DRAFTED BY THE FACULTY COUNCIL GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE

 

It has become clear over the last few years that Rice University faces some serious problems in faculty governance. A recent petition calling for electronic voting in faculty meetings brought the issue to a head: a good number of faculty apparently no longer view the deliberations of the assembled faculty, which makes decisions on all major issues coming before the faculty, as necessary to a faculty vote. Is Rice University's system of Faculty governance working effectively? Or have faculty members already made the decision that it is not? If it is not, then what needs to be done?

 

I. ISSUES FACING FACULTY GOVERNANCE AT RICE

 

The Governance Committee of Faculty Council has examined the problem and notes the following five major issues confronting our current system of faculty governance:

 

1. We need to reconsider the role of the assembled faculty in faculty governance. The decision-making process on faculty-related issues is not fully transparent, and it culminates in two votes by the assembled faculty on "important" matters. The elected members of Faculty Council have little control over this process; since only a small percentage of the faculty eligible to vote attend meetings, a vocal minority is able to influence outcomes, often with peculiar results. The faculty, for example, voted to overturn the academic calendar after the numerous committees and elected representatives of the Faculty along with the Registrar's Office had worked for years to reorganize it. In another case, the faculty voted down a major curriculum reform but for a language requirement that was a component part of it.

 

2. We need to reexamine the authority and representation of our elected representational governing councils: University Council and Faculty Council.  We need to ask whether there are important areas of policy regarding budgets, space, and academics where the Faculty's voice should aid the administration in making decisions in the interest of the whole institution.  We also need to determine whether these governing councils, composed of 3% of the faculty, are sufficiently representative of the faculty as a whole.  The problems that have arisen during general faculty meetings would suggest not.

 

University Council: The University Council consists of the Provost, 8 tenured faculty members from Faculty Council, 2 faculty members appointed by the President, 1 graduate student, 2 undergraduate students, and 1 staff member.  On paper, the University Council is the "primary advisory body to the President on policy decisions or matters affecting the operations of the University" (http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~faccoun/BYLAWS.html). In practice, that body rarely engages in meaningful discussion with the administration and has little or no input on major decisions dealing with budget, space or academic priorities. On paper, the University Council receives written reports from most standing committees (http://www.professor.rice.edu/professor/Index.asp?SnID=355899553). In practice, it rarely receives such reports.

Faculty Council:  The Faculty Council is composed of 16 tenured and tenure track faculty members elected from two divisions: Division A (Humanities, Social Sciences, Architecture, Music, Business) and Division B (Natural Sciences and Engineering.). According to the bylaws, the Faculty Council is ýthe primary advisory body to the President on policy decisions or matters affecting the faculty, their responsibilities, rights, or benefits. Modifications in curricula and degree requirements shall be approved by the Faculty Council before being brought before the general faculty.ţ (http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~faccoun/BYLAWS.html#I.B.)  In its first charge, the Faculty Council has largely been effective; committees on Promotion and Tenure, Appeals and Grievances, and Policy Committee have ensured the protection of faculty rights.  Ironically Faculty Council has been less successful in effecting legislation that can be agreed upon by the faculty as a whole.  In light of this the limited representation of Faculty Council needs to be reexamined.  

3. We need to reevaluate the effectiveness of the standing committee structure.  There are 21 university standing committees appointed by the President.  We need to review these committees to determine their relevance to professional faculty practice, the possibility of consolidation, and the need for new committees.  We also need to determine whether the appointment process best serves faculty interests. 

 

4. We need to consider the unwillingness of most faculty members to run for election to Faculty Council/University Council, and to determine whether that unwillingness reflects a changed climate on campus, the weakness of existing faculty governance, and/or the lack of recognition for service to the university.

 

5. We need to address the problem of a lack of continuity in leadership within faculty governance.

 

II. APPROACHES TO REFORM OF FACULTY GOVERNANCE AT RICE

 

The Governance Committee has identified several important ways Faculty governance at Rice could be reformed, based on its deliberations, its meetings with faculty from other universities, and its examination of the governance systems at other universities. This list is by no means exhaustive, nor does one idea for reform necessarily exclude another; it is designed to further discussion about what to do to address the issues noted above.

 

1. A first solution would be simply to follow the bylaws and rules for the operation of University Councils and standing committees as they now exist.

 

2. A second solution would be to maintain the basic institutions of Faculty governance, such as Faculty Council, University Council, and the standing committees, but to add two new committees: a Budget Committee, which would participate in the budgetary discussions of the administration, and an Academic Priorities Committee, which would participate in discussions with Deans, Provost, and others on the academic direction of the University.

