Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The COLS-wide faculty meeting

I have been meaning to write about the COLS meeting that occurred about a week and a half ago. From what I have heard, it was pretty pathetic.

The agenda for the meeting was to discuss some COLS input to the strategic plan ("Suggested Priorities for the Academic Plan"). No more that 30 people showed up to watch the faculty committee praise themselves on what a great job they had done putting it together.

There was apparently only a bit of discussion over various phrasing and weighting. Also, there was a small disagreement about whether assessment numbers should be added to the plan. A couple of people thought using assessment data would help strengthen some of the desires in the plan. One person suggested that inserting assessment data would only play into the hands of administrators.

Dean Zimmerman was sick, so he was a fairly sedate presence and I haven't heard that he said anything particularly striking.

The meeting represents one of the biggest problems on our campus. Where is significant and real faculty input? The one meeting which had a large turn out last year was completely ignored by the adminstration. This meeting dealt with how best to shuffle some bureaucratic nonsense requested by the administration.

It is true that the faculty committee placed the 9 course load on the top of our academic goals, but that will probably work as well as the petition did last year.

We have really abdicated any responsibility for playing a significant role in the decisions made on this campus. It may be that Wells, Earns and Zimmerman are doing such a fine job that no one has any disagreements, but how would one ever know?

Why is it that the faculty committee and the faculty senate seem to have no real power and no real agenda? Shouldn't we be intimately involved in shaping the path of our institution's future. The first universities were collectives governed by faculty, ours has become a hierarchical bureaucracy with top-down decision making.

Suggestions? How can we gain back some control over our college and our university?


Anonymous said...

... so why didn't you go?

Janine said...

Exactly the question I was going to ask. The change starts with you.

Dave Diamond said...

Why are faculty all around the UW System largely impotent? Because they're too busy protecting their turf and engaging in internal drama-fests. And the few times they do stand up and fight, it's usually for absolutely the wrong thing.

Take, for example, the consistent stance faculties across the state have taken in support of sexual predators with tenure. TAUWP has spent years of wasted effort trying to turn John Marder into a martyr (pun intended), with no result other than discrediting the organization in the eyes of students, administrators and many faculty.

Although it's true that the legislators who love to put out anti-UW press releases have gotten far too much fodder out of the Coronado/Cohen cases and the LAB felon audit, the dismissive response of the UW-Madison faculty senate toward the regents' proposed personnel policy changes does absolutely nothing to show that the faculty cares about the concerns of students, parents or the public at large.

Of course, LW, I don't see you doing anything to improve faculty participation in UWO governance. Maybe others might have more sympathy for your position if you worked a littler harder than just posting e-mails and complaining about meetings you chose not to attend.

Lake Winneblogo said...

First, I want to defend my honor and say that I am a regular participant in campus meetings and serve on committees regularly.

However, I have been to many of the all-COLS meetings and have found them to generally be a waste of time. This one was no different.

I sound like a broken record, but look at the biggest, most well-attended meeting we had--last Spring. The meeting was followed by a petition, asking the administration to make clear their position on our teaching-loads. Their answer--nothing, nada, zip. This suggests to me that we have so little influence, that the administration doesn't even have to respond, let alone address or asuage the concerns of the faculty.

This campus (and perhaps the whole system) has the weakest system for faculty input that I have seen in all of my various positions. Thus, the decisions taken to remove our authority happened long ago. How can we reverse it, especially in this climate of UW-bashing?

Diamond Dave dredges up the old stereotypes and right-wing attacks. He is not alone in these kinds of misperceptions.

Dave Diamond said...

I'm glad you clarified that you are actually participating in the system you criticize, LW. One would not have gotten that impression from your blogging. I stand corrected on that point.

But I wonder, do you view anyone who disagrees with you as a right-wing Christianist? I mentioned the Marder case because it's such an odd cause celebre for faculty activists, one tailor-made to poison relations with potential allies such as students or sympathetic administrators. It's not much of a "right-wing talking point," and I'm certainly not a legislator who believes in government by press release. But if faculty truly are irrelevant in the decision-making process, as you say, they cannot escape responsibility for that state of affairs.

tony palmeri said...

Diamond Dave,

The Marder case is about the principle of due process, a cause that ought to transcend fear of bad public relations.

