Friday, October 21, 2016

Faculty Governance (Capture) or Student Welfare

[At my school there is an interesting dialogue about faculty governance. It includes many issues: Do we have faculty governance? Have we ever had it? If we had it, did it serve the interests of students] There were a number of exchanges and, with permission, I am uploading this one by an anonymous faculty member.]

As you can see from the various mailings, I am at odds on the faculty governance issue with
 Linda, Jake, and, I expect, a majority of the rest of the faculty. Linda and Jake are two of the
 people on the faculty I respect the most and so I believe this really is a disagreement about 
principle and not anyone’s pet project.

The heart of the argument by Jake and Linda at one level is that faculty governance works 
and has worked well in the past. At another level I read their argument to be that faculty 
governance is an end in itself that must be protected even if we do not like the outcome. 
For example, we would not end our democracy even if Trump were elected. (OK, actually
 I would.)

My view is quite different and it is that type of governance that best advances the goals 
of the law school – which I take to be the welfare of students and other shareholders but 
not faculty except as a means to an end –is the one to adopt. And that might change
 depending on the dean and the ability of the faculty to internalize the goals of the 
institution. This disagreement is about as fundamental as it gets.

I firmly believe faculty governance at the law school has failed as a means of improving
 the lives of students and stakeholders as much as possible. Probably the turning point
 on this for me came 12 years ago. Jon, in his last year, I think, appointed a programs 
review committee. During deliberations I heard from more than one person on the
 committee that some proponents of various programs, centers, etc., would not 
cooperate in presenting full information about their programs. The committee spent
 a year or longer reviewing every program except I think CGR and Tax that
 were off-limits. Bob then stepped into the deanship and the hard work of the
 committee came to naught.  It is possible that one of the numerous programs was 
eliminated and it was no coincidence that it had but one proponent. When Bob pulled 
the plug on the programs review it was clearly an instance of faculty governance. 
Since then I do not have enough fingers and toes (and I have all of them) to count 
the number of times in casual conversation a program, speaker series, center,
 concentration, course has come up and the second line of discussion, after the issue
 is broached, is “but Jack, Jane, Stu, Bill, Cosmo, will be unhappy.” That has become
 our form of faculty governance – if enough well-like peopled will be upset, we do 
not do it.  Rarely do I hear discussions that focus on what is best for others.  
 For faculty governance to work faculty have to  internalize the goals of the institution over self interest. I believe a majority of faculty here do this. They are actually able to vote in a counter-preferential way for something that may make them personally worse off. A critical mass though, does not do that. Instead the question is how does this affect me, will my center be eliminated, will I still get to teach my pet course, can I still select my speakers, will I still be able to spend summers of Vermont, will I still have the title of director, will this encroach on my research time, will I have to grade even more papers, will I have class more than 3 days a week, etc. I do not know what size that group needs to be to distort the process but I believe we exceed it. And with our history of door-to-door gossip, exaggerations, and egging each other on, that group has disproportionate power. I cannot identify the group because it can shift and likely includes me at times. It is difficult to escape the powerful influence of self-interest.

To me, working faculty governance means adopting a veil of ignorance perspective in a Rawlsian sense. As you know, behind the veil you do not know how the decision will affect you personally. Behind our veil we would only know one thing – our decisions can positively or negatively affect students and stakeholders. And, I would add we should assume that all those stakeholders are our children or loved ones for whom we want the best possible outcome.

In any case, would anyone in his or her right mind allow a group dominated by over-affirmed, elitist, children of privilege to govern anything that touched on the lives of real working people without some assurance that their values were aligned with those most directly affected?  


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