Mark Jones, Review of the Structure of Faculty Board: A Counter-Proposition with Two Motions (7 March 2012)

As submitted on 7 March 2012 to the Arts and Science Faculty Board Agenda Committee for the Agenda of 16 March 2012 (except that an error in fn 2 has been subsequently corrected).  See also the Dean’s Discussion Paper: A Review of the Structure of Faculty Board, circulated 28 February 2012.

This paper responds to the Dean of Arts and Science’s “Discussion Paper: A review of the structure of Faculty Board.” It disagrees with the assumption of that paper that Faculty Board (FB) needs restructuring and it proposes that the current representative structure of FB is best and should be preserved.  But it also acknowledges two shortcomings in current practice and proposes motions to remedy them.

The Dean of Arts and Science initiated this Review at a Heads’ Retreat on 3 February 2012.  His “Discussion Paper,” circulated to faculty on 28 February, proposes a “FB model with proportional representation” on the grounds that

Over the last several years, it has become apparent that Faculty Board, as it is presently formed, is not sufficiently representative and is a cumbersome mechanism for implementing necessary changes. (p. 1)

Expanding on this rationale, the Dean states further:

At the last retreat, many department heads observed that the current Faculty Board structure has engendered a lack of engagement by Faculty members, many of whom are unaware of the functions of FB and its role in the governance of the Faculty of Arts and Science. Many also suggested that the Full Membership structure of Faculty Board leaves open the possibility of meetings being dominated by special interest groups, which may lead to unbalanced discussions and FB decisions that may not be representative of the will of a majority of faculty members. To address these issues, Faculty Board members are invited to consider alternative membership structures for possible referral to the Procedures Committee. (p. 1)

One premise of the Dean’s proposal is that FB “is a cumbersome mechanism for implementing necessary changes.”  This perception is seriously mistaken:  it assumes that the Dean already knows what changes are “necessary” and that FB is merely an executive body providing the “mechanism for implementing” them.  But FB is not a cumbersome executive body, because it is not executive at all:  it is, on the contrary, a deliberative and voting body representing the Faculty’s academic wisdom (all of its faculty and a large delegation of its students), and its function is to determine what academic practices (including “changes”) are necessary for the Faculty in the first place.   The misperception is like finding fault with one’s measuring tape because it is “cumbersome” as a hammer.  The misperception is, moreover, deeply revealing:  it expresses the autocratic assumption that the Dean already knows what is “necessary” and regards FB as a body that should, ideally, be a docile and efficient instrument of implementation.

The other premise of the Dean’s proposal is that Faculty Board “is not sufficiently representative.”  This matter is more open to judgment, and it will need to be asked (a) exactly how “the last several years” have made it “apparent” that Faculty Board “is not sufficiently representative,” and (b) whether the model proposed by the Dean would in actual fact be more representative.

The history of “the last several years” includes at least three occasions on which FB has challenged the Dean’s authority.  One of these occasions was, coincidentally, in the two months immediately preceding the Dean’s initiation of this Review, in December-January 2011-12.  On this occasion, FB challenged the Dean’s authority to suspend admissions to the BFA program and voiced some criticism when he declared the FB motion to be “irrelevant.”[1]  This occasion was similar to the occasion in April 2009, when FB passed a motion to rescind the Dean’s suspensions of programs with 25 or fewer concentrators.[2]  The third occasion was in March 2010, when FB passed a motion to reject the Dean’s “Draft Reply to Principal Woolf’s ‘Where Next’” and altogether to “reject the current academic planning exercise as a budget-cutting exercise,” but also “to initiate an academic planning process designed to support the academic mission of the University.”[3]

In all three cases, the motion was presented from the floor without notice and allowed on the Agenda by a 2/3 majority vote in keeping with the regulations (By-Laws, sec. 17[4]).  In (speaking chronologically) the first two cases, the attendance figures were well above average for the respective year; in the third, attendance was slightly below average.[5]

This is not the place to review the rights and the wrongs of these challenges, but it should be acknowledged (a) that in all three the FB motion was made in explicit support of the principle that the Administration of Arts and Science should not make plans or decisions on purely financial grounds, but should also take the institution’s “academic” interests into account; and (b) that the FB motions of April 2009 and of December 2011 both cite the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) By-Laws and insist on the Dean or Deans respecting due process.

