Monday, November 03, 2014

First Principles of Shared Governance, Part V: The Chair Selection Process I

Last spring, in advance of speaking on a Fredonia panel during the first SUNY-wide conference on shared governance--a conference during which Fredonia received the system's first SUNY Shared Governance Award--I surveyed the progress my campus has made in its approach to shared governance here at Citizen of Somewhere Else.  In making the case that proceduralism matters in university governance, I tried to get across the importance and value of conceiving of shared governance as a system for working out/through disagreements during the institutional decision-making process.  I surveyed the range of revisions we've made to the Fredonia Faculty and University Senate Bylaws as we attempted to codify that understanding.  And I identified the issues and questions that we were tackling and wrestling with right then--many of which we are still figuring out.

Since then, I've been focusing on departmental-level governance issues as a member of the English Department's Review and Hiring Committee, which has been charged with proposing revisions to our department handbook.  With a department vote approaching this Wednesday on the committee's first set of recommendations, I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify my own thinking on the range of choices facing the department with respect to the chair selection process, and hopefully help others do the same.

At Fredonia, as at many colleges and universities, department chairs hold dual appointments, both academic and administrative, and they play dual roles, both representing their departmental colleagues to external audiences and serving as their colleagues' immediate supervisor.  In those latter roles, they are appointed by the President, serve as the President's designee, and may be removed by the President at any time.  Chair appointment and reappointment is not a unilateral presidential decision, however.

The SUNY Board of Trustees Policies require the President to consult with "appropriate faculty including the department or division concerned" on the appointment and reappointment of that department's chair.  Although the Fredonia Bylaws refer to an older (and more ambiguous) version of the Policies, and much remains to be hammered out in University Senate consultations and the UUP Chapter's negotiations with the administration on University Handbook revisions (including Article IV of the Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion, which I wrote about here in mid-October), my take is that the Faculty has delegated its consultative authority to academic departments as governance bodies closer to "affiliate committees" (which determine their own internal policies and procedures) than "standing committees" (which follow basic policies and procedures laid out in the Bylaws but can develop their own on matters not covered by the Bylaws).  So long as departments follow the Bylaws by defining voting eligibility and clarifying internal decision-making processes in ways that are consistent with and subject to higher-order policies (such as the Bylaws, the University Handbook, the Policies of the Board of Trustees, the Agreement between UUP and the state of New York, and New York state law), and so long as they share the document that codifies such definitions and clarifications with the Senate's Governance Officer and all new hires, they may act as shared governance bodies and consult on several kinds of decisions, including the appointment and reappointment of their chairs.

This is why department handbooks (or bylaws or policy manuals) matter:  they specify the process by which consultation with the President happens and they define the roles of the academic staff in the department during this process.  So in proposing revisions to our handbook, the committee I sit on seeks to help the department improve its current framework for making a recommendation to the President as to who should serve as our next department chair.  Of course, we can control only our own internal decision-making and recommendation-generating process.  After the department makes a recommendation to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Dean makes a recommendation to the Provost, and the Provost makes a recommendation to the President.  The Dean and Provost are free to seek input as they decide what recommendations to make and the President has that same freedom to seek input as she decides whom to appoint.  But the better our process and the clearer our recommendation, the more likely it is that the our recommendation will go up the administrative chain unchanged.

Now that I've covered the big picture, I'll do a series of posts on different kinds of specific decisions facing the department.  Next up:  who should be eligible to be nominated for department chair?


Merritt Moore said...

Shared governance, steeped deeply in the founding of our nation, seems to have an equally long history of disputation based on semantics, hence the continued amending process to our own nation's constitution. Early this year, our department changed radically in its cohesive structure when decision-making procedures which had been in practice were questioned, and that questioning challenged the self-conceptualized identity of our adjunct faculty members. We were no longer "separate but equal" to our peers, in fact we questioned whom our peers now were, as apparently our ability to elect fairly, to judge without bias became a topic of a conversation which we watched and felt compelled NOT participate in, for really how does somebody defend themselves from subtle insult without acknowledging the insult openly- and adjuncts with a tenuous income in a precarious economic system feasibly will suffer from lack of confidence as a result. I remember when I declawed my eight-year-old cat, it changed Socrates I saw it in his spirit. Taking away someone's ability to fight fairly, and let us not quibble here, a right to vote is a right to fight injustice if it arises, a right to vote is a mechanism of self-protection, this is why spousal service is prohibited, it creates an unfair fight, where two parties have unbalanced power and confidence to act as a team to serve their own ends. This is why it is vital for all members of the department to feel confident that they have a voice. This is pure democracy and an English department ought to be where humanity is defended.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks for the comment. I'm discussing voting eligibility in my next post!