The drawn-out debate over recently created faculty-conduct standards and draft procedures may soon turn into tangible action as a Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate report spurs the administration to consider charging a new committee to re-examine the policies.
The conduct standards and draft procedures have been a major source of discussion among FAS professors, raising concerns about issues of faculty governance and administrative overreach, since an administratively appointed committee released a draft of the standards for faculty feedback in February 2015. Despite significant faculty pushback, the standards were formalized in the Faculty Handbook at the start of the current academic year. The senate released a report last week to the FAS, reaffirming its concerns and calling for a new ad hoc committee to re-examine various aspects of both the standards and the procedures by which alleged misconduct would be judged. While administrators said discussions are still ongoing, senate members interviewed expressed confidence that a new committee will be charged, per the report’s recommendation.
“We have met with [University President Peter Salovey] and [FAS Dean Tamar Gendler] together to talk about the report. Our understanding is that a new committee will be appointed to think about the procedures and standards,” Senate Chair and History Director of Undergraduate Studies Beverly Gage said.
The report, which synthesizes faculty opinions previously submitted online or shared at town hall meetings, reiterates the senate’s stance that the current conduct standards and the draft procedures are unacceptable. Religious Studies Chair Kathryn Lofton, one of the lead authors of the report, said the standards are vaguely worded and that examples of misconduct used in the description are “disparate and odd.” She added that the draft procedures need serious revisions.
“Despite the admirable work of the faculty committee that constructed them, the current standards do not yet meet the intellectual or ethical conventions of our community,” the report states. “As a result, they have no legitimacy among the FAS faculty, whose dissatisfaction with them is significant and widespread. Standards for faculty conduct have no value if they do not reflect faculty consensus about proper conduct.”
The report offers a series of recommendations to reexamine both the standards and procedures. It states that “it is unclear what types of behavior the standards were created to address.”
Lofton, who is involved with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, said the report could be improved by emulating the way sexual misconduct cases are shared with the community. The University releases a Semi-Annual Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct twice each year, detailing specific instances of sexual misconduct complaints without identifying individuals involved. Scenarios and examples of faculty misconduct, Lofton said, could be shared in a similar way.
The report also states that the procedures should place greater emphasis on using “informal mediation of complaints” and recommends that chairs and deans receive additional training and resources to handle informal resolutions.
The report also recommends that the FAS hold a binding vote on the standards and procedures when they have been further re-examined — a recommendation the senate has pushed for consistently. This binding vote, Gage said, remains the “trickiest part” of the discussion. Gendler reiterated her willingness to hold an FAS vote, but Gage noted that since the standards and procedures are currently University-wide, the FAS could vote against the conduct standards but still potentially be subject to the policies if other schools’ faculty bodies approve them.
“There is no resolution to that fundamental question yet,” Gage said.
Lofton said one possible system would include a broad University-wide set of standards, complemented with local, school-specific adjudication procedures for each of the University’s teaching units.
It is unclear whether the administration will accept these specific recommendations, but the report has sparked further discussions among administrators.
Polak said he has received the report and discussed it with Gendler.
“I am considering the next steps, and will be consulting with the deans of the other schools,” he said.
The FAS Senate was established in December 2013.