the Resolution of Faculty Council Concerning the Faculty Hearing
Rancor at Emory
--Chronicle of Higher Education
Letters in response to the Chronicle
Conflict is as natural in
an academic community as sparks from friction.
But what happens when disagreement escalates into a question
of termination of a faculty member's contract? How is fairness
ensured for everyone involved? In the summer of 1998, a new set
of procedures were implemented
to clarify and strengthen the role of Emory's Faculty Hearing
Committee. According to the university's Statement of Principles
Governing Faculty Relationships (the "Gray Book"),
that panel hears cases when a faculty member is suspended, terminated,
or reassigned on grounds of "moral delinquency, neglect
of academic duty, incompetence, permanent physical or mental
incapacity, or other such adequate cause."
Before 1998, "the problem was that nobody knew exactly what
the committee was supposed to do," says Richard Freer, professor
and associate dean in the law school and former chair of the
Faculty Hearing Committee, who led the group through redesigning
its procedures. "The Gray Book simply said it was to hear
appeals from folks who had been fired, reassigned, or suspended.
But nobody knew what was supposed to happen on that appeal. Was
that committee to look at everything afresh, to make a new determination
on the case, or was it just to review the process that had led
to the dismissal-to discern whether the rules had been followed
at the school level?"
The new procedures-which apply to all faculty under contract-
define the committee's role as fact-finders. In most cases, the
hearing will not be an appeal, Freer explains. "The dean,
who determines that he or she has probable cause to fire or suspend
a faculty member, invokes the committee's jurisdiction. The committee
holds a hearing and makes findings of fact and recommendations
to the dean on whether this person has done something to deserve
firing, reassignment, or suspension."
In some circumstances, however, the dean may act before there
is a hearing, if the dean believes there is an urgent need to
do so. In those cases, the faculty member, rather than the dean,
may invoke the committee's jurisdiction, and the process is an
appeal from the dean's decision. "I think everyone anticipated
that this route would be traveled less frequently," Freer
The new procedures, which have so far been used only once, also
level the playing field for both parties, with rules designed
to assure the committee will have the best chance to ascertain
the facts. Under the old rules, the faculty member and the hearing
committee might have lawyers, but the school and the dean did
not. Now, Freer says, "whether there are lawyers involved
is entirely up to the faculty member. If the faculty member hires
a lawyer, then the school has one."
A FORMAL PROCESS
The hearings themselves are
carried out quite formally, but the manner and order of the presentation
of evidence are left to the committee's discretion. The five
committee members sit at the head of a table that serves as a
"bench," as in a courtroom. The faculty member and
his or her attorney sit at a table on one side, and the dean
or a representative of the academic unit and its attorney sit
at a table opposite. The faculty member may be present throughout.
Unless the committee decides otherwise, no witness hears another
A hearing may go something like this: at the committee's direction,
each side may present a pre-hearing brief, a list of witnesses,
and an overview of evidence as an opening statement. The academic
unit presents its case first, and the faculty member may cross-examine
witnesses who testified. Then the
faculty member presents his or her evidence, and the school may
cross-examine. The committee members also may ask questions.
A stenographer records the entire proceedings. After any additional
evidence is presented (including a post-hearing brief, if required)
the committee deliberates and presents a report of findings of
fact and a recommendation to the dean or president. If the decision
is not unanimous, then the dissenting opinion may be presented
as part of the report, but neither the dissenters nor members
of the majority are identified.
The committee's recommendation is not binding, but if the dean
disagrees with it, in most cases, he or she is expected to state
the reasons for the disagreement. If the dean recommends sanctions,
the final decisions rests with the Board of Trustees or its executive
committee after they have consulted with the executive vice president
for health affairs (if applicable), the provost, the president,
and the academic affairs committee of the board.
"You're dealing with the ultimate sanction," Freer
says. "Somebody may lose his or her job. So we wanted to
build into the system sufficient safeguards to make sure the
faculty member is protected while at the same time seeing that
the school's interests are represented."
As it was revising the hearing
procedures, the same committee developed a proposal for a mediation
process to address disputes that have not developed into a question
of firing, suspending, or reassigning the faculty member. "Some
of the complaints, once they are aired, turn out not to be quite
as much the gravity-bearing issues as they first seemed to be,"
says theology professor David Pacini, who helped draft the proposal.
"We wanted to create a way of giving people a chance to
say what they had to say but achieve some resolution to disputes
before they wind up at a more serious level."
That proposal has languished, however, primarily due to the objection
that it required mandatory participation in mediation. "It's
very tough to draft without it being too broad," Freer says.
"If a faculty member doesn't like his salary, can he really
drag the dean into mediation?"
Pacini maintains hope, however, that the faculty and administration
will revisit the idea of mediation. "This whole process
is about getting the logjams loosened up, so we don't wind up
with some of these extreme situations," he says. "There
don't seem to be winners in those."