 

3. A third solution would be to create a new Faculty Senate to replace the existing system of governance. A Senate would consist of representatives from the individual Departments headed by an elected executive body. That Senate would replace the existing assembled Faculty and make final decisions on matters of importance to Faculty. An initial proposal for a Faculty Senate can be found in the appendix to this letter.

 

4. A fourth solution would be to reorganize all major committees, electing the members and providing them with more authority in University decision-making. This model is used at Brown University; the current bylaws at Brown are to be found at http://facgov.brown.edu/, and the rationale behind them at http://facgov.brown.edu/taskforce.html.

 

III.    THE NEXT STEP: A TASK FORCE ON FACULTY GOVERNANCE

 

In the opinion of the Governance Committee, a taskforce should be created, consisting of about eight respected faculty members from across the University. That task force would be asked to examine all aspects of Faculty governance, in consultation with faculty across the University, and to submit a proposal on Faculty governance to the Faculty Council in late fall 2004.

 

 


APPENDIX I: OUTLINE OF A FACULTY SENATE FOR RICE

To: Governance Committee

From: Carl Caldwell, Caroline Quenemoen

Re: Ideas about Faculty Senate

Date: Feb. 25, 2004

 

Here, in outline, are the ideas that we talked about on Monday.

 

                 I.     Representation: The Faculty Senate would consist of faculty representing all 31 departments in 4 schools with departments as well as the three schools without departments (Music, Business, Architecture). Representatives would be elected from individual units, which could be broken up in a variety of ways.

a.     Example #1: Each school receives a certain number of representatives according to the number of tenure-track professors, which are divided up among the departments. E.g. in Humanities most departments would elect one representative, but a couple of smaller departments (e.g. German, Classics) might have to team up for a representative. Schools without departments, e.g. Jones School, might receive several representatives, either elected at large within Jones or according to subgroups. Total # around 30-35.

b.     Example #2: Each department, regardless of size, elects a representative, with similar representation among schools without depts. as above. Total # around 30-35.

c.     Example #3: Combination of Example #1 and at large positions representing specific populations: e.g. additional positions reserved for asst. professors, additional at-large positions, and so on. Total #: 40-45.

                  II.     Authority of the Faculty Senate: Senate would take over most of the tasks of the existing Faculty in our existing system of governance. They would

a.     vote on important matters, whether once or twice, such as curriculum, calendar, policy, and so on, at regular meetings (perhaps 1/month);

b.     elect a Deputy Speaker;

c.     elect an executive body (Steering Committee) as well as an administrative body (Committee on Committees) from their ranks to assist the Speaker in setting agenda;

d.     receive reports from standing committees that currently report to University Council;

e.     provide a pool to staff a number of other committees, including ad hoc committees.

                    III.     Authority and Composition of the Steering Committee: Steering Committee consists of [5+x] tenured members elected from each of  the schools (Jones, Architecture, and Shepherd would constitute one school) by the Faculty Senate as well as Speaker and Speaker Elect of the Faculty. Steering Committee would have the power to set the agenda for the meetings and be empowered to engage in day-to-day business of the Senate.

                    IV.     Speaker of the Faculty: The Speaker would be elected directly by the faculty at the beginning of each year or at the end of each year for a three year term as Speaker Elect; Speaker; and Former Speaker. Speaker Elect and Speaker would serve on the Steering Committee, and Former Speaker would serve on the Committee on Committees. Speaker would have basically the same authority as the current Speaker, but the three-year term would provide for more continuity.

                  V.     Arguments for this form of representation:

a.     Ensures connection at the most local level to faculty governance.

b.     Involves a larger number of faculty in governance, but without entailing (necessarily) the same level of commitment.

c.     Ensures continuity on the level of executive (three-year term as Speaker).

d.     Eliminates the dysfunctional role of the Faculty as a whole in the existing system.

                    VI.     Issues that still need to be addressed:

a.     Would the Steering Committee also serve as the basis for Promotion and Tenure (with the addition of presidential appointees and Provost)? That would make senseˇand indeed, that's what FC currently does.

b.     Would the Committee on Committees serve as the basis for Appeals and Grievances, which could draw from the members of the Senate for any given case?

c.     Could the Speaker be given some kind of compensation, e.g. one course off a year, to compensate for the major commitment?

d.     What would the composition of the Committee on Committees look like?  It would probably include both tenured and non-tenured faculty.  It's not clear whether school representation is as important as for this committee as for the Steering Committee.