News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 17, 2012

ISU faculty members worry ‘shared governance’ has been undermined

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — An Indiana State University proposed “policy on policies” has many faculty concerned that it is an attempt by the administration to circumvent shared governance, in which faculty and administration work collaboratively in the decision-making process.

The intent of the policy, according to ISU President Dan Bradley, is to establish an organized way to modify the ISU Handbook and take comments on those changes, and also to establish a timeline when discussion will come to an end.

“It is not in any way intended, nor would I plan to use it, as a way to get around shared governance,” he told faculty during a Faculty Senate meeting Thursday.

But several faculty criticized the policy at that meeting, with professor Bob Guell describing it as “an insidious attack on shared governance that will haunt every faculty member for years to come.”

 His full statement met with applause, as did comments from other faculty.

Also during the meeting, Keri Yousif, representing ISU’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, read a statement opposed to the “policy on policies.” The proposal “would give undue power to the university president,” according to the statement.

Also, it “would undermine the existing governance mechanisms that moderate ill-conceived or mistaken administrative initiatives and that provide widespread legitimacy for initiatives approved by the faculty and other constituencies,” the AAUP statement read.

During the meeting, Bradley said that shared governance “is a valuable process … but we are at a time in higher education when discussion does need 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 said at the meeting.

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

As written, the proposed policy states:

• The university president and the chairs of the university governance units may submit proposed policy changes to the trustees through the university secretary. “All proposed policy modifications must be submitted at least eight days before the trustee meeting.”

• The proposed change shall be included on the trustees’ agenda for a vote as to whether they will seek comment or adopt the change.

• The university secretary will notify appropriate parties of the proposed or passed modification and solicit comments for at least a 60-day period.

• At the trustee meeting following the comment period, the proposed modification, along with substantive comments, will be presented by the university president to the trustees for action;

Or, with regard to a previously passed modification, substantive comments will be presented by the president for the trustees’ consideration.

Trustees “may take any action they deem prudent, including asking for additional comment periods, amending the previously-passed policy or taking no additional action.”

• The modification adopted by trustees will be included in the University Handbook.

The controversial “policy on policies” was place on the agenda of the trustees’ October meeting with very little notice, which Bradley said was a mistake.

On Thursday, Bradley stated that “trustees did not approve this policy for anything other than sending it out for discussion.” Trustees won’t consider it again until February, and that can be further postponed, he told the senate.

Virgil Sheets, Faculty Senate chairman, said he objected to the proposed policy at that October meeting “because of the lack of forewarning … normally we work more collaboratively.”

The president and senate executive committee have since had discussions on it, he said. “We are trying to figure out how to approach it,” Sheets said Wednesday.

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 anticipates the ISU president and executive committee will work to come to an agreement on changes to the “policy on policies,” which is expected to go back before trustees at its February meeting.

He believes Bradley “is willing to work with us.” The concern is not so much the present administration, but future administrations, Sheets said. The policy must be written for the long-term so that it cannot be misused, Sheets said.

But Guell, and other faculty, remain concerned. The proposed “policy on policies,” along with various policy issues the president wants to address — including academic department size and faculty textbook choices — “have faculty very nervous about any change in policy process that does not respect primary authority” of the faculty.

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

While trustees have ultimate authority, they “give a lot of deference to faculty in areas of primary authority,” Sheets said.

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