Faculty Governance Assessment Report

September 28, 2012

During the first two years of its existence, the Boston College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors has surveyed faculty on a range of university issues. In both the 2010 and 2011 BCAAUP surveys, governance has emerged as a key concern. The most recent survey found that faculty are most satisfied with their participation in decision-making at the departmental level–with only 39% expressing dissatisfaction–while at the university level, 63% of those responding expressed dissatisfaction. As the survey noted, “The great majority of comments advocate for more of a faculty role in decision-making, and in general, a less centralized, more democratic decision-making process.” Moreover, in asking faculty members what issues they would most like to see addressed by BCAAUP, faculty decision making and shared governance have been among the top priorities.

For this reason, BCAAUP decided to conduct an assessment of the existing university committee system, which is—in the absence of a faculty senate—the only representative form of governance for faculty. Our hope is to provide a critical analysis of the committee system, established several decades ago, to assess its operation and effectiveness at BC today and to provide recommendations for improvement in the future. To this end, BCAAUP conducted a survey of four elected university committees: the Provost’s Advisory Council, the Faculty Compensation Committee, the Faculty Grievance Committee, and the Athletic Advisory Board. We sent out survey invitations to 121 current committee members as well as those who have served over the past five years. We received 60 responses to our survey—a 50% return rate. We have also consulted with committee chairs and looked at official committee reports, minutes, and summaries when available. Our findings are broken down by committee, followed by a general summary and recommendations.

I. Provost’s Advisory Council

Composition/Leadership. While nearly all respondents agreed that the PAC has an elected faculty chairperson, there was considerable disagreement about the makeup of the committee. Of 16 respondents, 9 believe that faculty make up a clear majority or more of the committee, while 7 maintained that faculty make up about half or less than half of the committee (possibly due to the changing composition of the committee over the past five years). One respondent observed that there are multiple deans, vice provosts, student representatives as well as the elected faculty, provost and vice provost normally in attendance, and that this “heavy representation of people in power” may possibly hinder the free exchange of ideas. Another said that there are no non-tenure track or part-time faculty represented.

Agenda. Responses also varied as to how the PAC’s agenda is formulated. A clear majority (69%) said that administrators or “administrators with some faculty input” set the agenda. Several respondents did note (and we confirm) that an agenda is circulated to the general faculty prior to meetings soliciting their input. One respondent said that faculty-proposed agenda items were funneled through the Provost’s office and that some were deemed “not discussable.” Another commented that the agenda “was set almost entirely by the administration.”

Effectiveness. Most respondents agreed that the university responds constructively to resolutions or recommendations issued by the PAC at least some of the time (38% said always or usually, 44% said sometimes). Likewise, 73% felt the PAC is effective or very effective in carrying out its stated mandate for the university, that is, “to advise the Provost and Dean of Faculties on issues of major importance to the faculty and the academic operation of Boston College”). Several respondents noted that the PAC is strictly advisory in nature, and thus it is useful for providing faculty perspectives on issues of concern to the provost’s office. One respondent added that “there is no commitment to operationalize the ideas shared by faculty/administrators or to… address outcomes.”

On the question of faculty governance, an equally large percentage (73%) felt that the PAC is ineffective or very ineffective in providing an independent voice for the faculty and promoting shared governance at BC. Only one respondent said he/she found the PAC “capable of both initiating and responding seriously to faculty-led concerns with university governance.” Most others were more negative:

• “The PAC and the scheduled Faculty Forum meeting are meant to take the place of a senate and give the faculty the impression that they have input.”

• The administration “was not very interested in getting the feedback from the committee.”

• “The majority of faculty members I know do not consider the PAC a serious vehicle for faculty-administration relations, let alone for the exchange of ideas.”

