Building Baylor Together

by Baylor Line Foundation | September 20, 2019

This article was published in the Summer 2008 issue of The Baylor Line and written by Meg Cullar.

By putting the principle of shared governance into practice, a university’s administration and faculty can strengthen an institution 

ON MAY 6, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY’S FACULTY SENATE—a group of representatives elected by faculty members—voted to pass a resolution decrying the “failure of shared governance at Baylor University.” The vote came in the wake of the university president’s denial of tenure to twelve of thirty faculty candidates this spring, though seven of the denials were later reversed after going through a reconsideration process.

Although the Faculty Senate is not formally involved in the tenure process, senate chair Matthew Cordon—who is director of legal research, associate director of the Law Library, and professor of law—said that in this case, the senate was playing a needed role. “The senate provides an open forum for the discussion of faculty issues, and, when necessary, we serve as an advocate for faculty,” he said.

On May 8, Baylor President John Lilley responded to the resolution in an e-mail sent to all faculty. The provost and I unequivocally support the concept of shared governance,” he wrote. “Following the existing policy, this year the provost and I considered faculty input from every level of the candidate’s review, from departmental colleagues up through the university tenure committee.”

Lilley told the Linethat Baylor’s policies outline both rights and responsibilities for the various university entities. “Given the central importance of the faculty in the life of the university, regular communication results in collegiality for the sometimes difficult decisions,” he said. “I have worked closely with the Faculty Senate and its leadership and have valued that relationship.”

But to those outside of academia—especially those in the corporate world—the whole concept of “shared governance” can seem incongruous with the workplace. What does it mean for faculty to share in the governance of the university, which is also their employer? Why should they? How can such a process work in a practical sense?

A unique concept

To explain the ways of the academic world, faculty members often turn to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Baylor senior lecturer Dr. Lynn Tatum is a longtime AAUP member, former president of the Baylor chapter, and the current president of the Texas State Conference of the AAUP. He describes the organization as the major trans-disciplinary organization for faculty, with a stature similar to that of the American Medical Association for doctors.

“There are basically three entities involved in the management and operation of the university,” Tatum explained, “and they are the board, the administration, and the faculty. Shared governance is the concept of how those three work together.”

The university is unlike the corporate world, he argued, because academia has a different function. “We are serving society, not the stockholders of a particular company,” he said. Faculty are granted tenure, he said, because they are expected to be on the cut-ting edge of new knowledge, and new knowledge can be a threat to someone. We don’t want our religion professors, for example, to be fired because 51 percent of pastors or deacons in the BGCT [Baptist General Convention of Texas] disagree with them,” he said. “Faculty members need to be able to speak truth as they see it.”

Tatum said that, according to AAUP standards, there are two basic principles of shared governance: The first is that authority should follow responsibility, providing the faculty with primacy in making judgments regarding the academic side since they are in charge of teaching the students. The second is that there should be communication and consultation. No one—whether it is the board, the administration, or the faculty—should be making decisions in a vacuum, separated from the other two governing entities.

Dr. Robert Kreiser, associate secretary in the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, said that shared governance means just what it says—”that the responsibility of running the institution is shared. Depending on the type of decision that needs to be made, the various roles are configured in different ways.”

According to Kreiser, “In some areas, the board has primary responsibility, and in most instances it is the ultimate decision maker. The board cedes authority in administrative matters to the president or other administrative officers, and it’s generally recognized that in matters having to do with educational issues and faculty personnel matters, the faculty has primary responsibility.”

In 1967, the AAUP published a formal “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities?’ formulated by the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. The statement outlines the basic definition and duties of the governing entities. It states that the board is, with few exceptions, the final institutional author-ity—setting the course for the future, determining overall policies, and “husbanding” the endowment to ensure future viability.

According to the statement, the president, as the CEO, shares the responsibility for defining and attaining goals. The president’s job is “to plan, to organize, to direct, and to represent?’ The president, according to the joint statement, will necessarily consult the judgment of the faculty but may also seek outside advice from other scholars. It is the president’s duty to make sure the institution follows the direction set out by the governing board. The president also functions as the conduit between the faculty and governing board, representing the faculty’s views to the board and vice versa.

As described by the AAUP’s statement, the faculty has the primary responsibility for areas such as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and the aspects of student life relating to the education process. “On these matters the power of review or final decision lodged in the governing board or delegated by it to the president should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty.”

