Tuesday, April 22, 2014

First Principles of Shared Governance, Part III: The Nitty Gritty

Last post I explored "the vision thing" when it comes to shared governance and consultation, with particular attention to the role bylaws can play in instantiating that vision or theory.  In this post, I plan on getting into the nitty gritty of what bylaws revision has actually entailed at SUNY Fredonia over the last 6 years or so.

Defining Consultation, Shared Governance, Faculty, and Voting Faculty

I encourage you to review the current list of definitions in our bylaws and the way in which we operationalize them in Article II, Section 3.  They are the product of multiple revisions over the last several years.

When I was Chair of the University Senate and he was Vice Chair, Philosophy Professor Dale Tuggy was instrumental in revising and building support for an improved definition of consultation.  (Bonus points if you go into our Senate ANGEL site and compare the May 2007 version of the Bylaws you can find in our "About the University Senate" FAQ folder with the April 2010 version you can find in our "Campus Initiatives" folder for 2009-2010.)  Our aim was to ensure that the Senate would be a forum in which important issues facing the campus would be addressed.

Years later, when I was Vice Chairperson, I worked with fellow Executive Committee members and Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Kevin Kearns in particular to bring this definition in line with The Policies of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York and to use the BOT Policies, along with other sources, including those from AAUP and Middle States, to develop a definition of "shared governance" and hone our definitions of "faculty" and "voting faculty."  Our overarching goal was to reach agreement on procedural matters that were a persistent source of conflicting interpretations and conflicts over applications as we transitioned from the Hefner to the Horvath administrations.  We attempted to clearly identify different levels of shared governance, from decisions that were administrative prerogatives (where their only responsibility was to seek feedback and input from appropriate individuals and groups) to decisions that required the highest level of shared governance at Fredonia (formal consultation with the Senate, some other official governance body with Faculty-delegated consultative authority, or with the Faculty itself in an official faculty meeting).  We also wanted to establish that the Bylaws apply to everyone on the Faculty and hence that every member of the Faculty (which we define as inclusively as possible within BOT Policies) has the right to cast an equal vote to ratify (or not) Senate-approved substantive amendments to them.  That includes non-voting ex officio members: those with management/confidential appointments are not permitted to serve or vote on the Senate or on Senate Standing Committees at SUNY Fredonia, but they are permitted to vote on Bylaws ratification decisions.

Administrative Review

This was another major initiative during both the Hefner and Horvath administrations.  The heavy lifting was done while I was Chair, when the Senate had to decide what direction to take.  I presented the case for compromising with President Hefner on the purposes of administrative review (which, because a joint effort would involve personnel matters, would require keeping reports on specific Vice Presidents and their divisions confidential), while Vice Chair Tuggy made the case for Senate going it alone and thereby maximizing transparency and the accessibility of reports.  As you can see, we ended up going with the joint effort during the Hefner administration and refining it at the start of the Horvath administration.


We did a lot of work over the past 6 years clarifying the responsibilities and terms of officers.  Perhaps the most significant shift came during Dale Tuggy's tenure as Chairperson, when we moved from having a rotation of Vice Chair to Chair with 1-year terms for both positions to removing the rotation and allowing the Chairperson to run for up to 4 consecutive 1-year terms before having to sit out for at least one academic year.  The idea here was to strengthen the position of the Chairperson relative to the administrators he or she would be working with by allowing for multi-year planning and pacing by the Chairperson and Executive Committee.

Executive, Standing, and Affiliate Committees

We also did a lot of work clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Executive Committee and differentiating Standing from Affiliate Committees of the Senate.  During the Hefner administration, many administrative task forces, working groups, and committees were formed that reported directly to the President.  These groups sometimes seemed to be where the real advisory or recommendation-making power on campus flowed from, so when President Horvath took office it was a top priority of Chairperson Rob Deemer and I to find some way of connecting them to Senate.  Long story short, we came up with the distinction between committees primarily aimed at facilitating consultation (Standing) and those primarily aimed at facilitating other shared governance functions (Affiliate).

Task Forces

Similarly, we aimed to clarify the purpose and roles of task forces, whether created by the President or her designee(s), by the Senate Executive Committee, or by both jointly.  Just as we wanted to avoid the appearance or reality of administrative bypassing of official shared governance bodies on campus, we also wanted to avoid confusions that arose in the past when task forces would bring their reports and recommendations directly to the Senate, but Senators would be unclear on what motion was actually coming before them and what precisely they were voting on.  By making sure that task forces would be charged with reporting to the people or bodies that formed them, and putting the responsibility for initiating consultation based on those reports with those people or bodies, we sought to provide an orderly path for recommendations to become motions before the Senate.  This shift has recently been the subject of a small controversy, which I'll address in another post.

Academic Departments

Another major transformation that the 2013 Bylaws revisions enshrined in our official practices and procedures was to identify departments as Faculty-delegated official governance bodies at SUNY Fredonia, with specific consultative responsibilities as defined by the BOT's Policies.  We sought input from a variety of sources, both on and off campus, before we made this judgment call.  This is a shift we are still wrestling with on campus and within departments themselves (including my own); the Fredonia UUP Chapter Executive Board and the Senate Executive Committee have tried to address the issues in different ways, which I'll get into in another post.

Electronic Quorum and Voting

Given that one of the knocks on shared governance is that the faculty and administrative calendars don't mesh well together, so that going to a body like the University Senate means you have to get things done between September and December or between January and May, we decided to develop a system for electronic deliberation and voting.  Too many times in recent years, time-limited proposals have been sprung on Executive Committee during the winter or the summer, and we have had to invoke our emergency powers in order to respond.  Once the Senate approves in our May meeting the use of google groups for deliberation and the current electronic voting system that we use for elections and ratification votes for between-meeting voting, the new Bylaws requirement for both a super-quorum and a super-majority for a motion to pass mean that we both have a way of responding to emergency requests as a body and of giving incentives for most serious business to take place in face-to-face meetings.

Senate/Standing Committee Membership

Our current Bylaws amendment ratification vote has just opened.  In it, we try to set up a system of membership on the Senate and on Standing Committees that allows for the first time since I have been at Fredonia the chance to take a semester off (for a leave, for a family emergency, etc.) during your term and that clarifies how term limits are supposed to work.  In addition, we try to make it easier to respond to sudden or late requests for governance leaders to appoint members of various non-governance groups (both existing and future).


So that's the run-down--really, just an overview, and a dry one at that--of the major Bylaws revision projects we've taken on since 2008 or so at SUNY Fredonia.  There are something like a dozen great stories behind each of them, but neither time nor common sense permits me to share any of them here and now!  I will get into some of the unresolved questions and issues our revisions have raised in another post, so you'll get some sense of the give-and-take as we consider what policies will best serve the Faculty, the university, and our students.

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