Transparency. Most members agreed that the summaries of the PAC meetings are posted online (which we confirm). But there appears to be considerable delay in posting, which can make it difficult for the general faculty to respond to the actions or initiatives of the PAC prior to upcoming meetings. One member noted that the summaries were approved by the PAC “using a non-consensus model,” while another described the summaries as “brief and without ‘flavor’.” Another respondent added “there are no assurances that those on the PAC communicate with faculty about their perceptions of what was discussed at the meeting, nor is there a mechanism to do so.” Summaries of PAC meetings are available at:

II. Faculty Compensation Committee

Composition and Leadership. The Faculty Compensation Committee is made up of nine faculty members (three from A&S and one from each of six professional schools) who meet monthly to discuss compensation issues and concerns. The chair is elected by the committee. Most respondents indicated that the agenda is set by the faculty or faculty with some administrative input (4 of 7), but a few (3) said it was determined by faculty and administration together.

Effectiveness. Respondents strongly agreed that the university has not responded constructively to its resolutions and recommendations. 6 out of 7 respondents said that the administration rarely responds constructively. Likewise, 6 out of 7 indicated that the FCC is ineffective in executing its mandate of “eliciting and articulating faculty views and making recommendations to the Executive Vice President and to the Provost on faculty compensation, benefits, and related academic practices.” Here are some typical responses:

• “The university never seemed particularly interested in what the committee had to say.”

• “It took us over six months to even get a meeting scheduled with an administrator…. So there was a great deal of frustration over the university’s response to the committee.”

• “Having a university FCC is not functional under the current administration…. Faculty have been marginalized.”

Several members noted that the FCC has become less effective over time because of the decentralization of financial decision making to the deans, the elimination of the University Budget Committee, and the lack of any current faculty representation in the budgetary process. FCC respondents were divided over how effective the committee has been in providing an independent faculty voice and promoting shared governance, with 4 rating it effective and 3 rating it ineffective.

Transparency. The FCC has a long tradition of issuing an annual report to the faculty. These reports include updates on a wide range of compensation concerns including salary levels, changes in retirement and health benefits, faculty housing and mortgage assistance, domestic partner coverage, tuition remission, parking, etc. FCC annual reports are available at: http://www.bc.edu/sites/fcc/reports.html

III. Faculty Grievance Committee

Composition/Leadership. The Grievance Committee has an elected faculty chairperson and has an agenda that the respondents say is formulated by the faculty or mainly by the faculty. Nearly all respondents said that faculty make up all or nearly all of its membership (we have confirmed that it is an all-faculty committee and that members must be tenured or tenure track). One respondent commented that the grievance procedure is limited to tenured and tenure track faculty, noting that those faculty excluded, the non-tenured and part-time faculty, “are as likely–or more likely–to encounter conflicts in the workplace, but under our system, they have no right to bring grievances.” We confirm that there is currently no right of grievance or appeal for non-tenured faculty.

Effectiveness. Respondents were divided on questions in this area. Most respondents (4 out of 7) said that the university “sometimes” responds constructively to the committee’s findings. Most believed that the FGC is effective or very effective in executing its stated mandate (to receive petitions from faculty members who believe they are aggrieved in a matter including but not restricted to promotion, non-reappointment, salary or benefits). However, 4 of the respondents commented that the advisory nature of the FGC limits its effectiveness in resolving grievances. A number of respondents indicated that, at least in the past, there were very few grievances or meetings. One respondent stated that there is “widespread skepticism about whether the FGC’s recommendations carry much weight.” Another noted that the administration “seemed to ignore the committee’s recommendations with little feedback about why they were doing so.”

Faculty Governance. Most respondents (5 out of 7) said that the FGC is ineffective or very ineffective in providing an independent voice for faculty and promoting shared governance at BC.

Transparency. Several respondents noted that they were frustrated that they received no feedback on the resolution of cases. “It was troubling that the committee was so shut out of the ultimate resolution of disputes,” one respondent commented. Although the FGC has not issued minutes or annual reports in the past, it recently decided to do so and agreed to post minutes with non-confidential business this year for the first time. As of this writing, however, there has been no agreement with the administration about whether BC will provide online access to FGC reports.