Concerning faculty status issues—such as tenure—the AAUP statement says the primary responsibility should lie with the faculty, noting, “The governing board and president should, on questions of faculty status, as in other matters where the faculty has primary responsibility, concur with the faculty judgment except in rare instances and for compelling reasons, which should be stated in detail.”

This last statement is one that’s been quoted often in the recent tenure dust-up at Baylor. The Faculty Senate’s resolution alleged that the twelve tenure denials were largely in opposition to the recommendations of faculty that were sent to the president and that the president failed to provide a “compelling reason” for the dis-agreement. This action, the senate alleged, amounted to a breach of the principles of shared governance that are considered appropriate in the academic world.

Tatum described the tenure process as a long one, typically encompassing six years. During the recent tenure process, Tatum said, “The president stepped in where the president should not step in and certainly has not given compelling reasons and hasn’t made the argument that there was something unusual in these cases—a compelling reason not to go with the recommendations of experts in the field.”

Faculty focus

The Faculty Senate’s May resolution cited a “sudden and severe decline in faculty morale,” but senate chair Cordon said that the morale problem had been growing over time and is related to a number of issues. Earlier in March, he said, the senate passed another resolution objecting to the university administration’s stance on faculty promotions.

Typically, a tenure-track faculty member begins life at Baylor as an assistant professor. When he or she achieves tenure, that new status includes a promotion to associate professor. Attaining the rank of full professor can take many years, Cordon said, and in the past faculty have been evaluated based on the criteria under which they were hired. Recently, he said, the criteria have been changed to allow only research-focused faculty to advance to the rank of full professor.

“This affects a lot of associate professors who came here under very different circumstances?” he noted. “We have quite a number of people who were associate professors and who have taught heavy loads for a long time and who basically gave up a research agenda to teach the classes here. To tell them after fifteen or twenty years that now you will be judged based on your research, that made a lot of people mad—including full professors.”

Some departments have also struggled with the policy and procedures for the selection of department chairs, Cordon said. “Departments are not allowed to vote for chair candidates, but must only present candidates’ strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

Baylor’s provost, Dr. Randall O’Brien, who is a former chair of the religion department, acknowledged that the chair selection process has been a point of contention, but he believes there are good reasons for not taking an official vote. “If you rank them, and your first choice—and possibly even your second choice—cannot come to Baylor, now everyone in the department, soon everyone in your school or college, and after that everyone in the university family knows that the chair was not the first choice,” he said. “Furthermore, when candidates are voted on for chair and ranked, that creates a sense of division in the department, because some are for one and some for another.”

O’Brien said the provost’s office usually gets a very clear picture from departments about what their preferences are. “And there’s another reason [for not voting] as well,” he told the Line. “A chair position is a faculty appointment, but it’s also an administrative appointment, and, concerning shared governance, the gate swings both ways. It’s not simply a matter of faculty preference, but also of administrative preference. In a joint conversation, I think it’s important for administrators to be involved in making the selection of an administrator.”

Dr. Lee Nordt—professor of geology and dean of Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, the university’s largest academic unit—said that in the chair-selection process, “We generally get where everyone wants to go.” He said that the search committee, the dean, and the provost all meet to discuss the “strengths and weak-nesses” list and that it’s “pretty obvious” whom the department wants. He also noted, “We’re not going to impose anyone; that’s never happened in my three years here. That wouldn’t work.”

Another recent decision that concerned faculty involved the Graduate Council’s changing of criteria for the designation of faculty members as “graduate faculty,” a designation that allows them to direct doctoral dissertations or master’s theses and have graduate assistants. A new policy approved by the Graduate Council this spring requires a reappointment of all graduate faculty every five years, with research being the primary criterion for appointment.

Tenure treatment

With such issues simmering on the back burner, Cordon said, the ensuing tenure controversy was enough to push many faculty members past the boiling point. When the news broke in late March, stories appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald, the Baylor Lariatand in Baptist as well as national educational news outlets. The contention from faculty members was that the standards for attaining tenure were frequently changing—without proper faculty input—making it impossible for some faculty members to hit a moving mark.

