Wednesday, May 8, 2013

D.A.C. R.I.P.

by Robert Garland

I’m sure it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that what we voted for at the last Faculty Meeting – rather too expeditiously for my liking – was the abolition of the Dean’s Advisory Council as we have come to know and love that esteemed body.  The fate of the D.A.C. wasn’t, of course, on the agenda of that meeting. And perhaps its demise will go largely unmourned. But there is no escaping the fact that the decision to strip it of its primary and essential function of determining who and who should not be awarded continuous lifetime tenure at Colgate University has the consequence of reducing it to an essentially pro forma body, viz. corpse, of little significance.  The objection to it in its present instantiation is, of course, that it is an appointed committee that does not represent the will of the faculty. It’s true that it is appointed, but its members are appointed after nomination by and consultation with as many faculty within the division as wish to nominate and be consulted, or at least that has always been my experience, and that, as Robert Frost once memorably stated, made all the difference. Will I end up voting for someone in another division to be on the new P. and T. solely because I can put a face to a name? So how should we in the weeks ahead appropriately and efficiently do the homework that used to be the laborious and time-consuming task of the Dean in identifying the best candidates for the job?

As a past serving member of the D.A.C., I obviously have a vested interest in touting the virtues of the old system. I hate to sound self-serving but I am intensely proud to have served on that committee, which taught me so much about the university, about my colleagues, and about myself. I can truthfully state that no body, whether elected or appointed or indeed lighted upon by sortition (the Athenian way!) could have tried harder to ‘do the right thing’. And the fact of the matter is that it is often impossible to do the right thing when individual careers and lives are pitted against the long term welfare and reputation of the university. Under any imaginable system mistakes will be made. Casting one’s vote on whether to award tenure is like playing God while looking down the wrong end of the telescope with an acute case of astigmatism. Is there perchance an unspoken consensus that we should be tenuring a larger percentage of the faculty than we are at present and that somehow the new system with its much-touted transparency will bring that about? I hope not though I fear yes. I take pride (again) in Colgate being the place it is today. The new system will certainly bring about more delays, more lawsuits, and more enduring rancor.

But enough of my own rancorous observations. We’ve taken the decision to set out on that new road and we’re set off and it’s that new road that I want to talk about finally here. As it currently exists, the D.A.C. has virtually no control over the purse strings of the university. It does not protect the curriculum. It is solely because the Division Directors are empowered with the heavy charge of determining who and who will not do be given a job for life at Colgate that they sit on the D.A.C. with a modest degree of clout, both vis-à-vis the Dean and vis-à-vis their colleagues in their divisions. And they need clout because they are the faculty’s buffer, participating in university administration at a high level. while remaining indisputably teaching members of that faculty. Though their votes on tenure decisions don’t or rather didn’t translate into real power, it gave them a degree of oversight in their divisions that made the job eminently worthwhile. It made them accountable as administrators, and at times, too, when the situation called for it, it made them outspoken.

In short I am concerned about the effects of the new system for the governance system of the university. Far from enhancing the faculty’s representativeness at the highest level, I am concerned that we may have collectively undermined it. In sum, I urge the faculty to be alert to the implications of their vote. As a born contrarian who takes a long view of history, I look forward keenly to being proven completely wrong.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

One of the ironies of the new P&T system is that each Divisional representative will be selected by an electorate for which the majority of voters are outside the Division. Perhaps this will not be a significant issue, but the system is not optimally designed to assure that candidates from each division--each of which has its own peculiar scholarship and teaching cultures--will be well-represented by individuals trusted to be the most knowledgeable about these issues. Time will tell...