The resurrection of the faculty appeals process at Winthrop University would be a positive development – especially since Winthrop President Jayne Marie Comstock reportedly welcomes the idea.
The university’s faculty members lost the privilege of appealing administrative decisions to the school’s Board of Trustees in 2009. That year, the board’s bylaws were changed so that Winthrop’s preisdent – Anthony DiGiorgio at the time – would have primary control over college operations and presidential decisions could not be appealed to the board.
Faculty members had no choice but to change the bylaws of the faculty conference – their legislative body for academic affairs – to mirror those of the baord. And while they still were permitted to appeal some employment decisions related to tenure and promotion, they couldn’t formally petition the board regarding decisions by the president.
The faculty’s legislative conference is scheduled to vote on reinstating the appeals process on Nov. 22. Support for the measure among faculty members appears high.
Board members say they won’t consider any changes in their bylaws until at least December. The board might appoint a subcommittee to deal exclusively with the issue of bylaw changes.
While many faculty members support reinstating the appeals process, it’s not as if appeals were common when they were allowed in the past. English professor John Bird, the faculty’s elected representative on the board, said he knows of only one time an appeal was lodged.
It involved a 1996 disagreement about the university’s email policy.
But despite the rarity of appeals, giving the faculty a direct line to the board to question presidential actions strikes us as essential to maintaining a healthy balance of power on campus. It also allows a conduit for free expression on the part of the faculty as a group.
The appeals process might never be used for anything more significant than complaining about email policies. But, as some professors noted, taking away the privilege to appeal had a chilling effect.
Likewise, knowing that an appeal is a possibility could force presidents to think twice before ignoring the views of the faculty. The process permits all sides to have a voice.
Bird said he has consulted with Comstock about reinstating the appeals process, and said she supports the idea. That is gratifying; it indicates a willingness on her part to consider the opinions of faculty members and not to try to stifle them.
Again, if past history is any indication, appeals will be rare. But reinstating the process would help promote a continuing dialogue between faculty and the president, and ensure that faculty members will have the ability to express themselves – including disagreeing with the administration – when they think it’s necessary.