Both Inside Higher Edand the Baptist Press reported that nine of the twelve faculty members who were denied tenure had received positive recommendations from both their departmental faculty members and from the University Tenure Committee—a broad-based committee charged with reviewing tenure candidates and making recommendations to the administration. In the April 8 Faculty Senate meeting, however, Provost O’Brien said that those numbers were incorrect, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Baylor biology assistant professor Rene Massengale, whose tenure denial was upheld after the reconsideration process, told the Waco Tribune-Herald that the written guidelines for tenure had changed three times in the last six years. “What President Lil-ley has done in the last month is to say, ‘I’m holding you to a different standard. I’m not telling you what that standard is, and I’m not giving you prior notice of what it’s going to be,'” Massengale told the local paper. O’Brien told the Tribune-Herald, “All the standards of [Baylor] 2012 are in play in the tenure judgments. The university is feeling that when faculty are hired with reduced teaching responsibilities, the expectations for research productivity—those expectations increase.”

The Faculty Senate meeting on April 8 focused largely on the tenure denials, with Provost O’Brien addressing the group for an hour, according to the Tribune-Herald. Faculty Senate meetings are closed to the general public and media, but open to any faculty member. At that meeting, senators passed a motion asking the administration for more detailed information. It read, “The Faculty Senate expresses its deep concern on what appears to be a failure of shared governance and requests information regarding the number of candidates who were denied tenure in opposition to an affirmative vote by the University Tenure Committee.”

The next encounter between administrators and faculty came at the previously scheduled annual “State of the University” address, open to the public, on April 21. Bennett Auditorium was nearly full of faculty, staff, and administrators as Lilley spoke in a mainly question-and-answer for-mat for about two hours. In very short order, the topic of the process used in the recent tenure reviews came up, and faculty members questioned Lilley on whether he and O’Brien had given due deference to the judgments of the faculty during the process.

One faculty member noted that, even though his department had been operating with explicit tenure guidelines, he had no idea how he, as a senior faculty member, should advise the younger faculty who were striving for tenure. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “Right now, I have no clue what to tell them is sufficient and is something that they can put out there with confidence that they will be able to get tenure.”

“I would hope you will not take that approach of a formula,” Lilley responded. “What we are asking faculty to do is to demonstrate who they naturally are. I think there is a level of productivity that is natural for them. It’s not just about getting over some tenure hump. We want to see who they plan to be for the rest of their professional careers.”

Cordon asked the president whether departments, whose guidelines had been approved by the administration, were entitled to any deference. “Deference will be made to those who put forth a good argument,” Lilley responded.

“Deference is based upon the reasoning given. And we got some terrific departmental reviews that were very clear—and not always about a positive. To say that the president and provost would simply rubber-stamp all the department recommendations, that’s not our policy.”

AAUP representative Tatum told the president at the forum that giving deference to faculty views in the tenure process is a “tier-one” practice. So, Tatum asked Lilley, if the administration expects faculty to aspire to tier-one status as part of Baylor 2012, shouldn’t the faculty expect the administration to act like tier-one administrators and follow policies and procedures that conform to con-temporary professional standards?

“What I would say to you is that it is very easy over a period of time to change this,” Lilley said. “If the faculty take a very, very disciplined approach to this process, there will be no need for Randall and me ever to disagree with the department.”

Also during the open meeting, Lilley made reference to an “Academic Summit”—a meeting he intended to convene during the summer to discuss the tenure procedures.

The topic of the summit came up again on May 6 during the Faculty Senate’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting, which ran for nearly four hours. For part of that time, President Lilley and Provost O’Brien were present to answer questions, address concerns, and participate in the discussion. At the end of the meeting, the senate passed the “Resolution on the Failure of Shared Governance at Baylor University” that was critical of the administration’s handling of tenure decisions. After laying out fifteen items of contention regarding the tenure denials, the resolution called for administrative action on six specific items, including the restoration of shared governance and due process, that tenure candidates be given a reasonably long timetable to adjust to policy revisions, and for the president and provost to repair damage to faculty morale.

Also at that senate meeting, the president and provost presented a draft proposal for the summer’s summit. The proposed meeting would address the tenure process by gathering “substantial input from across campus,” with participants including administrators, deans, department chairs, the Faculty Senate executive commit-tee, the president of the local AAUP chapter, representatives of the University Tenure Committee, and a group of senior faculty selected by the Faculty Senate and the provost.

The senate passed a motion saying that involvement in such a meeting might be premature, depending on the final outcome of the tenure process. Administrative perspective On May 8, President Lilley sent his response to the Faculty Senate’s resolution on shared governance, saying that he was “writing to correct some of the recent statements that have been made regarding faculty involvement at Baylor.”

