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Updated 7:00 AM November 23, 2009
 

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  Monthly report to the Board of Regents
Faculty Governance

Subject: Abridged version of address to regents by Michael Thouless, SACUA chair

The state of faculty governance at U-M is fairly healthy, and there are optimistic signs that it is continuing to improve in several areas. However, there are aspects where further improvement is still needed to ensure a healthy and dynamic institution.

Faculty governance at U-M exhibits several manifestations, with different implications for the level of authority with which the faculty speaks. In particular, there are some aspects of governance where the faculty of a university need to have a privileged voice, but there are others where the faculty are merely one group of stakeholders among several. It is important to understand that these different aspects of faculty governance exist; confusion between them tends to dilute the authority of faculty in those areas where the nature of a dynamic university needs them to be vested with special powers.

The strongest aspect of faculty governance arises from the regental charge that the governing faculty are in charge of the affairs of the individual units, and are vested with plenary powers in matters such as teaching and committee structures. While central faculty governance has authority when more than one unit is affected, it is rare that the decision of the faculty in a single unit triggers this authority. However, centrally imposed policies and procedures can impact aspects of teaching across unit boundaries, and the input of faculty into their development and assessment often appears to be more diluted than is desirable. Indeed, the mechanisms by which faculty can provide input into the development of such policies and procedures are not always transparent.

A second category of faculty governance arises from being the only mechanism that currently exists by which non-bargained-for faculty can have an input into their conditions of employment. The need for broad-based and representative faculty involvement in discussions about employment and benefit issues is mirrored by the equivalent needs for staff involvement. While subject-matter expertise of individual faculty is used to provide a useful resource for administrative decisions of this nature, an institution that thrives on its diversity and sense of community must ensure that there are mechanisms in place to include the perspectives of all levels of faculty and staff. It is not obvious that there are mechanisms currently in place to ensure broad-based and representative input from faculty or staff into issues such as benefits and employment.

A third category of faculty governance is also not formally defined, but should automatically evolve from a recognition that the symbiotic relationship existing between faculty and their university goes far beyond the usual employer/employee relationship. The pre-eminence of this university is established by the sum of the individual reputations of the faculty who work here. But, in turn, the attractiveness of this university as a place to work depends on the community that the university represents: the quality of colleagues, the quality of students, and the extent to which policies and procedures don't hamper the ability to do excellent research and teaching. Therefore, the unique perspectives of faculty in different units must be included during any decision-making process that affects the environment in which faculty teach and do research.

Historically, Michigan has a very distributed form of administration, with strong local autonomy at the unit and departmental level. However, current budgetary pressures are moving the university to a much more centralized mode of operation. The importance of central faculty governance will increase accordingly. When policies and procedures were developed locally, the staff and administration responsible for them tended to interact with the faculty on a daily basis, and understood the local needs of faculty to be effective in their teaching and research. In contrast, central staff and administration tend to be divorced from daily interactions with faculty. Budget savings made by moving to more centralized control may not be fully realized if apparent cost-saving measures induce local inefficiencies. For example, one of the most valuable resources that a university has is faculty time. It can be a false economy if cost-saving procedures are sufficiently disruptive to faculty time that they affect the creativity that excellent teaching and research depends on. It is crucial that mechanisms be developed by which all branches of central administration work in partnership with faculty, to ensure that real two-way communication occurs before, not after, decisions are made. A more centralized university will require a stronger voice of the faculty to ensure that the local needs of faculty in different units are communicated to the appropriate channels.

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