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Tilting at Windmills - Educational Misadventures in the Big Ten (Draft 02-10-06)
David L. Nanney
20. Faculty Appeals Committee
My last attempt to assault a university windmill came as a result of my election as chair of the Faculty Appeals Committee. This is the only committee prescribed in the University Statutes for election by all the University Faculty. The University Statutes and the corporate governance of the University Faculties are subjects I will largely ignore. These organizational matters came in for considerable discussion in the late 60s and early 70s, sparked in part by the flurry of student activism associated with the Viet Nam War. At that time I accepted an appointment on a committee to consider modification and modernization of the University Statutes. A well respected lawyer Eugene Scoles accepted the responsibility for overseeing this task. Though the committee worked heroically the statutes and by-laws were so obsolete, and the governance of the University was becoming so complex, that I suspect the job was futile from the beginning. I have heard references to the Statutes since that time but never with any sense of real relevance. A few years after my Department of Genetics and Development was dissolved, the University Senate noted in a report that the method of dissolution was contrary to that specified in the Statutes. Unfortunately, the department’s space had been assigned to another department by that time and its faculty redistributed.
Meanwhile, back to the Faculty Appeals Committee. The committee was peopled with idealistic and seasoned faculty, but people who were optimistic about the rule of law in the governance of academic institutions. This committee was the designated University agency for dealing with unresolved grievances between faculty members and the administration. The committee spent many hours reading complaints, taking depositions from aggrieved faculty members, from department heads and deans of colleges. We wrote detailed reports and attempted reconciliation with administrative officers. Our final appeal went to the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at this time Ned Goldwasser.
I will not attempt to summarize my experiences on the FAC, but one example stands out in my recollection. The issue concerned possible sex discrimination in a department in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. The senior faculty at the time was composed largely of older men whose teaching was carried out primarily in small studio classes. The untenured faculty consisted primarily of young women who were assigned large lecture classes. The senior and junior faculty came from different worlds. The professors usually had masters degrees in studio arts. The young women characteristically had PhD’s from recognized academic institutions. They were expected to publish scholarly papers, and also to exhibit their artistic productions at recognized shows. Regularly, after 6 years, the instructors were judged unqualified for tenure, and were terminated. One young woman appealed her rejection from tenure through the department and the college, to no effect.
The FAC undertook to check the validity of this young woman’s claims. We interviewed the head of her department, other faculty members, the dean of the college. We examined the publications of the plaintif and compared them with those of the tenured staff who were evaluating her. We also inspected her artistic productions and those of the faculty. Granted, the FAC wasn’t well suited to judge the quality of the art. But one of the senior faculty pointed out that they weren’t able to judge it either. “Art evaluation is so arbitrary. We find it easier, and less expensive, to let the candidate go, and just have another search. Art historians are a dime a dozen.” (Not an exact quotation!). Though we were not technically qualified to judge the qualifications of the candidate, the Committee was impressed with the young woman’s case, and unanimously called for reversal of the tenure recommendation. The department head refused to budge from his judgement. The dean of the college refused to act on our recommendation.
We delivered a detailed written report to the office of the Vice Chancellor. We went as a group to a scheduled appointment with Goldwasser. We explained our concerns and the administrative problems that gave rise to them. His response was to note that tenure decisions are the responsibility of the department and the college. He had no part to play in such issues.
The University administration refused to take any action on the FACs recommendation in this case, or in any other case that we brought to its attention. A private lawyer employed by the young painter obtained a settlement with the University; she was awarded one year’s salary. We saw the futility of our efforts and subsequently recommended that aggrieved faculty members after preliminary analysis by the FAC employ a private attorney. The University was responsive to threats through the courts though not through its statutory appeals system.