He noted, “The university policy to which the senate resolution makes reference gives to faculty the primary review regarding tenure, but it also vests final responsibility with the president, who, after reviewing all supporting evidence and in consultation with the provost as well as the appropriate dean, is expected to make the final decision to award tenure.” He said that a reconsideration process was underway and that he would not respond to the senate’s earlier request for statistical information on tenure denials until the process was complete.

Lilley’s e-mail also noted steps taken by the administration to improve faculty conditions, including a benefits package that is the “most generous” in the Big 12. “And this year, our faculty are receiving the highest percentage salary increase in the Big 12,” he noted. He also mentioned the university’s strategic planning process, through which faculty can propose major new academic programs. He expressed disappointment that the Faculty Senate had not endorsed the summit meeting and said that the Faculty Senate had “declined to be involved” in a process to get more faculty input into the promotion process.

On May 14, Lilley sent another e-mail to faculty and staff, titled “Report on the Conclusion of the Tenure Process!’ In it, he indicated that twenty-five of the thirty total candidates for tenure had been granted tenure, meaning that seven of the twelve original denials had been reversed through the reconsideration process. He noted, “There were significant differences between the documents Randall and I reviewed initially and the documents we saw for reconsideration?’ He said that faculty were allowed to add to their tenure files any articles that had been accepted since their initial submission, which would have been last November. The president and provost also met with the University Tenure Commit-tee, he said, “and they are pleased.”

O’Brien told the Linethat of the twelve who were initially denied tenure, two decided not to request reconsideration. With the ten who did, he said, “We took a very liberal interpretation of what constituted new evidence in passing on all the notebooks to the University Tenure Committee, and we wanted them to have another shot at this.” O’Brien said candidates were allowed to improve their notebooks by adding external review letters from scholars at other universities and by including articles that were published between November (when the notebooks were turned in) and May.

“In general, on reconsideration the candidates submitted stronger evidence and arguments in favor of their record,” Lilley told the Line. “Tenure is not awarded by default, and each candidate bears the burden of making his or her case. Many of the documents the first time around were insufficient in making a conclusive case for the quantity and quality of a candidate’s research.”

He continued, “In a few cases, because of persuasive arguments by the candidates, we allowed faculty to add to their records any new articles that had been accepted since the initial submission of their tenure file. In two cases, faculty who had not met the expectations of their department did meet those guidelines by having that extra time to work. One of those two faculty members added four articles over the seven-month period.”

O’Brien said that the administration also ran an impact analysis on the articles. “For instance, if a faculty member was originally denied tenure for having published only a few articles, by running an impact analysis, we could see that sometimes if they were not in a quantity that we would have liked, the quality might have been exceptional,” he said. “So that helped reverse some decisions?’ He said that some departments had been “more thorough than others” in the original explanations of the importance of the articles.

“Poor external letters about the quality and placement of a candidate’s research in some initial tenure files were improved,” Lilley added. “Stronger evaluators from better universities spoke more specifically to some candidate’s credentials in the material submitted for reconsideration.”

Those letters from outside scholars have been a major point of discussion in the recent tenure controversy. Whether such letters, in which a scholar from another institution evaluates the scholarly production of the Baylor tenure candidate, should be required ought to be up to individual departments, according to Faculty Senate chair Cordon.

Cordon questioned the practice in general. “What you’re doing with external review letters is you’re going to another school and saying please look at our scholarship,” he said. “When the administration looks to the judgment of somebody outside, we’re no longer trusting the judgment of our own departments. Are we giving those letters more deference than our own judgment?”

Kreiser, the associate secretary at the AAUP, said that soliciting such letters is not uncommon. “As a general proposition, seeking outside letters about a candidate is standard operating procedure in large numbers of institutions,” he said. “But if it’s not common at Baylor and a new system was introduced unilaterally by the administration, that’s wrong. A change in policies, procedures, criteria, or standards should be made primarily by the faculty, and the administration should not make unilateral changes in any of those.”

While the letters had not been stated as a requirement in the university’s tenure policy, most of the specific requirements—how many scholarly articles published, how many classes taught, how much service to the university or community—are instead outlined in guidelines housed in individual departments. These went through a thorough updating process several years ago, Cordon said, and should be generated at the departmental level.

Dr. James Bennighof, Baylor’s vice provost for academic affairs and policy, said the requirement for external review letters is now included in the guidelines of every department, “with a couple of exceptions, because they haven’t been updated yet, and those are cases where we specifically communicated with the department.”

“It would be one thing if the faculty said we want to do this,” Cordon said. “It’s another thing to tell the faculty they are going to do that.” And that, he contends, is exactly what happened. Pres-ident Lilley mandated the letters for all candidates, Cordon said, because it was what he was accustomed to at other institutions.

