Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Rebirth of Colgate's AAUP Chapter

Chris Vecsey
Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of the Humanities,
Native American Studies, and Religion

Over the past two months I have met, as AAUP representative, with Colgate faculty from almost every academic department, in order to assess issues, hopes, values, and concerns.  My goal has been to make our local AAUP chapter as responsive to our faculty’s interests as possible.  I have not met with every faculty member.  Anyone, or any group, wishing to meet with me, please e-mail me:  I promised each department that I would publish an abstracted summary of my findings.  Here it is.

Colgate faculty are not always of one mind, nor would we want to be.  Nonetheless, several patterns of viewpoint are salient.


The predominant issue concerning our faculty is Governance.  Since its inception in 1915 AAUP has sought to ensure “meaningful faculty participation in institutional governance” (AAUP Policy Documents & Reports 2006:  133; see the AAUP website:  Here at Colgate our faculty members are concerned that we are losing our rightful control over curricular matters and our consultative powers in other realms, such as strategic plans, building projects, cost outlays, admission policies, commencement speakers (this year’s, in particular), etc.   Our governance structure needs reform and streamlining, surely, but more importantly, I hear, democratic principles and elected offices are currently undermined by administrative appointments and initiatives.

Our faculty perceive in “administrative encroachment” a “creeping, now galloping, corporatism” at Colgate, in which faculty are subjected to “infomercials from top corporate brass,” and are expected to “shut up and get in line.”  These days, it is said, “corporate rhetoric  --  ‘the new business model’  --  is naturalized” here, and at other colleges and universities, even though a “business model is incompatible with higher education.”  More than one colleague remarks, “The administration doesn’t care” what faculty think at Colgate about the present or what they hope for the future.  To be elected to a committee, or to be appointed to a position of trust, to serve faithfully, and to have one’s recommendations unheeded, is discouraging, at the least.

Partly the concern is over “shifting institutional cultural values,” in which the “university” becomes a “company,” and partly over the person of the President, perceived as “unresponsive” to faculty perspectives.  Rather than paying heed to faculty views, it is said, he sets up his own task forces, staffed by his own appointees, in order to promote his own agenda, which serves his own ambitions rather than the established mission of the university.  There is a sense that financial decisions are made without academic considerations being paramount, and without “consultation” or “transparency.”  “The mission of the university,” one faculty member said, “is the academic enterprise, but it doesn’t seem that way these days.”  Instead, administrative interest seems to be in “public relations,” “branding” exercises, “consumer-driven” projects, and website “manipulation,” largely without expert faculty input.

The President, some faculty say, has failed to serve as bulwark between trustees and faculty.  Other faculty, it should be said, wish for greater collaboration between faculty and the Board of Trustees as part of shared Governance.  One idea is for a faculty member to be elected to the Board, in order to participate in its deliberations.

Not all blame one particular high administrator.  Communication between faculty members and administrators has “deteriorated” over the past decade.  Department chairs would like to see greater “equity” when the Dean of Faculty apportions incremental lines or load reductions.  In general, it is said, there is “too much bureaucracy,” an “explosion of administrators.”  A growing bureaucracy makes itself felt at faculty meetings, “usurping the authority” of the faculty and its elected faculty committees.

I have heard it said that CORE, UNST, and the inter-disciplined curriculum in general have been a source of vitality, ferment, civil discourse, and social union at Colgate for many decades.  Control over that curriculum has been crucial to faculty governance, indeed to the life of this institution.  “Administrative encroachment” endangers our body politic, as well as our academic mission.

Many faculty see the need for an “alternative, oppositional voice” at faculty meetings. A senior colleague avows, “We are the faculty and should start acting like one.”  The implication is that  --  at present  --  we are not acting like  responsible faculty.

Some faculty speak of a “culture of fear,” not only among untenured and contingent teachers, for whom existence is “increasingly unsafe,” but among the faculty at large.  Department heads are afraid to speak honestly, so as “not to lose something” to budget freezes, like a faculty line or a Study Group, as funds tilt toward the latest thing.  In a “divided” atmosphere, where it is sometimes said that we are “turning on each other,” senior members are “marginalized,” “demoralized,” and “alienated” to such a degree that they “gave up” and now refuse to attend faculty meetings or serve on elected committees.  As one senior colleague proclaims, the “old folks,” the “fearless faculty,” have the duty to voice their views in public, not in order to rule over young colleagues, but rather to achieve solidarity with them.  

Some faculty feel that the FAC needs to have a more faculty-sensitive voice.  As it plans the monthly faculty meetings, it should be asking more faculty groups  --  and fewer administrators  --  to initiate discussions of faculty interest.

There is “suspicion” about the formation of presidential and dean of faculty working groups that will have substantial impact on Colgate’s curriculum for years to come.  Whereas faculty appreciate the hard labor that their colleagues have given on behalf of the President’s stratagems, there are questions about democratic process, elections, and leadership for the future.  Others question the content of some schema, like Globalization, which seems more like an “unexamined trend” than a curricular truism for the future.  Much like the many Institutes of the previous presidential administration, some faculty say, Globalization may prove to be a way of squandering resources and debilitating already successful curricular programs.

One faculty member sees a “Pandora’s Box of Democracy” in regard to the presidential working groups.  Perhaps some faculty do not want change of any kind.  Perhaps it takes “top down, take charge” entrepreneurship to spark change.  On the other hand, another faculty member replies, administrators should support what the faculty have already created, rather than encumbering existent structures with extraneous, competing innovation.

