Winthrop president backs staff assembly

12/04/2013 8:09 PM

07/05/2014 7:52 PM

Non-teaching employees at Winthrop University could soon have a new work organization that the school’s president says will bolster her goals of shared campus governance and transparency.

Winthrop President Jayne Marie Comstock is throwing her support behind the creation of a staff assembly – a group that would organize many campus employees and allow them to have a collective voice to university leaders.

It’s expected that, if approved, the staff assembly would be similar to Winthrop’s faculty conference, which meets regularly to discuss a range of issues, including academic affairs and student activities.

Winthrop is collecting staff members’ opinions about an assembly through an online survey.

At a university Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, Comstock reported that the survey has had strong participation and staff members seem to be enthusiastic about a new organization.

Comstock also mentioned that trustees could discuss and decide whether a future staff assembly should be able to designate one representative to meet regularly with them. Similarly, the faculty conference has an elected representative to the trustees board.

Kathy Bigham, board chairwoman, said Wednesday that the staff assembly appears to be a good thing, if employees want it.

The board did not vote on the matter.

Faculty seek appeals process

Comstock also updated board members on a recent faculty conference action that seeks to reinstate an administrative appeals process for professors.

Late last month, about 100 members of Winthrop’s faculty conference voted to change the group’s bylaws to include the ability to formally oppose decisions made by the university president.

The faculty conference can vote on matters, which are sent to the president for approval. If the president disagrees with the majority of faculty, the faculty conference does not have a formal way to appeal the president’s final decision.

Faculty members once had the ability to appeal before the trustees removed that process in 2009.

If trustees make a change to their bylaws to reflect the faculty’s recent bylaws change, the appeals process would be reinstated.

Previously, the faculty conference could appeal if two-thirds of the voting faculty chose to ask the trustees to override the president’s decision. Trustees also had the option to side with the president or offer suggestions to find compromise.

On Wednesday, Comstock said she supports bringing back the faculty’s appeals process because it supports her aim to be transparent and reassure the campus that she’s willing to engage stakeholders in the decision-making process.

Allowing faculty the option to appeal presidential decisions “doesn’t concern me at all,” she said. “I think it would be rarely used.”

Many longtime professors at Winthrop have said they can only remember the faculty conference appealing a presidential decision one time in the past 20 years.

If trustees choose to bring back the appeals option, Comstock said, there’s a chance faculty members may want to test the process.

And, she said, “that’s OK with me.”

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