The “Academic Summit on Tenure” did take place the week of June 9, with deans, department chairs, Faculty Senate and AAUP representatives, University and Distinguished Professors, and numerous senior faculty members in attendance. Faculty members split into groups to consider questions and suggestions that had been submitted by faculty regarding tenure policy and procedures and to suggest improvements to the documents.

The tenure documents they examined were new ones; Lilley signed a new tenure policy on June 2, and a separate document regarding tenure procedures was dated June 2. The requirement for department chairs to solicit three letters from external reviewers was included in the procedural document.

On the summit’s first day, Bennighof said that the new documents had been in the works for a long time and that faculty were informed when the policy was approved. He said one reason the president changed the policy was that the administration wanted the summit group to work on those new documents, rather than on the old one.

“We wanted to use this as the point of departure for this summit, because it represents the best thinking we had,” Bennighof said, noting that the documents were created with input from many faculty sources. “We are assuming that this policy will not be the one we end up with at the end of the summer. Essentially, we’re using it as a temporary document.”

Decisions, decisions

There are many decisions—both large and small—that have to be made in order to run an organization as large as Baylor. Provost O’Brien told the Line that the administration supports shared governance on academic matters.

“In issues such as the ones we’ve dealt with recently on tenure decisions and promotion decisions, I think the faculty is right to say that we need to have collective intelligence and participation in policy formation and decision making, and we support that,” O’Brien said.

Lilley told the Line, “Receiving input from the various constituent elements—administration, faculty, and students—is the essence of the shared governance process, but when policy negotiated between administration and faculty allocate final decision-making to one camp or another, deference should be given to the policy.”

He added, “Randall [O’Brien] and I give substantial deference to the faculty in academic matters such as designing and deter-mining requirements for degree programs, course structure and materials, study-abroad programs, strategic initiatives in expanding master’s and doctoral programs, research and scholarly pursuit topics and trajectory, hiring decisions in the departments, and other allocations of departmental resources.”

Lilley outlined a multitude of ways in which the faculty play a major role in university management—citing a significant role in appointing members of standing committees that cover nearly every aspect of university life; special committees on particular topics, including enrollment management and campus sustainability; and focus groups on topics such as parking, communication strategies, and the campus master plan.

Faculty have also played the central role in the new major strategic planning process, Lilley said, which is now in its second year. Through that process, faculty develop program ideas—which can be teaching or research based—and work through a process to have them financed and implemented.

“Major strategic proposals are all bottom up,” said College of Arts and Sciences dean Nordt. “They come up through the departments to my office [for College of Arts and Sciences faculty], and I never reject them. I may make comments and suggest ways to improve, but I never stop them here. They go to a University Strategic Planning Committee that consists of faculty, students, and staff” Approved plans next go to the Executive Council and then through regular curricular approval process.

The process of creating a university policy on faculty matters involves every policy going through the provost’s office, and only the president has to officially approve policies, O’Brien said. The basic process is always similar—the administration receives input and makes a final decision.

“We use our judgment in what level of approval or information would be necessary for any given policy;’ vice provost Bennighof said. “In a worst-case scenario, some group could object and we could say, We appreciate your response, but we’re going to do it anyway! I don’t think that happens very often at all. On the other hand, they could say, ‘We want this or that adjusted, and we take that into consideration and usually adjust it.”

He also said, “In the vast majority of cases, the policies are developed by the provost’s office. However, whenever we develop policies that involve the faculty, it’s very important to us to have faculty input and to make sure that they know what’s going on and that we haven’t missed anything. For policies of any importance at all, we run it by the Faculty Senate and get their comments while it’s in the development stage.”

According to O’Brien, the administration believes that the process is as important as the product. The buy-in, that participation, the collective wisdom and intelligence, the coming together—that will be a process that will lead to a good product,” he said.

In most cases, Bennighof and O’Brien agreed, a close collaboration with the Faculty Senate is part of the process to create new policy. When the tenure policy was updated a few years ago, an ad hoc committee consisting of two representatives from the provost’s office and three from the Faculty Senate worked on the policy Bennighof noted. “Representatives from the Faculty Senate would go back to the senate and report and then come and tell us what they thought,” he said.

A similar give and take has been taking place in regard to the promotion policy O’Brien said. In fact, a new document is in the draft stages. That draft gives to the University Tenure Committee the added responsibility of making similar recommendations for promotion from associate professor to full professor.