Some faculty say that the search for the next Colgate President (and Dean of Faculty) must have greater elected faculty input, with a renewal of AAUP’s role in the entire process on campus.  I have heard it said that the use of search firms has tended, over the past decade, to “close faculty out” of decision-making in these important decisions.  Faculty need to regain their prerogatives in the selection, evaluation, and retention of administrators, producing in the long run a greater sense of “accountability” when administrators make policies and decisions.

Work Load

Although Governance is the primary concern of most faculty who spoke with me, there is a common call, perhaps even a drum roll, for decreased teaching assignments, a move over time to a four-course teaching load, or a nine-course load over two years, in order to improve teaching effectiveness and to provide greater time for scholarly research, creative production, and publication.  It is argued that Colgate’s five-course teaching load makes us less competitive in seeking first-rate scholar-teachers, when compared to the finer liberal arts colleges.

Some faculty posit that a formalized commitment to scholarship, especially for junior faculty who are teaching many courses for the first time, must take the shape of reduced teaching schedules, both during the academic year and in the summer.  Several untenured faculty appreciated the mentorship program provided in recent years and were dismayed to learn that it no longer will include a one-course teaching reduction in the first year of employment.  Older faculty emphasize the payoff for load reductions for senior colleagues who are proven scholars, e.g., those who have distinguished chairs.

Whatever plan is sought, it must achieve fairness to faculty at all levels.  Faculty call for a serious study of the work load issue, to be conducted by the faculty through elected committees. Some faculty, however, regard the four-course load as an unlikely move in the present economic environment, at least not as long as Colgate maintains its commitment to the Core curriculum, which has long been Colgate’s signature program.

Promotion and Tenure

There is both enthusiasm and trepidation regarding the newly enacted Promotion & Tenure Committee procedure.  At the least, it is seen as a faculty-driven initiative that will provide greater “transparency” to the elected faculty committee deliberations.  That committee’s decision-making powers have been solidified by the overwhelming vote in favor of the resolution that will make the P&T’s decisions the abiding rulings, except in rare circumstances.  Still, faculty are unclear about a Grievance Process and the potential for an Ombudsperson, in P&T cases and more generally. There is also uncertainty about the future of SET form revisions.  Finally, there is concern about the future of Division Directors:  what will be their future functions, without their former duties now held by Curriculum and Promotion & Tenure committees?


Some faculty resent the demand  --  “a lot of pressure”  --  for “quantitative” assessment of teaching outcomes, requiring time-consuming procedures that duplicate and denigrate processes (grading, SET forms, self-reports, department meetings, retreats, external reviews of departments, etc.) already in common usage.  The drive for burgeoning assessment responds to needs for accreditation; however, its more fundamental cause is a “’we don’t trust teachers’ attitude” on the part of administrators and the public at large.


In reaction to a recent, rancorous session with a Colgate trustee, faculty are quick to say that we are already savvy in the uses of technology, employing it effectively in ways appropriate to our particular tasks.  The faculty say that we must decide what works and what does not, rather than relying on outsiders brought in by the administration to “hector” and “intrude.”  In determining future uses of technology, e.g., possible mechanisms for on-line education, our faculty want to consult with fellow academics of our own choice, who have done research in this field, with whom we can share constructive ideas, including knowledge of intellectual property and copyrights.

Contingent Faculty

Short-term, part-time, untenurable faculty  --  including in Athletics  --  are concerned about their status, compensation, conditions, and security.  Lab instructors, senior lecturers, post-doctoral fellows, and others outside the tenure stream would like their situations to be more generously considered.

Work-Family Balance

Whereas some faculty call for greater sensitivity to the employment needs of faculty spouses, both at the time of hire and over the years, others worry over “nepotism” as a redundant force at Colgate, from the top down.  Everyone recognizes that recruitment and retention of faculty depends partially on spousal hires.  Some others want to see more attention paid to maternity leaves and childcare facilities.


Resentment over plans for a new hockey rink (with a performing arts facility once again put on the back burner) exacerbates long-held concerns among academic faculty about the looming presence of athletics at Colgate.  Athletic scholarships, conflicts with academic class schedules, the influence of Athletics in Admissions decisions  --  all these weigh heavily among some faculty who otherwise regard Athletics faculty as colleagues, friends, and neighbors.

Greek-letter Organizations

The fear among faculty is that fraternities and sororities are firmly entrenched, made permanent by the previous Colgate President, despite decades of faculty (and more recently, student) opposition.  

Campus Climate Survey

In light of the Campus Climate Survey some faculty wish to enhance the learning and living experiences of diverse students.  They call for need-blind admission, greater funding for O.U.S., a search for greater ethnic and class diversity through Admissions.  They cite the need for a “more visible intellectual life” on campus.


In the past AAUP has promoted faculty Governance by publishing a newsletter of faculty opinions, the Vox Facultatis, and by sponsoring regular “smokers,” which have functioned occasionally as a Faculty Senate.  During this Colgate Spring AAUP is reviving both practices.  Please visit the website, “Colgate AAUP Issues,”  --  --  to be launched by April 1.  Write your own essays.  Comment on others.  On April 11, 2013, at 4:15 in Lawrence 105, AAUP will sponsor a “Real Faculty” meeting (with refreshments), for faculty only.  Its topic will be “Faculty Governance:  What It Was, Is, and Should Be.” 

Let your voice be heard.

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