented a set of ‘guidelines’ for a faculty senate to the FCC.  In January 2005, elected members of university-wide committees began meeting as the Interim Faculty Senate (IFS) to translate the guidelines into a specific proposal, which was then submitted in a referendum to the faculty, October 5-12, 2006.  With 42.7% of eligible faculty voting, the measure passed 272-37 (88.08% approving, 11.97% disapproving). With such strong faculty support, the IFS prepared to elect senate members as part of the December 2006 elections process.  However, the Provost’s office declined to allow the election for the new Faculty Senate to be conducted, and the Provost justified this action by citing the provision in the Preamble to the University Statutes that the Board of Trustees reserved to itself the power to “establish senates, councils….” In recent years, it has been argued that the administration actually usurped the Trustees prerogatives by denying them the possibility of designating an existing faculty body as the statutory University Faculty Senate as provided by the statutes.

In the 2012 BCAAUP sponsored faculty survey, only 19% of faculty were satisfied with current faculty decision making. Faculty overwhelmingly agreed (85% of respondents) that an elected faculty committee “should explain, evaluate, and publicize” all proposed changes to the Faculty Handbook prior to posting. The concerns of greatest importance to faculty remain: 1) establishment of an independent faculty senate, 2) establishment of an elected faculty committee to review/maintain and update the Faculty Handbook, which presently is controlled by the Provost’s office and 3) establishment of positive changes in the status and prospects of contingent faculty. The view held by a majority of faculty is that faculty participation on university committees exists more for appearance sake than for providing authentic influence over policy decisions.

Attempts to engage in meaningful dialogue rarely prove successful, whether attempted by individual faculty members or by elected representatives, even when there is a set protocol. For example, in grievance processes through the statutory and elected Faculty Grievance Committee (FGC), the Provost and President are free to follow the FGC’s recommendations or not, but they are required to respond, the former to the original grievance and the latter to any appeal. Questions remain as to whether or not appropriate protocol has been followed by the administration, specifically with respect to delayed responses or lack thereof to FGC’s recommendations or to any appeals. Such lack of communication and inconsistency in following procedures is not limited to dealings with the Faculty Grievance Committee.

Until recently the procedures of the FGC were influenced by the Provost’s office, with little or no transparency with regard to record keeping or operating procedures. While the FGC continues to address the problems, there remains a tendency to hinder the filing of grievances whether with regard to harassment or tenure decisions and rarely does a faculty member’s grievance get as far as the FGC.  Currently at Boston College, only tenure track and tenured faculty may file grievances.  Following a resolution by the FGC to establish a process for non-tenured faculty, the Provost’s office has agreed, but the process is still in the planning stages.  As yet, there are no provisions for filing of grievances by faculty who are considered part-time.

Ironically the administration, even when faced with their own written documentation, willingly contradicts itself, thereby creating more confusion and ambiguity as faculty attempt to resolve issues of governance and academic freedom. Patterns on the part of the administration include dismissing their own written statements and documents as erroneous, altering the Faculty Handbook without discussion with faculty, and introducing policies retroactively, so as to appear not to be in violation of current practices.  Such was the case with one grievance filed by some members of the faculty regarding equity in salaries. Although the FGC found for the faculty members, the Provost dismissed the case, which, in the view of some, may have had aspects of age discrimination.

Another example of the lack of faculty participation in decision making can be seen in the suspension of the non-statutory University Budget Committee (UBC).  For decades, the UBC had provided a forum for elected faculty and students to obtain financial information and discuss budget issues with the Provost, the Executive Vice President, and the Financial Vice President.  However, the UBC was suspended by the administration at the beginning of the budget crisis in 2007, with the Provost’s indicating that the administration would establish a successor to the Budget Committee. After six years, no university-wide body open to elected faculty participation has been established.

Similarly, the Faculty Compensation Committee (FCC), another non-statutory, advisory committee, which addresses faculty compensation, benefits, and related academic practices, such as teaching loads, had previously met monthly with the Executive Vice President, Provost and Vice President of Human Resources.  While this committee is still allowed to make recommendations, the Provost and Executive Vice President generally decline to attend and essential university financial information is no longer made available.

The FCC has never participated in writing the Faculty Handbook or The Retirement Planning and Handbook for Retired Faculty Members, nor is there any other type of standing faculty committee involved in writing or making changes to the Faculty Handbook. In 2006, the President reserved the right to appoint emeritus faculty. Consequently, emeritus status is not allowed to be part of retirement negotiations. Although the FCC protested the lack of faculty input with the change in emeriti appointments, there was no subsequent discussion. In addition, many faculty remain uncertain about retirement negotiations and 95% report no standard retirement agreement in their schools and departments.  Neither the UBC, the FCC, nor any faculty were involved when, in 2008, the University cut in half the supplemental healthcare benefits for most retiring and all their spouses.

In 2010, the administration recommended that “justified ballots” were to be used in tenure and promotion cases to replace the statutory required vote of departmental faculty in a meeting.  In at  least one case, a department chair took this to mean that the meeting vote would no longer be necessary, suggested that faculty send him their letters expressing their opinion, which he then summarized, and forwarded the “justified ballots” with his tally to the University Promotions and Tenure Committee.  While the administration has said that promotions procedures need to be more uniform across the university, nothing has been done to correct such irregularities of this revised process, demonstrating yet another example of the shift of power from the faculty and departments to the administration.

In addition, as the administration introduced new policies that restrict part-time faculty to teaching only two courses/semester, thereby eliminating benefits, some part-time and tenured faculty raised the issue with BCAAUP, asking that we share and discuss the information on our campus and with our colleagues at other universities. Not only did the changes eliminate benefits and job security, but the decision by the administration was also seen by some faculty as detrimental to the effectiveness of their departments and to the quality of student learning.

For full-time, non-tenure track faculty (FTNTT), a new policy of “peer review” is being implemented in conjunction with renewal of contracts. While the concept of peer review has not been uniformly interpreted across the university, and guidelines vary for portfolios, methods and materials for evaluation, uncertainty remains. The administration’s implementation of such varied policies at times creates uncertainty while undermining collegiality among faculty at our university, calling to mind a variation on the well-known poem: “First they came for the part-time faculty…” And post-tenure review remains a topic still under discussion for our tenured faculty.

Since its beginning as an advocacy chapter, BCAAUP has received many reports that demonstrate a pattern of abuse of power which has led to bullying, harassment and discrimination of faculty, extending to students and staff as well. The pattern of placing all blame on those who have been targeted has led to mistrust among colleagues, hostility within departments, and an increased system of rewards and punishments. Some punishments are made public and include creating a hostile and non-collegial working environment by completely ostracizing the faculty member, while others are more subtle. In theory, departments continue to hold elections of their Chair, though in only an advisory role, which in recent years has resulted in the replacement of some elected Chairs by the Provost’s Office. Rumors replace facts and the result is often a hostile environment with little security for both tenured and non-tenure track faculty.

The internet age has allowed the BC administration to behave in an Orwellian (1984) fashion with regard to the Faculty Handbook.  With no printed copy available, changes in the Handbook appear and disappear, link to other sites that are not part of the handbook, and allow what should be a contractual agreement with the faculty to be completely at the whim of those who control the website.

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Boston College and reflect upon its rich history, what better time than now to look forward to engaging faculty, students and administrators in a dynamic process of shared governance.

 

 

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