Winthrop faculty seek appeals process

adouglas@heraldonline.comOctober 11, 2013 

Winthrop University faculty may once again be allowed to appeal administrative decisions to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Many faculty members have said they want the appeals process back because it ensures shared campus governance and gives them a collective voice to Winthrop’s governing body, the board of trustees.

Board members heard from the faculty’s elected leader on Friday afternoon that Winthrop’s faculty conference–its legislative body for certain academic affairs–will vote on the issue on Nov. 22.

About 100 faculty members voted unanimously earlier this month to place the matter on next month’s meeting agenda.

If faculty members approve reinstating the appeals process into their bylaws, they will likely ask the board to amend its bylaws to reflect a similar change.

Board members first removed the faculty’s formal appeals ability in 2009.

The board’s bylaws were changed then to state that Winthrop’s president would have chief responsibility over college operations and that presidential decisions could not be appealed to the board.

Winthrop’s faculty members then had to change the faculty conference’s bylaws to bring its policies in line with the board’s changes.

Faculty members can still appeal some employment decisions related to tenure and promotion, if they believe improper procedure was used.

Some Winthrop professors have said that while it may not have been the board’s intent, eliminating the appeals process has had a chilling effect on faculty involvement.

English professor John Bird, the faculty’s elected representative to the board, said on Friday that he consulted with new Winthrop President Jayne Marie Comstock about reinstating the appeals process.

She supports reinstating the appeals ability, he said, and there’s a great deal of support among faculty to bring it back.

In 2009, many faculty members pointed out that the appeals process was barely used.

It’s rare that the faculty needs to appeal, Bird said, because it’s rare that a president would strike down a faculty conference decision. He says he knows of only one time when faculty members appealed a presidential decision and asked the board of trustees to overrule.

In 1996, the appeals process was used over a disagreement about the university’s email policy, he said.

While an appeals process would likely rarely be used, Bird said, it’s considered a safeguard of the faculty’s ability to express itself and play a role in university decisions.

The previous faculty appeals policy stated that Winthrop’s president had the final say on academic-related decisions voted on by the university’s faculty members. Appeals to the board of trustees were allowed if the faculty conference disagreed with the president’s decision and cast a two-thirds vote in favor of appealing the decision.

On Friday, board of trustees members did not vote on reinstating the appeals process or any other changes to their bylaws. The board may consider the change in December, along with other bylaws amendments, said trustee Bob Thompson.

He also suggested that the board could appoint a subcommittee to deal exclusively with board bylaws.

Bird says discussion of the faculty appeals process was the number one priority for him when he and Comstock met recently.

Comstock–who recently surpassed her 100th day on the job–has also voiced strong support for creating a staff assembly at Winthrop, to provide for more shared governance on campus.

The staff group would likely be similar to Winthrop’s faculty conference group in that it would represent university staff members to other campus bodies and organizations and provide for a collective voice for employees.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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