Tuesday, November 04, 2014

First Principles of Shared Governance, Part VI: The Chair Selection Process II

Picking up where I left off yesterday...

Who Should Be Eligible to Serve as Department Chair?

In the English Department at Fredonia, our current handbook doesn't specify any limitations on who may serve as department chair.  So could a graduate assistant run?  A part-time contingent faculty member who's in their 1st semester of teaching in the department?  How about a full-time contingent faculty member who's taught in the department for 20 years?  How about someone from the department who's on the tenure track, but not yet tenured?  Or someone who's already serving in another administrative appointment?  (Our Dean, Provost, and President are all tenured faculty in the English department.)  For that matter, how about someone from another department?

These possibilities are not as outlandish as they may appear at first glance.  Consider a small department faced with such a large wave of retirements and resignations that it has lost all its tenured faculty and where remaining faculty on the tenure track do not want to make such a big and risky commitment as serving as chair.  Let's say in that situation that the remaining department members recommend that their most senior member, who's on a contingent appointment, should serve as chair.  And let's say the Dean recommends instead that a tenured member from another department serve as chair.  And the Provost recommends that the Dean serve as chair.  What's the President to do?

Fortunately, our department is large enough that it's extremely unlikely we'd lose all our tenured members in one fell swoop.  But what if nobody is willing to be nominated for chair during our internal decision-making/recommendation-generation process?  Should we place any restrictions on the Dean's and Provost's recommendations, or on the President's decision?  What sorts of restrictions would be justified?

In discussions with my colleagues on the RHC, several kinds of potentially legitimate restrictions emerged:
  • candidates can't be appointed to a term as chair that is longer than the term of their appointment at Fredonia;
  • candidates for department chair must have tenure;
  • candidates must have at least half their total teaching obligation be in the department;
  • candidates must have less than half their total professional obligation be administrative in nature.
The first would conceivably allow long-serving contingent faculty or intrepid tenure-track faculty to serve as chair, but typically for a shorter period than the typical 3-year term; the second would restrict eligibility to be nominated (or self-nominate) for chair to those with the academic freedom, due process rights, and job security that tenure exists to protect; the third would restrict eligibility to faculty whose teaching responsibilities lie predominantly in the department; the fourth would restrict eligibility to faculty whose teaching responsibility outweighs any administrative responsibilities they may have.  The question was which to recommend and how to combine them. 

In the end, we decided to recommend that "All candidates must have attained tenure in the English Department."  

I was at first against the tenured requirement, on the grounds that we should look to our Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion (HARP) and the current Agreement between UUP and the state of New York for models that allow for minimal restrictions and maximum flexibility to find and appoint the best candidates for chair.  But then I realized that until the university strengthens academic freedom protections by instituting a university-wide "no retaliation" clause for governance activities of all members of the Faculty (including chairs, who are both Presidential designees and Faculty-delegated governance leaders), both tenure-track and contingent faculty who might be appointed to be chair would be particularly vulnerable to pressure from higher-level administrators to allow the former aspect trump the latter when push came to shove.  Since University Handbook revisions and negotiations on Article IV of HARP are the venues for instituting a university-wide "no retaliation" clause for governance activities (modeled on an existing clause for union activities), since those processes will likely take months to play out, and since we need to decide much sooner than that how we ought to elect our next chair, better to err on the safe side and restrict nominations to tenured faculty members.

I was also at first in favor of the third and fourth restrictions we were considering, but decided on reflection and after discussion that they were too restrictive.  If someone had earned the department seal of approval via tenure in the department, shouldn't that be enough to make them eligible to be nominated for chair, however much teaching they were doing outside the department or however many other administrative responsibilities they had?  If no other tenured member of the department were willing to serve as chair, why shouldn't our Dean be eligible for nomination?  Better to have someone with tenure in English supervising the personnel and educational program of the department than somebody who hadn't attained tenure in the department, right?

That's not just a rhetorical question.  What do you all think about these issues?  And my reasoning?

Next up:  who should be eligible to vote for chair?

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