When FB challenges an Administrative action or ruling, that is not in itself a sign that it is being “dominated by special interest groups,”  “unbalanced,” or “[in]sufficiently representative.”  The power to challenge Administration when it appears to have overstepped its authority, violated its regulations, or overlooked the academic values and interests of the Faculty is an essential power of FB—even granting that the appearances of Administrative error or wrongdoing are as liable as any appearances to be in some cases mistaken.  Otherwise where within the university does the check on Administrative power lie?

This function of checking Administrative power is far better served by the present system of full membership than by proportional representation.  For this purpose, 500 eyes are better than 60, especially given that academics, both faculty and students, are wont to be preoccupied much of the time by their demanding schedules and intellectual activities.   Queen’s Senate uses proportional representation, and it has long been considered by many as little more than a rubber-stamping mill for Administrative initiatives. FB may seem to act in this way as well, on an ordinary day; and yet, as noted above, its recent history features several instructive occasions on which dissenting faculty and students moved and carried challenges to Administrative actions from the floor, thus opening debates with the Administration on controversial questions concerning the direction of the university:  on financially motivated cuts to programs with small concentrations in 2009; on the emerging resource-bias of the academic plan in 2010; and on the suspension of BFA admissions in 2011.  Are these really occasions that FB should wish to minimize or suppress?  They do give the Administration occasional trouble, but it is by doing so that they reassert the limits of Administrative authority and keep Administration mindful of the academic perspectives, wishes, and needs of the faculty, students, and community it is ultimately supposed to serve.  Such occasions are the expression within our system of the Administration’s answerability.  And though they occur infrequently, their mere possibility serves as the general check or balance to the Administrative power.  This is therefore a vital democratic feature of FB.  And this function is very closely connected with the full membership model that enables any member of faculty and many students to attend, to initiate motions, and to vote on motions that concern them, at any time. The current structure of FB is entirely consistent with the longstanding tradition of collegial governance that has served Queen’s since its inception. And the recently steady, and yet gently rising, attendance figures would appear to reflect FB’s continuing and improving health under the present arrangement.[6]

The Dean’s Discussion Paper raises another concern, however, and that is “that the Full Membership structure of FB leaves open the possibility of meetings being dominated by special interest groups, which may lead to unbalanced discussions and FB decisions that may not be representative of the will of a majority of faculty members” (p. 1). To this statement, Susan Lord has objected that some department heads have “voiced disapproval of the use of terms such as ‘special interest groups’ to describe our colleagues who activate their right to dissent.”[7]  The idea is indeed worth questioning.  It should be noted that FB attendance in the meeting of December 2011 was no higher than usual, and was in fact slightly below average for the year.  So there should be no more fear of domination by “special interests” in this case than there is in general.

Beyond this, however, there is a very positive sense in which FB’s present membership structure does lay it open to special interests:  given the complexity of the university’s functions and the general pre-occupation of academics, there are scores of special issues of concern that not everyone can follow, or will even wish to follow, and our relatively open structure enables all faculty and a good number of students to weigh in on those issues in which they have a “special interest” in the positive sense of experience, knowledge, and expertise.  One member may attend to discuss and vote on grading systems pertaining to science faculties, and another may attend to discuss and vote on policies governing the teaching of composition.  Such specialization does not detract from the variety of viewpoints on any one of these issues—there can still be two (or more) opinions, hotly debated, on the subject of the grading systems appropriate to science students.  But it enriches FB greatly to have a pool of “ca. 500 members” to weigh in on the issues they know and care about.

On the other hand, the one valid objection that was raised to the Motion brought from the floor in December was that no notice was given.  This was not illegal, for it is allowed by the By-Laws, sec. 17, as noted above.  Still, the objection holds good:

bringing the motion from the floor, rather than putting it on the agenda, had not allowed adequate time to consider the implications of the motion fully, nor had it allowed every FB member who might wish to vote on the motion to show up at the meeting. (Minutes, 13 Jan. 2012, p. 4)

For democratic process to work well, it is important not just that everyone get to vote but also that everyone who votes have a chance to be informed and time to reflect.  Faculty and students have a right to complain when Administrative motions are presented with little or no notice, and the rights are the same when the shoe is on the other foot.  The problem of motions without notice may indeed be the real problem behind the suspicion of “unbalanced discussions” and of “decisions that may not be representative of the will of the majority.”  If so, it would be simpler to solve this problem by changing the rule for notices of motion than by moving to proportional representation, which would strip the full membership model of most of its richness.  Accordingly, I present a motion for amending Sec. 17 of the By-Laws below.