In order to terminate Professor Marder's tenure, the Board of Regents had to override three prior levels of review:
*The UW Superior Affirmative Action Committee, which had ruled in Marder's favor.
*The UW Superior Faculty Terminations Committee, which had ruled in Marder's favor.
*The Board of Regents OWN Personnel Matters Review Committee, which had ruled in Marder's favor.

I find it hard to believe that those review levels--all of which I am told included members with special interest and/or expertise in sexual harassment issues--would clear a man who they thought was a "sexual predator with tenure."

If faculty sacrifice the principle of due process because we are afraid to "poison relations with potential allies," then the disappearance of respect for faculty authority described by Lake Winneblogo will most certainly get worse.

Lake Winneblogo said...

Thank you for your response Tony!, That is exactly what I wanted to say about the Marder case. The constant harping about the nature of the charges blinds critics to the essence of faculty/TAUWP position.

I might also add that due process is crucial to the exercise of academic freedom. If due process can be short-circuited, professors with dissident views can be fired on trumped-up charges, without the right to have those charges honestly investigated.

This is why the Madison faculty senate expressed their dislike of the new "fire first, ask questions later" policy in relation to felony charges that has been discussed by the regents.

Dave Diamond said...


The Wisconsin Supreme Court would seem to disagree with your assessment of the Marder case. But let's set the specifics aside, for a moment, and look at the broader issue.

It appears to me that the overarching argument of you and other faculty leaders around the state, be it in the Marder or the Coronado/Cohen cases, is that the power to investigate and dismiss tenured faculty ought to lay with faculty alone, and that those affected by faculty personnel decisions ought to have no further course for redress, as doing so would violate academic freedom and due process.

What does this say to the student being victimized by a professor, knowing that it will literally take years for anything to be done about it? You represent yourself as a very progressive guy; I refuse to believe you don't understand the power dynamics underlying these situations.

You really have your work cut out for you, Tony. Convincing the public that faculty committing severe misconduct somehow deserve more bureaucracy and review before being fired than a Teamster is going to be a tall order indeed.

P.S. to LW: The false equivalency you and Tony draw between protecting professors who challenge student beliefs and those who threaten student safety is exactly why most outside observers and many academics view your position as completely out of touch.

tony palmeri said...


What I said in my post was that in order to terminate Marder the Board of Regents had to override three prior levels of review. The Supreme Court in fact agreed with me on that point. The disagreement is over whether the Board of Regents can fire a tenured professor on the basis of a closed meeting at which the professor's main accuser (in this case UW Superior Chancellor Ehrlebach) is invited, but NOT the accused and his attorney. The Supreme Court found that a tenured professor can be fired under those conditions (although they did remand the case back to circuit court for part of the decision so technically it is not over.).

Speaking just for me, I do not believe that the "power to investigate and dismiss tenured faculty ought to lay with faculty alone." Principles of shared governance dictate that non-faculty would be involved in such investigations. And in fact, it was NOT faculty alone that investigated Marder. The Board of Regents OWN Personnel Matters Review Committee (all of them members of the Board of Regents and none of them UW faculty) voted 3-0 to recommdend that dismissal proceedings against Marder be dropped. Significantly, those 3 Board members did not change their votes EVEN AFTER attending the closed session with Ehrlenbach. So we have a situation in which every level of review that was able to listen to Marder's side of the story--whether they were faculty or non faculty--decided unanimously in his favor. The level that voted against him did not hear his side. And the Supreme Court said that was okay. As I'm sure you would agree, this would not be the first time a high court made a terrible decision.

I'm really not understanding your argument Dave. Are you saying that a faculty member accused of severe misconduct is not entitled to a hearing? Or that such accusations should go straight to the Chancellor or the Board of Regents and they ought to be able to make a decision to terminate without even hearing the accused's side?

Dave Diamond said...

Under state law, one of the jobs of the Board of Regents is to adjudicate disputes between different groups. They aren't bound to rubber-stamp the decisions of lower bodies. In this case, the full Board felt it appropriate to settle the Marder dispute in favor of the Chancellor, overturning the decisions of lower bodies that considered the case. This is exactly how things are supposed to work.

If you feel the Board of Regents has too much power, you should be advocating for a change in state law, in which case I'd be curious as to what you think constitutes sufficient "due process" for faculty.