Last Monday, the Process Review Committee (PRC), which formed last spring to investigate the decision-making process that led to the department changes announced in September 2012, concluded that while College Dean Robin Forman and his predecessor Robert Paul did not violate College Bylaws, there was a lack of transparency and structure involved in the process.
The PRC was designed to determine the role Emory College Governance Committee (GovCom) as well as the College Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) played in the department changes by interviewing deans and members of the affected departments and programs, reviewing public records and minutes and analyzing written communications to the committee.
Although the Committee determined that no Bylaws were violated, the members specified that the Bylaws do not delineate clear procedures for the closing, changing or reorganizing of departments or programs — meaning there is not much to violate in the first place.
The Committee determined that new Bylaws should be written, which lay out, with precision, the procedure for department and program evaluation. This includes determining who should review departments, what criteria should be included in the review, a timeframe for said measures and a concrete reason for why a department or program would be reviewed.
Three additional recommendations were made: a stronger appeals procedure for non-tenured and lecture-track faculty, concrete avenues of communication to reduce “unpleasant surprises” and an up-to-date liberal arts mission, so there is no confusion about when it comes to the College’s values. More specifically, the College should come to a consensus about what a liberal arts education entails.
Although we at the Wheel are glad that the PRC has openly called for clearer Bylaws and more transparency, we are troubled by the fact that the PRC is not a truly independent review committee. The College faculty voted last January for an independent review of the process that led to the department changes. Although the members of the PRC are not directly affected by the changes, they are still Emory faculty, which presents a conflict of interest.
Faculty governance is an important part of our institution, and we are glad that faculty members are involved in shaping Emory’s future. But we feel the review process, and the decision-making process for the department changes themselves, should have incorporated a truly independent viewpoint.
In the future, when the College or University is faced with making hard decisions that are sure to spark backlash, we suggest the University hire an independent consulting group to make suggestions for courses of action. This is not to say that an outside source should determine Emory’s future but rather that fresh eyes are an essential factor when faced with making tough decisions that affect our students, faculty and staff.
The decision to change, cut or reorganize a department or program is never going to be an easy one, as the PRC astutely pointed out. But the way our leaders go about changing the Emory community’s future must be properly vetted and structured. A truly independent opinion may not provide the final plan of action, but it will certainly add another unique perspective to the equation. And what is Emory if not a place that welcomes and encourages the sharing of as many different perspectives as possible?
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel.