College Faculty Grievance Claims Bylaw Violations

To read the grievance, click here.

To read the Grievance Committee’s response, click here.

A group of 18 faculty members filed a grievance to the College’s Grievance Committee earlier this month, claiming that the process that led to the department changes announced last semester violated faculty bylaws and governance principles. The Grievance Committee has since ruled that it does not see reason to take further action on the issue.

All of those who signed the grievance are part of departments or programs affected by the cuts. The 13-page grievance, obtained by the Wheel last week and dated April 4, is the first document to specifically detail all of these alleged violations.

The document reveals numerous claims about the elimination of departments and programs in the College as well as the decision to suspend admissions to several programs in the Laney Graduate School. It was released amid ongoing controversies between College faculty and the administration over the process resulting in these changes.

The grievance — citing Emory bylaws, minutes from Faculty Governance Committee (GovCom) and faculty meetings, letters sent to administrators and governing principles — asks the Grievance Committee to recommend that the University void the cuts and “affirm the primacy of the Bylaws.”

The document illustrates concerns about a lack of transparency in the University’s decisions, including a limited amount of faculty involvement and issues surrounding the activities of the College Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC). CFAC is a subcommittee of the Faculty Governance Committee (GovCom) and was responsible for helping College Dean Robin Forman evaluate departments in the multi-year process that culminated in the cuts. All members of CFAC resigned from the committee last month.

However, in an April 14 response to the grievance signed by Sheila Cavanagh, a professor of English and the chair of the College Grievance Committee, the Grievance Committee wrote that it “does not have any recommendations to make at this time.”

In addition to Cavanagh, the College Grievance Committee consists of three faculty representatives each from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences and math.

In the two-page Grievance Committee response — also obtained by the Wheel last week — Cavanagh wrote that the Grievance Committee does not hold the responsibility of hearing grievances pertaining to the graduate school or University. Those aspects of the grievance were therefore not addressed.

In addition to recommending that the University void the program eliminations and position cuts, the grievance contains a section devoted specifically to the program admissions suspensions in the Laney Graduate School, stating that a lack of communication and failure to abide by proper governance procedures also took place in that school’s process.

The Grievance Committee, in its decision, responds solely to two sections of the grievance, the first of which states that the administrators involved in the department changes process failed to follow articles in the University Bylaws and College Faculty Bylaws. The other section consists of four requests — three of which the Grievance Committee denied — present at the end of the document.

Other claims that were documented in the grievance but not acknowledged in the Grievance Committee’s response include the ideas that CFAC “operated in secrecy and was not accountable to GovCom or the faculty at large” and that GovCom was essentially excluded from the process and did not receive a report from CFAC in the crucial seven-month period during which many of the decisions about the cuts were made. The grievance also states that CFAC’s activities were kept secret from the faculty.

In a statement to the Wheel released soon after Cavanagh sent the grievants her findings, the grievants wrote: “The grievance speaks for itself. It documents the many violations of Emory rules, policies and Bylaws that occurred in pursuing the cuts. These violations represent a fundamental breakdown of University governance. The Grievance Committee’s response is deeply inadequate and fails to address the multiple violations. That failure significantly compounds the problem, demonstrating that Emory College faculty have no meaningful recourse when their rights are violated.”

Cavanagh, writing in an email to the Wheel that “the work of the grievance committee is confidential,” declined to comment. Several other members of the Grievance Committee also either declined to comment or referred all inquiries to Cavanagh.

The Faculty Bylaws state that the Grievance Committee is exempt from notifying GovCom of its activities and is not required to circulate a report of its actions to all members of the College faculty.

Jason Francisco, an associate professor in the visual arts department and one of the signatories on the grievance, wrote in an email to the Wheel that the bylaws do not grant confidentiality to the Grievance Committee.

“They simply say that the Grievance Committee does not have to report to GovCom and the chair does not have to report to the faculty as a whole,” Francisco said. “More to the point, the Grievance Committee is using this as an excuse to say they do not have to inform the grievants of the committee’s decision. That seems wrong.”

The Grievance Committee presented the faculty with its response in an email on Monday, April 15. Cavanagh wrote in the email, which contained an attachment with the Grievance Committee’s response, that according to “GovCom” — with no clarification on a specific individual  — that the bylaws do not require that GovCom or the College faculty receive information concerning the Grievance Committee’s recommendations.

“The bylaws very clearly state that your committee is [exempt] from any rules requiring communication to protect confidentiality, so the email would simply be a courtesy,” the email states.

Regardless, the Grievance Committee requested that the response be sent to the grievants, Cavanagh wrote in the email.

Stefan Lutz, the GovCom chair and an associate professor of chemistry, declined to comment.