Currently there is no faculty input in promotion decisions, O’Brien said, but “the president says we need faculty involvement.” The president’s idea, he said, “is to do it here the way it’s done at some other places, where you have one committee called the University Tenure and Promotions Committee. And then that joint committee, according to what the president is recommending, would make decisions on both tenure and promotion.”

The Faculty Senate has raised a few questions about that proposal. For instance, they questioned whether associate professors on the tenure commit-tee should make judgments about who should move to full professors, since they themselves have not achieved that rank. When the administration suggested that associate professors wouldn’t vote on pro-motions, the senators noted that it would shift the balance of various schools’ and colleges’ representation on the committee. “So right now we’re trying to find a shared path that makes sense as we go forward,” O’Brien told the Line.

Lilley said, “We have a group on campus that is working hard to collect all of the university’s policies, identify issues or inconsistencies, and make those policies more readily acces-sible. Once they have done that, they will develop a process and schedule by which we will regularly review all of our policies.”

Due deference

Cordon said there’s a natural tension in the give and take between administration and faculty. “Shared governance is critically important because it’s the only way to balance the two sides—to allow the administrative side to have its organizational control, but to allow the faculty, the academic professionals, to have the autonomy to make their own decisions as appropriate,” he said.

In the recent tenure denials, Cordon said, the faculty felt that the input they provided was not given due deference. When the reversals were announced, he said, “My first reaction was, ‘That’s a little more like it.

Lilley said, “The most recent questions about faculty deference relate to tenure. Randall and I agree that, generally speaking, tenure decisions are the primary responsibility of the faculty. But deference to faculty assertions that are not supported by the evidence is an abrogation of our responsibility and ultimately harmful to Baylor.

“Deference is earned by the quality of the argument. In those cases where faculty arguments were substantiated and supported by the evidence, we deferred. Where, in our professional judgment, the assertions were not substantiated and supported by the evidence, we respectfully disagreed. Disagreement does not mean disrespect nor does it mean that those views were not carefully considered.”

Cordon said that even -though he’s happy with the reversals, they are still troubling. “It should be a rare case that the president reverses a decision of the tenure committee in the first place,” he said. “And then it should be another rare case where the president or the provost reverses a decision on reconsideration. The fact that we had too many decisions by the president that differed from the tenure committee and the fact that there were so many reversals on reconsideration—that should never happen.”

Lilley told the Linethat he didn’t agree with the premise that something was awry in this year’s tenure process. “However, I do believe that this year is unusual,” he said. “Baylor is making a difficult transition as the result of new academic goals created when Baylor 2012 was put in place. Our faculty have a great deal of experience in making tenure evaluations for teaching and service, but most of our faculty do not have much experience in evaluating research. Some members of the university-wide tenure committee commented about how difficult it was to make the required research judgments when they have not done research themselves.”

He continued, “At most research universities, faculty who are not progressing toward a successful sixth-year review are discontinued at the fourth year. That tradition has not been common at Baylor.”

Cordon, who was part of the ad hoc committee that penned the current tenure policy, said that this year’s denials and reversals did not fit the original design of the policy “That’s been part of my frustration,” he said, “because I know how the policy was supposed to work!’

two sides to-allow the administrative side to have their own decisions as appropriate.”

A national perspective

How “shared governance” operates at different universities can be as varied as those universities are, according to Dr. Robert Birnbaum, an educational administration scholar who has written nearly a dozen books about how universities function. “I believe in shared governance, but I believe it can take many different forms,” said Birnbaum, who is professor emeritus at the University of Maryland.

“The essence of it is that not much happens in a major university unless representative faculty are involved in the decision making,” he said. “That doesn’t mean administrators can’t ultimately make the decisions, but they would usually do it with faculty advice and consultation, and only in unusual circumstances would they take an action of which the faculty would not be likely to approve.”

Birnbaum said that although he respects much of the work of the AAUP, he thinks their definitions of shared governance tend to be narrow. “While I think their expectations are reasonable for some kinds of institutions, they are probably not reasonable for others.”

The example of Duke University was brought up by Baylor faculty member Tatum, who earned his PhD there. Duke provost Dr. Peter Lange referred to that university’s system as “faculty” governance, and he said that the provost makes the call on tenure, based on faculty recommendations. “I make the decisions,” he said. “Then there is final approval by the board.”

