From The Faculty Chair
Preliminary Position of the Faculty Policy Committee on Faculty Governance
Last spring, the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) started to codify some concrete ideas to improve faculty governance. Nobody considers the system as broken, but the Committee feels that improvements are possible, and indeed necessary, to facilitate two-way communications between the faculty and our administrative leaders; to strengthen the input of the faculty as a whole on important policy and strategic decisions; to render the committee structure more streamlined and efficient; to make faculty meetings more relevant and better attended; and to provide the officers with the tools to represent the faculty appropriately. FPC's discussions are guided by a series of principles, to be respected as ideas for changes emerge. These principles are:
The following concepts have remained as possible propositions for experimentation or implementation. Faculty governance is discussed in terms of three elements: the officers of the faculty, the faculty meetings, and the committee structure.
The Faculty Policy Committee wants your input and suggestions. The FPC is also requesting the comments of President Vest and President-elect Hockfield, as well as other colleagues in administration.
Once all comments are received, we hope to formulate a proposal that will be discussed with Academic Council and then in a faculty meeting. Hopefully this process will lead to improvements in governance to be implemented in the near future.
Officers of the Faculty
The Officers of the Faculty should work as a team. Each should have well defined roles, yet it should be recognized that their most important activity is to be stewards of the policies, regulations, environment, and processes that make the faculty the ultimate body directing the educational and research enterprise of the Institute. The officers, and particularly the Chair of the Faculty because of her/his participation in key committees, have the responsibility to represent the interests of the faculty.
Office of the Chair of the Faculty
The Officers of the Faculty should have a permanent and visible locale well known to the MIT Community, particularly the faculty. This area should:
The "administrator" should be a full-time individual responding to the Officers and with the Chair as direct supervisor. The role of the administrator should include:
The Office of the Chair of the Faculty should have an annual budget for operations, with the Chair as the responsible supervisor of its use. It is important to note that FPC is not suggesting that the Chair of the Faculty be physically at the Office of the Chair of the Faculty. In fact, the opinion is that the Chair should physically remain at their normal office location.
Duties of the Officers
Chair of the Faculty
The term of the Chair of the Faculty should be three years; it is currently two years. Any changes in term will not apply to the present officers of the faculty. Duties should include:
The Associate Chair should serve the same term as the Chair. Duties should include:
The Chair-Elect should be a full-fledged member of the Faculty Officers and participate in their work during the year-in-transition. The Chair-Elect should become a guest of the Faculty Policy Committee.
The Secretary should serve the same term as the other officers. Roles should include:
The Faculty Policy Committee sees the faculty meeting as an instrument to promote debate, influence policy and provide the faculty with ownership of major decisions affecting the educational and/or research enterprise of the Institute. Historically, faculty meetings are poorly attended, except on rare occasions. There are several (negative) reasons for the poor attendance. First, there are issues of form and structure that discourage attendance and do not promote a sense of ownership and open discussion by the faculty. Second, there is a feeling that all decisions are already made and the meeting is a "rubber stamping" exercise. Third, there is a sense that the issues brought to the meeting are at best unimportant. A fourth (and positive) explanation for the lack of attendance and participation, is that the faculty trusts the committee structure and the administration to make the right decisions.
FPC has compiled the following list of possible changes. Several of these can be implemented as experiments without changes to the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty . For example, under present regulations, it is possible for the President to cede the chairing of the meeting to the Chair of the Faculty. As stated earlier, many of the suggested changes are only structural.
The committees of the faculty are the key to good governance.
Overall the committee structure works well. Improvement is needed in:
In thinking of the committee structure, it is important to keep in mind that, in our system, the faculty meeting is a committee of the whole.
Definition of Committees
The standing committees are: Academic Performance, Curricula, Discipline, Faculty Administration, Graduate School Programs, Library, Nominations, Outside Professional Activities, Student Life, Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, and Undergraduate Programs. In addition, there is a Communications Requirement Subcommittee of the Committee on Undergraduate Programs, Edgerton Faculty Achievement Selection Committee, and the Killian Award Selection Committee.
Most committees work well and have full agendas. Nevertheless, it is necessary to review the charge of all committees, their relevance and composition relative to their tasks.
At least two committees – Outside Professional Activities and Faculty Administration – are currently defined in ways that limit their potential.
As a way to improve communications, all standing committees should have a representative from the Faculty Policy Committee. All committees should report to the Faculty Policy Committee on an annual basis, via short written or oral reports, as necessary. In some cases, reports to the faculty at large may be necessary (as is already the case with the Committee on Discipline). Committee chairs should meet with the Faculty Policy Committee and the Faculty Officers twice a year. All meetings of committees should be recorded in minutes and they should all be archived. The minutes should be shared with the Faculty Officers.
The mandate of the Committee on Administration should be clarified and the membership redefined; the same applies to the Committee on Outside Professional Activities. An outcome may be that the existing functions of these committees could be folded into other existing or new standing committees.
The Committee on Graduate School Programs should parallel the CUP/CoC, possibly splitting into two functions, policy and curricula, and include a faculty member as chair, with the Dean of Graduate Students as an ex officio member, as is the case with undergraduate committees.
The outgoing Chair of the Faculty should name the membership of the Nominations Committee. Nominations to committees and to the Chair of the Faculty should be requested from the faculty. The Chair should appoint the Associate Chair of the Faculty and the Secretary.
The membership of the Faculty Policy Committee should increase to include more faculty members. The Secretary of the Faculty should be a voting member.
A clear process should be in place for periodic review of standing committees, and a process to add or eliminate committees. Monitoring the "health" of committees could be a role for the Chair-Elect during her/his year-in-training, so a review would occur at least every three years.
All ad hoc committees of the President, Provost, or Chancellor should be discussed with the Faculty Policy Committee to make sure that the role of standing committees is considered and membership discussed.
New standing committees may be necessary on:
MIT operates better than most other academic institutions. Its system of governance allows for a speedy decision making process; it aims to be conclusive; it is not caught in political intrigues; and most importantly, has avoided the "them versus us" syndrome between the administration and the faculty. After all, the academic administration is composed of faculty. All of the above are characteristics that we must preserve. Nevertheless, the system must evolve and adjust to the times. If the faculty is to retain the responsibility of the academic well being of the Institute, then it must become more involved and the system of governance should encourage and facilitate that involvement (see "Improving our System of Faculty Governance," MIT Faculty Newsletter , Vol. XVI No. 4, February/March 2004).
The suggestions made in this document are made in the spirit of the above paragraph, and evolve from discussions in the Faculty Policy Committee. MIT is never afraid of change and always ready to improve. FPC is eager to experiment in the search for improvement in governance. Please share your opinion with us. You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org or participate in discussion through the Faculty Governance on-line Discussion Board.