Steve Iscoe, Changes to Faculty Board A&S structure and procedures (29 March 2012)

As emailed by Steve Iscoe to faculty in Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, 29 March 2012, except that links have been added.  The email version attached Associate Dean Robert Lemieux’s Notice of Motion.  

Background: Several meetings of Faculty Board (FB) Arts & Science over the last few years have involved motions from the floor about issues deemed contentious by some, and sometimes many, members.

These motions (that “(i) all suspensions of degree types and concentrations with < 25 students be withdrawn (April 2009); (ii) motion that FB reject the [Faculty of Arts & Science] FAS draft response to Principal Woolf’s “Where Next ?” document (March 2010); (iii) motion that the Dean affirms the resumption of admissions to the BFA program for 2012-13 (December 2011)” (legend to figure 3 in the appended PDF)) are meant to deal with what some view as a recurring problem: motions that are brought to the floor and passed without the opportunity for full consideration by the membership.

The motion of Associate Dean Lemieux is that “Faculty Board establish an ad hoc committee to review the current structure and procedures of Faculty Board. The ad hoc committee will be appointed by the Faculty Board Nominating Committee and will report to Faculty Board at its December 2012 meeting.”

This motion follows a similar one by Mark Jones (English).

Both Associate Dean Lemieux (and, by extension, the Dean) and Mr Jones are concerned about motions from the floor; these can allow a group to impose a decision, and perhaps even policy, on the Dean without sufficient reflection by all members of FB. Some view this as bordering on the anti-democratic and irresponsible; others view this as an antidote to one-sided imposition of administrative policies on students and faculty in a process driven by budgetary constraints.

The issues to be dealt with by the committee have important ramifications for faculty, even those of us in FHS, because they will (eventually) address important issues such as: Who has the authority over academic policies, the Dean or FB? Are decisions by FB binding on the Dean? [This may require a legal judgement. While FAS has obtained an opinion from the University’s lawyer that FB’s decisions do not, Mr Jones has legal opinion advising the opposite. ]

An ancillary issue likely to be discussed by the ad hoc committee is membership in FB. Currently, it includes “approximately 500 members, including all faculty members in FAS, members of other faculties who teach FAS students, approximately 35 students representatives, 4 elected non-academic staff members, and the Dean and Associate Deans of the Faculty.”  This allows all members to vote and, as has happened in the recent past, this allows a group to pass motions of particular interest to that group. Many consider this membership to be democratic, an essential aspect of FB. One probable proposal will be to change FB from open membership to a representative body, in which departments/units will be assigned representatives based on numbers. This has obvious implications for the success of motions from the floor.

I urge you to read the accompanying document — it is brief –and, if you have questions, contact me.

Note that you are also entitled to attend meetings of FB.

Steve Iscoe

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