IV. Athletic Advisory Board

Composition/Leadership. Most respondents agree that the AAB is made up mostly of faculty (11 out of 12) and has a faculty chair–known as the Faculty Athletics Representative–that is appointed by the President. According to the Faculty Handbook, five of the AAB’s members are elected by the faculty (3 from A&S, 2 from the professional schools), while four others are appointed by the President and are drawn from the “faculty, academic, or academic support staff.” There was some concern expressed that appointed members did not have sufficient independence, and that “anyone who asks hard questions is not reappointed.” There was also some concern that not all the professional schools were represented, even though they have somewhat different concerns regarding athletics. A majority of faculty (8 out of 11) agreed that the agenda is set by the faculty or by “faculty with some administrative input.”

Effectiveness. Respondents were evenly divided over the question of how well the committee executes its stated mandate to “assist and advise the Director of Athletics in the exercise of institutional responsibility and control of intercollegiate athletics”—with 6 answering “effective” and 6 answering “ineffective” or “very ineffective.” Some described the AAB as “a reasonably effective conduit between the faculty and the administration,” while others were quite pessimistic about the difficulty of effecting change in big-time college athletics. One respondent maintained that the AAB has become less effective since BC joined the ACC. Respondents said that the administration does not always respond constructively to their initiatives, with 5 indicating constructive responses occurred “rarely” while 4 said “sometimes.” Several people noted that student athletes had brought problems to their attention, for which the AAB had forwarded recommendations, but that they “were ignored” or received no response.

On the issue of faculty governance, two-thirds of respondents rated the AAB as ineffective (6) or very ineffective (2) in providing an independent voice for the faculty. Respondents emphasized lack of effective input, but also “the absence of any faculty body for the committee to report back to…This means that it is very difficult for it to fulfill its mission of serving as a vehicle for communication back and forth between the faculty and Athletics.”

Transparency. Although respondents reported some problems with the posting of AAB annual reports in the past, these documents (going back to 2005-6) are now posted on the Provost’s web page.

V. Summary of Overall Findings

Composition/Leadership. Looking across the four committees examined, several areas for improvement are evident.

• To ensure that faculty voices are not diluted, it is vital that university committees be made up mainly of elected faculty—which is the case with the Faculty Compensation and Grievance Committees, but not the Athletic Advisory Board and the PAC.

• BCAAUP also maintains that non-tenure track faculty (part-time and full-time) should be represented and eligible for election to committees. Given the reality that non-tenure track faculty are already serving on various university committees, including the PAC, BCAAUP suggests amending the statutes accordingly.

• All faculty committees should have elected faculty chairs or, in some cases, administrative and elected faculty co-chairs.

• Agendas should not be determined primarily by the administration but by faculty or by administrators and faculty jointly. There should be no administrative veto power over what is discussed or considered “discussable.”

Effectiveness. Faculty representation and effective input on the agenda mean little when committees are merely advisory in nature, with no real power to influence policymaking. As the earlier 2011 Faculty Survey noted, “faculty participation on university committees is more for appearance sake than for providing authentic influence over policy decisions.” Many respondents to this survey confirmed that view, suggesting that BC’s record in responding to committees’ initiatives or recommendations has been less than satisfactory. Indeed, the paucity of candidates for some faculty elections may be due to this sense that committee work at BC is thankless and ineffectual.

• The University administration needs to be more accountable to faculty initiatives and recommendation emanating from the committees. Committees should have more than just “advisory” status and given a real voice in the functioning of the university.

• Committees cannot make good recommendations or decisions if they do not have the information they need to function, as seems to be the case with the lack of financial and budget information available to the Faculty Compensation Committee. And FCC members, like other stakeholders, should be represented in the budget-making process.

Transparency. Good communications between university committees and the general faculty is essential to the mandates of most of the committees examined here. While most post regular reports or summaries of their proceedings, members of all four committees reported some communication problems that hindered their ability to represent faculty interests.

• We recommend that committees post their summaries and reports in a timely fashion and, as some committees do, notify faculty by email when such documents become available.

• Unlike most universities, BC does not have a faculty senate to which university committees report. BCAAUP strongly recommends that both the faculty and the administration revisit the issue of creating a faculty senate that would facilitate better communication and establish a truly independent faculty voice in university affairs and that BCAAUP be recognized by the administration in its advocacy role for faculty governance.

Respectfully Submitted by
Marilynn Johnson
Vice President, BCAAUP

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