Committee to Review Department Changes

By the slimmest of margins, College faculty voted in favor of an independent review committee that would investigate the decision-making process that led to the department changes announced last semester. The motion, which passed on Wednesday at the monthly faculty college meeting, set specific guidelines and clarified the original version of the resolution passed in December. The final vote passed 88 to 84.

Faculty also voted to create a committee to examine faculty governance in the College and potentially recommend structural reforms. The motion, which passed almost unanimously, is a clarification of the initial motion, which originally passed in December as well.

The approximately 200 professors in attendance got down to business quickly, first discussing the details of the committee that would examine faculty governance. The first faculty member to speak questioned whether the motion was too broad, believing that “many parts of the college governance are working quite well.” Some faculty members also requested that the motion be amended to specify areas of concern.

Others disagreed, noting that the very point of the committee would be to determine what is “broken” and investigate “parts that may need change.”

“Sometimes when you take your kids to the pediatrician, they stick a thermometer in them and say 98.6 [degrees], everything is okay,’” said one faculty member. “So for some of those things you’re saying that aren’t broken, you put the thermometer in and if the thermometer comes out normal, you move on [to] the next thing.”

One faculty member pointed out that the proposed committee did not address governance issues between the College and the Laney Graduate School (LGS).

The speaker questioned how “a college finance committee could eliminate graduate programs” and asked how the new committee would intersect with the Executive Council of the LGS.

After some deliberation, the room voted and approved an amendment that would have the committee “review the relationship between faculty governance in the College and other governing bodies in the University, including the Laney Graduate School.” The room also voted to charge the committee with making a presentation to the full faculty in fall 2013 before the release of its full report and findings in spring 2014.

The next item on the agenda aimed to set procedures for another committee that would review the “processes, procedures and criteria by which the [department changes] were reached in order to ascertain whether accepted procedural standards were followed,” according to the resolution.

According to the resolution, the committee would review how members of the College Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) were chosen; how the group gathered information to review departments; how metrics for evaluation were constructed; how CFAC reported its activities; how recommendations were made to the Administration; and whether “avenues for appeal … by the affected faculty … were provided.” The resolution goes on to note that the committee “may also make recommendations about policies to be adopted in the future when program closures or discontinuances are proposed.”

Given that the next item on the agenda was to rescind this very motion, faculty members took strong positions about whether looking back would be a healthy way forward. The initial motion barely passed in December.

The resolution’s author took the floor first.

“For a financial advisory committee to be making these decisions … and not bringing in the educational policy committee or the curriculum committee is a fundamental subversion of our standing governing procedures,” the faculty member said. “… But more importantly, one after another of our colleagues has stood up and said ‘I don’t understand why this happened.’ If for no other reason, I think we should review processes so that we give people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods an answer as to why precisely this happened.”

In turn, dissenting faculty members made a number of points ranging from a belief that proper procedures were followed to concerns that the motion would “cause a lot of work … and keep the fires burning” but not actually be a step forward. One faculty member compared the process to a clinical psychologist asking a recently divorced couple what happened to their marriage.

“I think you agree it would be toxic,” the faculty member said. “I think this is a toxic amendment. I think the amendment we just voted on was a very positive one. This one will do nothing but stir up the limbic system.”

Supporters responded that it would be toxic not to review the decisions and that if the process was truly legitimate, then the community should be “open to a review of that process so we can truly move forward.” Supporters also stressed that the review is not an attempt to “cast dispersions upon those involved.”

“It’s not about the past. It’s about the present,” said one faculty member. “I’ve heard from the Dean and the President that more changes are coming. More is coming. This is ongoing, and I think that this process will help us find a better process sooner rather than later.”

As the time to vote approached, it appeared as if the motion would pass quite easily. This would not be the case, and faculty members voted that the vote for the motion be conducted by paper ballot, instead of a show of hands.

The motion passed by four votes, and considering that many left the meeting after casting their ballot, the remaining group decided that they would adjourn the meeting until next month.

Names of faculty members who spoke during the meeting have been omitted, in accordance with the terms that allowed the Wheel to attend the meeting. 

— Contact Evan Mah at emah@emory.edu