Winthrop board looking ‘favorably’ at reinstating faculty appeal

adouglas@heraldonline.comNovember 28, 2013 

About 100 Winthrop University faculty members voted this month in support of bringing back an administrative appeals process that some say ensures shared governance on campus and instills trust between professors and the school’s top decision-makers.

The vote seeks to change a section of bylaws that spells out how faculty members can formally voice opposition to decisions made by Winthrop’s president.

Winthrop President Jayne Marie Comstock – who has said she supports reinstating the faculty’s ability to appeal – has the authority to approve the faculty’s recent bylaws change.

With her approval, the faculty’s recent vote will need a response from the Winthrop’s Board of Trustees.

Trustees removed the faculty’s appeals process in 2009. Since then, faculty members have only been able to appeal presidential decisions related to tenure and promotion.

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.

Before 2009, the formal appeals process was used just once in more than two decades. Some faculty members remember appealing in 1996 a presidential decision related to Winthrop’s email policy.

A decision from the trustees on whether they’ll reinstate the appeals process is likely to happen by March.

By itself, the faculty’s power to appeal presidential decisions probably won’t bring big changes to campus, said English professor John Bird. But having Comstock back the faculty’s desire to reinstate the appeals process has a positive impact on transparency and trust on campus, he said.

“It shows that President Comstock recognizes the importance of shared governance and the faculty voice,” said Bird, the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees.

Issues such as trust, transparency and faculty morale can have an influence on Winthrop’s ability to retain qualified professors, he said.

An overall sense of openness and trust – which having an appeals process could bolster – between faculty members and administrators on campus is a good thing, Bird said.

Kathy Bigham, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, agrees. She and other trustees want faculty members to feel comfortable with administrative decisions, she said.

“The faculty feels it’s important that there is some sort of due process for them in the event that there is major conflict,” Bigham said.

The board recognizes that faculty morale and happiness can affect retention and Winthrop’s mission to provide a quality education for students, Bigham said.

Knowing that faculty members want the appeals process back, she said, it seems likely that trustees will approve changing their own bylaws to match the faculty’s bylaws change.

With Comstock’s expressed support of reinstating the faculty’s appeals ability, Bigham said, many board members seem to have “received favorably” the faculty’s request.

While the board has not yet held major discussion about it, she said, she’s heard no push back in individual conversations with trustees.

Many faculty members have said they expect that they’d rarely use the appeals ability to oppose Winthrop’s president.

Winthrop’s trustees could consider reinstating the appeals process during their annual retreat in February, Bigham said, when they are expected to review all of the board’s bylaws and other changes might be suggested.

Because Winthrop has gained a new seat on its Board of Trustees and has a new president, Bigham said, it makes sense that trustees take time early next year to look at the board’s bylaws – including the faculty’s appeals process request.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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