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December 4, 2012

ISU faculty leaders: Policy on policies not needed

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State University President Dan Bradley says he is willing to modify a controversial “policy on policies,” and faculty leaders say they are drafting a new, more acceptable version of something they don’t really believe is necessary.

“I hope we have averted crisis on this one …  but I think it’s important we remain very vigilant to what comes after,” said Virgil Sheets, ISU Faculty Senate chairman, who addressed the ISU chapter of the American Association of University Professors Monday.

“The problem is, I don’t know what motivated this [policy on policies],” Sheets said.

The initial policy proposed by the administration “provides a potential threat to the governance system,” Sheets said. “It could be used to change any aspect of the [university] handbook … with very little input from faculty.”

Under the original “policy on policies,” proposed policy changes to the University Handbook could be adopted by trustees up front, with just eight days’ notice, and then go to the university community for comment.

The ISU president or chairs of the university governance units could submit the proposed policy changes, and the comment period would be at least 60 days.

Bradley has stated that at an October meeting, “Trustees did not approve this policy for anything other then sending it out for discussion.”

At Monday’s AAUP meeting, Bob Guell, professor of economics, suggested that Bradley has developed a practice of  introducing “incendiary” policy proposals — which he dubbed “Molotov cocktails” —  that serve to anger faculty, but also get them to take action on the issue the president wants to have addressed.

Another faculty member, Nora Hopkins, stated, “Does he [Bradley] realize he’s burned up a lot of faculty goodwill through this approach?”

Later, Hopkins stated, these are difficult economic times, and “I perceive it’s going to get worse for the university. Does he [Bradley] really want to piss off all the people who are his best resource for getting things done?”

With little notice, the administration introduced the policy at the October board of trustees meeting.

The intent of the proposal, according to Bradley, was to establish an organized way to modify the ISU Handbook and take comment on those changes, and also to establish a timeline when discussion will come to an end.

During a November Faculty Senate meeting, Bradley said that shared governance “is a valuable process … but we are at a time in higher education when discussion does need to come to an end on certain topics. If for no other reason, you need to move on to other topics.”

There are some issues “we’ve been discussing for multiple years that have not come to a head yet,” Bradley stated at the time.

But at least some faculty on campus viewed the proposed policy as a way to circumvent shared governance, in which faculty and administration work collaboratively in the decision-making process.

The ISU Handbook states that faculty have “primary authority” to formulate policy governing such areas as curriculum, degree requirements and academic structure.

The idea is that the Bradley administration should concur with faculty judgment in those areas, except in rare instances and for compelling reasons.

The board of trustees has the ultimate authority to adopt, amend or repeal policy.

During the November Faculty Senate meeting, Bradley told those attending that the original proposal “is not in any way intended, nor would I plan to use it, as a way to get around shared governance.”

 ISU’s AAUP Chapter released a statement opposed to the “policy on policies,” saying it  “would give undue power to the university president.”

On Monday, Sheets told AAUP members that Bradley is willing to modify the original policy; senate officers are working on a new version that would protect shared governance and preserve faculty’s primary authority in academic areas.

According to Sheets, Bradley “feels we need a clearer process for changing the handbook, and one that allows for a little more expeditious review.”

Sheets explained, “We’re trying to craft a response that will allow him to achieve that objective, but still retain our authority on matters that really are faculty responsibility.”

Bradley, contacted for comment after Monday’s AAUP meeting, stated that what the Faculty Senate leaders have proposed “is something pretty close to what I think the policy will probably look like. I look forward to continuing to work with them” and others in the faculty to move forward.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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