Duke has a committee similar to Baylor’s tenure committee, and Lange said there is a separate appeals process to a faculty committee, and the appeal can be initiated either by candidates or by departments. He said that tenure candidates know at what level they have been turned down. “They know whether I was advised positively, negatively, or inconclusively by the committee,” he said.

Duke operates under the “Christie Rule,” he said. According to information on Duke’s website, that rule is as follows: “except in emergencies, all major decisions and plans of the administration that significantly affect academic affairs should be submit-ted to the Academic Council for an expression of views prior to implementation or submission to the Board of Trustees. The views expressed by the Academic Council should be transmitted, along with the Administration’s proposals, to the Board of Trustees when these plans and decisions are considered by the Board of Trustees.” The Academic Council is a group similar to Baylor’s Faculty Senate.

“Basically, almost all major matters that go to the board for approval have to go to the Academic Council,” Lange said. “That doesn’t mean they vote on all of them or that they have a binding vote on all of them, but they have significant input.”

At Duke, the provost said, “There is a shared culture of very high achievement aspirations, and there’s a lot of mutual respect. As a result, the process works pretty well. We in administration consider it an enormous asset that we have such a good system of faculty governance.” Birnbaum said that some level of secrecy, such as is practiced at Duke, is common in the tenure process. “You do want people to be able to make judgments honestly and openly within their committee structures,” he said. “But I don’t see any reason why, as things move along, the votes—not the people who voted—couldn’t be recorded and communicated.”

He noted, “It all depends on what the academic community is used to and accepts. It seems to me that faculty, by their nature, have to be participants in some way in making decisions about institutions. The degree to which they get involved very much depends on the nature of the institution and its history and traditions.”

While Birnbaum noted that he is unfamiliar with Baylor’s practices of shared governance and its history, Dr. Dianna Vitanza ’65, interim chair of the English department and immediate past president of the Faculty Senate, is pretty well versed in Baylor his-tory. “We have a history of a more top-down culture than a state institution,’ she said. “Partly that is the result of administrative commitments to protect our religious heritage. The president and the provost feel a heavy responsibility to make sure we don’t become a secular institution, and I think that accounts for the approach sometimes. I’d like to see more trust put in the faculty, but I believe there’s a legitimate concern there.”

Dr. Stanley Fish, the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and professor of law at Florida International University, is an outspoken national figure on the topic of higher education, and he often addresses educational issues in his weekly column in the New York Times. He has served as a professor of English, political science, criminal justice, and law and as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said the idea of administrators’ giving “deference” to faculty opinions is “nonsense.” He told the Line, “You’re running an organization, not a therapy group or a politically inspired operation. You have an organization like any other—a business or corporation—which has goals and which has the responsibility for making things run smoothly. The form of governance that you use should be adjusted to the particular situation of the university. Shared governance is a political idea and not an educational one.”

If “deference” means that the opinion of the departmental faculty should be taken seriously regarding tenure decisions, Fish said he would agree. “But if it means that the opinion of the departmental faculty should be conclusive, I would certainly dis-agree with that,” he said. “You may—as a dean, provost, or president—decide that the department made a mistake. This is not a decision that should be made lightly or even regularly. But when I was a dean, I overruled departments [on tenure] if I thought the candidate they were putting forward was not up to the standards of the university. It was my job as dean to determine that.”

Fish said his main disagreement with the common arguments of faculty advocates is that they believe it is a political question and not an educational one.

“Shared governance—the idea that everything that happens at a university should, in fact, only be done with faculty approval—ignores the fact, for example, that faculty members are employees,” he said. “There is a management class, and faculty are the labor class. That does not mean they are without rights, but it does mean that the responsibility for making final decisions on a great many matters does not rest with them.”

Fish continued, “Generally the management of the classroom experience belongs to the faculty, but there’s no reason why the management of other kinds of decisions should belong to the faculty.”

While serving in an administrative post, Fish said, he learned that communication might be the most important aspect of the job. “I think administrations which leave faculty members in the dark about what’s going on are looking for trouble,” he said. “That’s when faculty members become discontent and suspicious.”

Birnbaum, of the University of Maryland, said that when the faculty do become unhappy about something, the administration should address it. “If you have a large number of faculty members who are distressed about something that’s going on, I think it’s the institution’s responsibility to address it—one way or another,” he said.

Season of discontent?

Whether there is a sense of discontent or distress among Baylor’s faculty is a matter subject to varying opinion. Tatum and Cordon, along with other faculty members who declined to be quoted, think that there is. Faculty members who spoke out at the “State of the University” meeting in April openly expressed discontent, as did the Faculty Senate as a group.

