May 22, 2022
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IC Faculty Council discusses structure of shared governance

At the April 5 Ithaca College Faculty Council meeting, members of the council discussed the structure of shared governance, the college’s bylaws and representation of faculty on the council with Emily Rockett, the college counsel in the Division of Legal Affairs.

While the faculty council makes recommendations to the provost and vice president for Educational Affairs on college policy, the Ithaca College Board of Trustees is the chief legal entity and governing body of the college. This means that amendments to the Ithaca College Policy Manual — including Volume IV, the Faculty Handbook — must go through the board of trustees.

During a discussion of shared governance with Thomas Pfaff, professor and chair in the Department of Mathematics, Pfaff voiced support for a preamble to bylaws that would set an expectation for what shared governance looks like.

“I personally think it’s important for us to state expectations somewhere quasi-official where people can point and say ‘We voted on it and it is what we think of as expectations’ [for shared governance],” Pfaff said.

In recent years, the concept of shared governance has been an important part of discussions about how the college’s administration conducts business with the faculty. In 2021, during the first phase of the Academic Program Prioritization (APP) process — that eliminated 116 full-time equivalent faculty positions — there were calls from members of the campus community for the college to implement meaningful shared governance. These calls continued during the announced creation of a new school — the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, which is part of the second phase of the APP.

Rockett responded to Pfaff by saying there is nothing that would prevent the implementation of a preamble, but the idea would not be an effective method at achieving the goal.

“It’s not prohibited but it does go to the question of what bylaws are for,” Rockett said. “In my opinion, it wouldn’t be effective and it wouldn’t really do anything, but I suppose it’s not prohibited.”

Rockett said if members of the Faculty Council want to change the scope of what shared governance means, that would mean changing the bylaws of the institution. This means a faculty member wishing to change bylaws would have to bring their recommendation to the board of trustees, which can change these laws.

Ellen Staurowsky, professor in the Department of Media Arts, Sciences and Studies, raised concerns to Rockett that this system could create gridlock, because the board of trustees can reject proposals from faculty.

“Our purpose is to try to find better ways to create avenues to communicate in a way that is going to create a healthier institution,” Staurowsky said. “How do we create those avenues that quickly fall under shared governance so that when proposals come forward, they are not automatically rejected?”

Pfaff reinforced Staurowsky’s point by saying the board of trustees can ignore faculty voices by simply refusing to listen to faculty recommendations.

“One of the fundamental problems we have is [that the] administration could ignore our bylaws without any consequences,” Pfaff said. “If they don’t feel like coming to a recommendation, they don’t have to. That’s part of the problem — in some sense, the faculty really don’t have any power here. If the administration wants to ignore bylaws, they can just simply ignore bylaws because there are no consequences.”

Fatima Hajjat, assistant professor in the Department of Marketing, also spoke to Rockett about the representation that the School of Business has on the Faculty Council. The School of Business has two Faculty Council representatives, the Roy H. Park School of Communications has four, the School of Music has five, the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance has six and the School of Humanities and Sciences has 10.

“I’m also a little worried about how little voting power the School of Business has,” Hajjat said. “I can tell you — we have been downsized quite a bit, not by our own means. I still don’t think it’s fair that we have such little voting power. I’m very, very worried that the School of Business is not being represented.”

Steve Gordon, associate professor in the Department of Media Arts, Sciences and Studies, proposed that schools have the same number of representatives on the Faculty Council. 

“We should consider a more senatorial type approach to Faculty Council where there are two members or three members from every school,” Gordon said. “Then it’s obviously equal. It seems like the [United States] Senate is more what we should be like.”