Restoring faculty governance at IU



You may have heard news about IU’s strategic plan for the next five years. You may have read that it’s being headed by Provost Lauren Robel, and “developed by 167 faculty members and staff serving on 11 committees,” according to Steve Hinnefeld on the University website.

You may also think that the plan expresses the common vision of the campus community for academic excellence, and that it’s now the task of the Provost and the rest of the University administration to devote themselves to making this vision real.

But if you also think that means the principles and processes of faculty governance are alive and well at IU, you’ve been
misinformed.

The vehicle for faculty governance at IU is the Bloomington Faculty Council. Under the Constitutions of the University and Bloomington Faculties, the Faculty Council has legislative authority to determine the academic mission of the campus and must be consulted about campus facilities, budgets, athletics and anything else affecting the academic mission of the University.

To say the least, that authority has been undermined and appropriated by the University’s administration in recent years.

Many of the IU faculty are concerned with the erosion of faculty participation in University governance.

Faculty at IU and nationwide are experiencing a loss of authority in areas where we traditionally had a voice: the determination of educational goals; the allocation of resources for facilities, research and tuition; and the initiation of recommendations for academic reorganization and improvement.
In 2010 President Michael McRobbie called for revitalizing “shared governance” at IU.

But what could those words mean when at the same time, he asserted that “at broader organizational levels ... universities must often respond to important external constituencies with a rapidity and unity of voice that is more compatible with corporate and governmental organizations than with universities.”

As if corporations and governmental organizations are the best bodies at realizing the common visions of communities.

Some of us are so concerned about the erosion of faculty governance that we’re standing as a slate in the BFC elections that are currently open.

We have a loose set of aims on which we agree: faculty definition of research, teaching and service standards; substantive consultation with faculty on decisions about critical institutional matters (such as graduate programs and support, department mergers, committee appointments, long-range planning and privatization of services); a real and ongoing commitment to attract and retain African-American, Latino and other underrepresented minority faculty; consultation with faculty on investments in pedagogical and curricular technology with the aim of furthering excellence in teaching; fair labor practices for all IU employees including non-tenure track instructors and all staff; and meaningful consultation with faculty about expenditures on and the distribution of profits from athletics.

You can’t expect a bunch of faculty to agree about much, but the main goal on which we concur is the renewal of an intellectually rich culture of
governance.

This culture is above all one of open, public, collaborative and democratic reasoning. It’s the process through which scholarship develops and progresses, leading to innovation and shared ideas.

If a proposal for reorganizing the academic structure, or changing pedagogic practice, or connecting between the University and the community is a good idea, it will pass this test of public scrutiny, win broad support and make common sense.

That’s what the BFC is for, and that’s what we aim to have the BFC do again.

Jon Simons is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University

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