Cordon said that people were upset about issues such as the pol-icy on departmental chair selection and the change in promotions standards, but that the tenure denials brought that discontent to the forefront. He said that the Faculty Senate went public with its resolution on that topic due to a lack of response from the administration on other matters. “Our reaction to the tenure policy was largely affected by the problems we had with the promotion pol-icy,” he said. “This is a very unfortunate mess that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

Other faculty members disagree. Dr. Dorothy Leidner, a professor of information systems in the Hankamer School of Business, wrote a letter to the Waco Tribune-Herald, saying, “Many of us admire the bold decisions taken by President John Tilley and Provost Randall O’Brien. We understand that there are many points of influence in complex decisions, such as relate to tenure.” She was disturbed by the Faculty Senate’s resolution, she told the Line, and the fact that it wasn’t communicated to the faculty before it appeared in the news-paper. “Where is the shared governance there?” she asked.

Leidner said that if there’s a general dissatisfaction among faculty members, she’s unaware of it. “There are so many decisions that have to be made in a large university, and faculty, as a group, cannot come to unanimous terms on just about anything. So you’re always going to be left with an issue that has to go one way or another,” she said. “There will always be people who are going to be upset, but that doesn’t mean it’s a violation of shared governance. My husband and I own a company, and ultimately he’s running it so he’s got to take responsibility for the decisions. Some people may not always be happy, but you have to have strong people at the top who are convicted of what they are doing. They need to listen to various points of input, and I’ve felt at Baylor that they do.”

Dr. Barry Harvey, who is a professor of theology in the Honors College, said that the very best procedures in the world will not prevent things from going astray sometimes, “because human beings are involved.” Harvey was on the University Tenure Committee for three years, but was not on it this past academic year.

“In general, if every part of the process has worked well and good judgments have been made all along the way, the fact of the matter was, in my experience, the administration did not overturn the judgment of the faculty except on very rare occasions,” he said. “I would hesitate to affirm some kind of blanket or rigid idea, from one side or the other, that faculty judgments are always right and should be accepted by the administration, or that when administrators say we should jump, we just ask, ‘How high, sir?'”

Harvey added, “I’m afraid some of my colleagues see shared governance as a way of saying, don’t like what the university is doing, so I’m going to do something different,’ instead of engaging in dialogue and questioning and see what ways we can move forward together.”

Harvey acknowledged that he voted in favor of the Faculty Sen-ate resolution, because of the jump in the denial rate, which he said was 10 to 13 percent during his three years on the tenure committee, versus the 40 percent initial denial rate this past year. “I didn’t know the specifics of the cases other than some of the ones in my department—we had three go up for tenure. I just had a concern about the numbers, and my concerns were intensified by discussions both formal and informal around campus.”

Having served on the tenure committee, he said, he’s aware there can be many issues and that human nature can derail otherwise intelligent decision-making. But, he cautioned, “Any time you start defining your relationship as a battle, the university loses in the end. Sometimes you have to draw a line, but you can’t go to that place too fast.”

Cordon said that during his year as Faculty Senate chair he has often felt that conversations between the faculty and administration reached an impasse. “I’m not saying we won’t have differences of opinion,” he said. “But I’m saying if we have strong opposition—and I’m talking about unanimous rejection of something—how loudly do we need to object before they will change their minds? That is a big difference.”

Lilley said he would not presume to render an opinion on whether or not the faculty were discontent. “I know that some are concerned, but I will say that I have heard from a number of faculty members who believe that the university must take a hard look at how we do business, and they are pleased that we are doing so.”

In a sentiment he has expressed often since his arrival at Baylor, Lilley said, “We should always examine what we are doing and think about how we might do it better. We should never be satisfied with where we are or accept just what is ‘good enough.’ That isn’t in the best interest of Baylor.”

He said there is “a lot of good news at Baylor” and that the university is progressing toward the Baylor 2012 vision of being a top-tier Christian university, although he acknowledged that “trans-forming Baylor in this way is a twenty- to thirty-year process.” He also said that Baylor’s academic programs are increasing in prestige, the 2008 freshman class will be large, and Baylor is on sound financial footing. “However,” he said, “I acknowledge that this is a time of transition for Baylor as we work to achieve the ambitious goals of our mission and vision. I will continue to communicate regularly with the faculty and to involve them in appropriate ways in university decisions.”

 

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