The faculty grievance alleges that the elimination of University departments and programs represent “two critical violations” of the Emory University and College Faculty Bylaws. The first violation, according to the document, is that the cuts disregard “the faculty’s primary responsibility for curriculum,” especially given the fact that administrators have said that the cuts were not implemented for financial reasons.

The other is that the department changes violate GovCom’s responsibility to represent the faculty in governance matters.

Among the many other claims elaborated upon in the grievance is the University’s failure to adhere to the Statement of Principles Governing Faculty Relations, known as the “Gray Book.” For example, the Gray Book states that the Board of Trustees is permitted to discontinue an academic program under “extraordinary circumstances.” The grievance states that administrators have not cited such circumstances in implementing the cuts.

Responding to Four Requests

The grievance asks that the Grievance Committee respond to four requests, the first of which involved affirming the essential nature of the University Bylaws. In the Grievance Committee response, Cavanagh wrote that because the committee had already ruled on the presented issues, it “finds no cause to pursue this matter further.”

In the grievance, the faculty members also requested that the Grievance Committee “exercise its responsibility” as stated in the University Bylaws, and recommend that the University void the department cuts. The committee replied that it serves only the College and therefore cannot make recommendations to the University.

The third asks that because the bylaws call for the Grievance Committee to file its recommendations to the Dean or an “appropriate administrator,” that the committee submit its findings to Provost Claire Sterk given that Forman was directly involved in the cuts.

The committee, though, responded that it would communicate its findings to Forman, with a copy forwarded to Sterk.

The final recommendation was that the committee submit its response by the end of the spring semester. The committee did so.

Presenting the Claims

In regard to the claim that the cuts breach the faculty’s responsibility for curriculum, the grievance cites the University Bylaws that state that the faculty of any Emory school has jurisdiction over its educational programs.

The grievants mention a letter that Forman sent to the College community in announcing the changes on Sept. 14. The letter reads, “While our financial challenges add urgency to these decisions, these are fundamentally academic decisions.”

“As such, these decisions rightly fell within the jurisdiction of the faculty,” the grievance notes.

In the Grievance Committee response, however, Cavanagh wrote that the minutes of an Oct. 18 GovCom meeting — which took place almost a month after the cuts were announced — and an interview with Lutz on April 12 indicate that GovCom feels the decisions were “primarily programmatic ones,” though they “certainly have implications for the curriculum.”

As a result, she wrote, GovCom decided to receive faculty input partly through CFAC instead of through the Curriculum and Educational Policy Committees.

“We believe this was a reasonable decision,” Cavanagh wrote in the response, in reference to the Grievance Committee.

Another claim in the grievance states that the department changes process violates GovCom’s responsibility to represent the College faculty. A cited bylaw notes that the administration must consult with GovCom on matters that impact the College and its faculty, including but not limited to alterations to College programs and “the setting of priorities and goals for the College.”

“GovCom itself had no real understanding of the administration’s intentions until after the fact,” the grievance states. “As the record makes clear, the faculty did not decide to undertake this major change in curriculum. Rather, the College Office made the decisions and told GovCom about them afterward.”

Later in the document, the grievants allege that in the years following CFAC’s official establishment as a subcommittee of GovCom in 2008, the group failed to provide “full, accurate or detailed reports” to GovCom faculty representatives.

CFAC members had said they were granted confidentiality in their activities, according to the grievance, which would mean CFAC was “unaccountable to the faculty.”

Yet, in its response, the Grievance Committee quotes the minutes from the Oct. 18 GovCom meeting during which the issue of faculty input was revisited. According to the minutes highlighted in the response, neither GovCom nor CFAC has the authority to “make actual decisions about reorganization of resources within the College.”

GovCom, therefore, is “comfortable” with the process used to advise both Forman as well as former College Dean Bobby Paul, who first developed CFAC, according to the minutes.

In the response, the Grievance Committee states that these minutes and the interview with Lutz indicate that GovCom feels it was able to effectively provide input to Forman on the decisions, both directly and through CFAC.

While the Grievance Committee has said it would not respond to the issues surrounding the Laney Graduate School or the University, the grievance itself claims that problems existed in the ways that the graduate school decisions, much like the College decisions, were conducted.

The Executive Council — which, according to the Laney website, reviews proposals for “changes in existing courses or programs on a rolling basis” — was never consulted about the cuts, nor were the Directors of Graduate Study and the Laney Appointments Committee. Consultation with these groups is required as part of Laney’s governance structure.

Reactions and the Next Steps

While the grievance itself is not directly affiliated with the organization, some of the grievants are also members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an organization that supports shared governance and academic freedom at universities across the United States.

The Emory chapter of the AAUP has been involved in investigating the department changes since the fall and has been in contact with the national AAUP office about the document.

Sharon Strocchia, a professor of history and the current president of Emory’s AAUP chapter, confirmed in an email to the Wheel that she has been in contact with the national AAUP office but does not have more information to add at this time.

Additionally, Gordon Newby, the Goodrich C. White Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies and the vice president of the Emory AAUP chapter, wrote in an email to the Wheel that the local AAUP chapter is “trying to determine if there is a helpful role for the AAUP and, if so, what that might be.”

Walter Reed, the William R. Kenan University Professor and Director of Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and one of the professors who signed the grievance, wrote in an email to the Wheel that he is unsure of what the next steps for these faculty members will be. He wrote that at this point, he believes the faculty group will “keep looking for some duly constituted court of appeal to hear the case, until there is one.”

He described the “brief and dismissive response” of the Grievance Committee as “irresponsible and insulting” because, he wrote, it did not attempt to address the numerous bylaw violations detailed in the grievance.

“What this response confirms for me is that the official avenues of grievance and appeal supposedly available to faculty who believe they have been unjustly treated are not really there,” Reed wrote. “They have rusted out. We need some new ones.”

Faculty signatories to the grievance included, from the journalism program, David Armstrong and Sheila Tefft; from the Institute of Liberal Arts, Walter Reed, Angelika Bammer, Kevin Corrigan, Sander Gilman, Anna Grimshaw, Sean Meighoo, Catherine Nickerson and Kimberly Wallace-Sanders; from the Russian program, Juliette Apkarian, Vera Proskurina and Elena Glazov-Corrigan; from the Department of Economics, Samiran Banerjee; from the Visual Arts Department, Jason Francisco and Julia Kjelgaard; and from the Division of Educational Studies, Robert Jensen and Carole Hahn.

— By Jordan Friedman

Editor-in-Chief Arianna Skibell contributed reporting.

Updated May 1 at 2:50 p.m.

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  • Raoul Dukakis

    Looks like the Grievance Committee would rather just Emory deal with this one in court. And by not even replying to the substance of the grievance claims, they’ve basically rubber-stamped Emory’s getting nailed. Nice work guys!

    BTW: If Emory doesn’t follow its own bylaws, as the grievance document amply illustrates (and the committee has ignored) doesn’t that jeopardize its tax status and ability to qualify for Federal grants? So maybe not just wrongful termination suits by individuals, but an investigation or audit RE: tax exemptions and grant allocations on the part of the State? Good thing Emory has a such a great track record of honesty with the Department of Education!

    • JWaggerWitSwagger

      Raoul Dukakis, every time an article regarding President Wagner or the budget cuts is posted on here you comment on the article about how Emory’s actions are unjustified or un constitutional. The fact of the matter is Emory is not only a institution of higher learning, but also a non-profit BUSINESS.

      You’re program got cut. Move on. The rest of the school has moved on hence the Board of Trustees ruling and no-confidence vote.

      • Raoul Dukakis

        “Emory is not only a institution of higher learning, but also a non-profit BUSINESS.”

        Yes, it is indeed. And as such it must operate according to its bylaws. Would you care to respond to the question of the bylaws violations as they are addressed in the grievance, or are you just interested in providing color commentary? Because those violations (which involve curricular change and claims financial exigency) go precisely to the heart of the concerns of business / non-profit operations that you allude to.

        Also: I appreciate your desire to move on for its own sake, but if bylawys were violated (which they were), then this is going to wind up in court and there’s nothing you or are or the BoT or faculty votes can do about it. I know that it would be very nice to move on and not think about that, but that’s going to be pretty hard to do, votes and BoT statements aside, when there are concrete violations documented, and when those are being addressed in a legal venue, which these will.

        BTW my program wasn’t cut, just a head’s up. Remarkably, it is possible to care about these issues even if you don’t have skin in the game, and are just paying attention!

  • Andy

    For example, the Gray Book states that the Board of Trustees is permitted to discontinue an academic program under “extraordinary circumstances.” The grievance states that administrators have not cited such circumstances in implementing the cuts.

    The “extraordinary circumstance” was the need to pay president Wagner’s million dollar plus salary.

  • Alum

    All of these scandals at Emory remind me of Watergate. Emory is also being sued for discrimination in the case of Dr. Erik Butler where proper procedures were not followed. Powerful people in the University feel that they don’t have to follow the same set of rules as everyone else. There needs to be massive changes or more scandals will come up and ruin the University’s reputation. If this current administration gets away with all of these acts of corruption, it will set a bad example for current Emory students.

  • Wagnergate

    I have a perfect name for this scandal. Wagnergate. Watergate, Weinergate, Wagnergate.

    • Dooley’s dead

      Grievance filed, campus yawns

  • Judith A. Miller

    At today’s College Faculty mtg, the issue of the Grievance Committee’s decision was raised, a motion made, and then tabled (with a near unanimous vote) until the fall so that the matter can be given due consideration then.