There is, also, one way in which FB’s membership appears to be, not excessive, but deficient.  It includes many undergraduates, and it includes the Dean of Graduate Studies, but it does not include graduate students since they technically belong to the School of Graduate Studies.  Yet many graduate students have strong affiliations with the Faculty of Arts and Science and are affected by its policies and practices:  they study with Arts and Science faculty, they work as T.A.s with Arts and Science students, and so on.  Accordingly, it would make sense to allow voting membership to graduate students, certainly to the officers of the SGPS.

Motion 1, to Amend Section 17 of the By-Laws of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

I move that the Procedures Committee devise and submit for FB approval an amendment of Section 17 such that all motions be preceded by notice of motion, but providing, if possible, for emergency motions in cases of necessity:  e.g., that By-Law

17. Notice of Motion

All motions shall be preceded by a notice of motion which is to be given in writing at a previous meeting of the Faculty or appear on the written agenda circulated by the Secretary.  Otherwise, motions and resolutions shall not be proceeded with, except with the consent of two-thirds of the members of the Faculty Board present.

be revised to read:

17. Notice of Motion

All motions (including resolutions) shall be preceded by a notice of motion which is to be given in writing at a previous meeting of the Faculty Board or appear on the written agenda circulated by the Secretary.  Otherwise, motions shall not be proceeded with, except with the consent of two-thirds of the members of the Faculty Board present.” emergency motions.  An “emergency motion” is a motion that cannot, without defeating its purpose, be deferred to the following meeting as a normal motion with due notice.   An emergency motion shall be considered with the following conditions:

  • it may be submitted to the Dean’s Office at least 48 hours before FB commences, in which case all members shall be notified by email (including text of the motion) at least 24 hours before FB commences, and the motion shall then require the consent of two-thirds of the members of the FB present to appear on the agenda; voting on the motion will be strictly by those members present.
  • it may be presented from the floor and shall require the consent of two-thirds of the members of the FB present to appear on the agenda; it shall then be posted on the FB website and emailed to all members, and voting shall be strictly by electronic ballot, ending 48 hours after the adjournment of FB.

In voting to allow an emergency motion on the agenda, FB shall consider that no emergency motion is to be put on the agenda without compelling explanation why it could not be deferred to the following meeting.

Motion 2, to Consider Extending Voting Membership in FB to Graduate Students

I move that the Procedures Committee and Nominating Committee consider extending voting membership in FB to a certain number of Graduate students, including certain officers of the SGPS.  (The number 4 has been proposed in previous discussions of this idea.)

Notes.

[1] See Minutes for 9 Dec. 2011 and 13 Jan. 2012, and the Queen’s Journal for 13 Dec. 2011.

[3] See Minutes for 26 Mar. 2010 and “Motion for Faculty Board (26 March 2010).”

[4] “17. Notice of Motion.  All motions shall be preceded by a notice of motion which is to be given in writing at a previous meeting of the Faculty or appear on the written agenda circulated by the Secretary.  Otherwise, motions and resolutions shall not be proceeded with, except with the consent of two-thirds of the members of the Faculty Board present.”

[5] According to the respective Minutes, in April 2009, “There were 123 in attendance.”  In March 2010, “There were 128 in attendance (from the sign-in sheets) and it was estimated an additional 100 were in attendance.”   In December 2011, “There were 72 in attendance.”

[6] The average monthly attendance for 2008-09 was 63; for 2009-10 it was 65 (or 77, if the estimated extra 100 attending in March 2010 be factored in); for 2010-11 it was 74 (see Minutes.)

[7] Susan Lord, email to Assoc. Dean Bob Lemieux, 2 March 2012; by courtesy of Susan Lord.

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This entry was posted in Faculty Board Restructuring, FAS Faculty Board, Motions, Process, SGPS (Society of Graduate and Professional Students), University Governance. Bookmark the permalink.

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