A Victory for Shared Governance at University of Montana Western

BY KARL ULRICH AND SHANE BORROWMAN

Brick buildings and evergreen trees on campus of U. of Montana Western.The faculty senate of the University of Montana Western (UMW) has regained its right to conduct its periodic review of academic administrators, with the major assistance from the AAUP. Previously, UMW faculty senate abruptly had this long-standing right and responsibility stripped from it, as had other campuses of the MUS in a unilateral decision announced without discussion or due process by the Montana University System (MUS). After learning of this incident, Anita Levy and staff from the AAUP wrote a letter of concern to UMW administration and Montana Commissioner of Higher Education (CHE) Clayton Christian.  Commissioner Christian’s decision was to confirm the right to conduct reviews of academic administrators for UMW and all the schools in the MUS.”

The bylaws of UMW’s faculty senate call for a biennial performance review of the chancellor, provost, dean of outreach, and dean of students. The bylaw section that outlines the biennial review was approved by the administration and legal staff of the University of Montana in Missoula most recently in 2014—where a similar review of the administration by faculty was first approved in 1980.

Results of these reviews are to be shared with the subject of each review as well as the CHE. Such a review was scheduled to be conducted during spring semester of 2018. The faculty senate developed the survey instrument according to procedures called for in its bylaws during January 2018. These procedures and tentative survey questions were presented to the administration for their review in February 2018. When the survey apparatus was shared with the administration, the chancellor declined to review the survey format and its questions until April, 2018, reportedly due to other time commitments. This delayed the planned administration of the surveys by two months, until after most faculty had left campus.

The April meeting at which the administrative review was to be discussed was attended by the UMW chancellor, human resources director, the deputy commissioner for human resources (DCHR, via speaker phone), as well as the three members of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate (ECOS). The DCHR (Kevin McRae) did most of the speaking. He informed ECOS that the faculty senate was forbidden the use of any university resources to perform the reviews and strongly recommended against its use of private resources to do so.

The rationale for this argument by the DCHR was that faculty performance reviews were not a recognized part of the evaluation system of administrators in the MUS, and therefore the faculty senate was not authorized to utilize state resources in conducting them—although a biennial review was conducted in 2016, and regular reviews of this type occur across the MUS. Members of ECOS were also informed that the university system legal counsel would not provide them with any advice, and that they would not be protected against legal liability if they attempted to perform the administrative reviews. In spite of these warnings, the faculty senate decided unanimously to proceed with the survey using private resources if necessary. Faced with this senate decision, Chancellor Beth Weatherby agreed to allow university resources to be used on a provisional basis.

When the faculty senate attempted to revise its bylaws pertaining to the biennial reviews in September 2018, it was informed by the chancellor that we should work with the DCHR on approval of those bylaw changes. When contacted by email the DCHR again reiterated via an October 2 email his previous response that “… there is no express authority and there seems to be no clear reason to allow the use of university funds, facilities, equipment, supplies or other university resources for these purposes in view of the system’s fiduciary responsibility.”

Because of this response, faculty senate chair Karl Ulrich and vice chair Shane Borrowman began communicating with the AAUP, asking for their assistance in early October 2018. Anita Levy promptly asked the senate officers for additional documentation, which she used to send a letter of concern to Chancellor Weatherby. Karl Ulrich then shared this letter of concern with the UMW faculty senate and with the faculty senate leaders on other MUS campuses. DCHR McRae had informed him that this policy change decision applied to MUS faculty reviews of administrator performance on all MUS campuses.

As of December 2018, the administration at Montana Western has made no official response, on campus, to any of the concerns raised by Drs. Ulrich and Borrowman and echoed by the AAUP—although Chancellor Weatherby sent a brief letter to the AAUP regarding her commitment to shared governance. The Chancellor did not, however, directly address any of the specific concerns outlined in the letter.

By standing firm and united, and with the assistance of the AAUP, University of Montana Western, and all Montana University System faculties, now have an affirmed role in assessment of academic administrators. Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian gave this affirmation in his letter of November 5, 2018.

Karl Ulrich (karl.ulrich@umwestern.edu) is currently a tenured professor of biology and chair of the faculty senate at the University of Montana Western where he has served 32 years in a number of capacities ranging from adjunct faculty member to provost and interim chancellor to faculty association (union) president.

Shane Borrowman (shane.borrowman@umwestern.edu) is currently a tenured professor of English and vice-chair of the faculty senate at the University of Montana Western where he has served significantly less than 32 years. He is author, editor, or co-editor of ten scholarly books, including both composition textbooks and scholarly collections.

 

2 thoughts on “A Victory for Shared Governance at University of Montana Western

  1. Question: is shared governance not a wide spread practice; does it differ generally between public and private institutions? What about European and Asian universities? Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Three Significant Wins | ACADEME BLOG

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