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April 23, 2001

Don't bypass faculty governance

Harvey Klehr is Mellon Professor of Politics and History.


In 30 years on the faculty of Emory College, I recall only one other occasion when the faculty challenged an administrative decision.

Some 20 years ago, Leon Mandel, then-head of chemistry, offered a denunciation of a unilaterally imposed parking fee increase. After 10 seconds of discussion, the faculty unanimously ordered the administration to rescind it. The fee was rescinded. Two years later and without fanfare, it was unilaterally raised once again, this time without protest.

We may have lost control over parking, but if we, as a faculty, lose control over the very organization of Emory College, we might as well surrender any illusion that this faculty retains any collective authority.

Two weeks ago the faculty passed a resolution concerning the recent reorganization of Arts and Sciences (A&S), and the creation of a new executive vice provost for A&S. There were two issues in the resolution, and I believe they are linked.

The first one is quite obvious: A very significant change in the organization of Emory College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences had been unilaterally imposed on the faculty by the administration. A new administrative structure had been put in place, responsibilities had been reallocated and the faculty had been told to accept it. We had heard that faculty governance at Emory was “broken” and that we now had an opportunity to fix it; I would suggest that it was broken because it was not used.

Precisely because this change was not openly discussed, its results were flawed. In the weeks after it was announced, there was confusion about the precise role of the new Executive Vice Provost and whether his duties were more “decanal” or “provostial.”

At the time of the college faculty meeting, almost half the members of the graduate school faculty—those outside of the college—still had not been formally notified that their status had changed. And, in place of an old structure that had two deans reporting to a provost, we had six deans, reporting to an executive vice provost who reported to a provost—and a promise that more deans would be appointed shortly.

The second issue is the status of the college. Our resolution noted that this reorganization had weakened the dean of Emory College, who no longer controlled faculty hiring, budgets or tenure and promotion. The dean of the college would no longer report directly to the provost. In fact, the dean was left with control only of curriculum and undergraduate student affairs. None of the other newly appointed deans reported to him.

A prominent political scientist once argued that “organizations are the mobilization of bias.” No one doubts that separate college and graduate school units had consequences, some of them undesirable and cited as reasons for this change. But the new structure would also have consequences, and it is naïve or disingenuous to pretend that a unified structure will simply allow for more coordination.

The faculty of Emory College would not endorse what everyone agrees was a significant change in governance—and, perhaps, outcomes—in A&S without a full and frank discussion of the consequences for both the graduate school and the college. I recognize that some people believe this proposed structure is a good idea and would benefit the college. And there are others who believe that it would change the balance at Emory more in the direction of graduate education, and that that is a good thing. But it is precisely because the issue is so important and contentious that the faculty refused to accept this change before we knew what it would entail.

By the same token, it would create needless work to turn both the college and the graduate school upside down for two years while we debated about a reorganization. It is more prudent to debate first and only have to reorganize once. I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that both the college bylaws and the Grey Book would have had to be amended to fit the proposed new structures under them.

For example, the bylaws state that “the Dean of a School or College shall be appointed by the Board of Trustees or its Executive Committee upon recommendation of the President, who shall have conferred regarding such recommendation with an appropriate committee of the members of the faculty of the school or college ... The Dean of a school or college shall have responsibility for the direction of the work of his or her division ... The Dean shall supervise the work and direct the discipline of his or her division; the Dean shall advise with the President in the formation of the faculty.”

Also, the Grey Book makes very clear that an individual dean has primary responsibility for tenure and promotion recommendations from his or her unit. Why change these now and then change them again in two years if we adopt some other structure?

If, after a full and frank discussion, the college faculty were to vote for the exact same structure that was imposed, I might be persuaded by arguments that my fears for the college were unfounded, or I might be very unhappy. But I would accept the right of the faculty to determine what kind of institution we wanted to be and recognize that in this (as in so many other cases) I was an educational outlier.

This resolution, overwhelmingly adopted by the faculty, makes an important statement. It signifies that the faculty wants to be a full partner in determining the vision of Emory University.
As I write this account, the administration is talking to constituted faculty bodies in the college and graduate school and signalling that it made a mistake and wants to repair any damage. That is a healthy and hopeful response and suggests that this episode will result in a stronger and more active faculty role in governance. And that can only benefit everyone.

Editor’s note: The president, the provost and the incoming interim provost met with the College Executive Committee on Monday, April 16, and were scheduled to meet with the Executive Committee of the Graduate School on Friday, April 20. They will meet again with the College Executive Committee on Wednesday, April 25.


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