The purpose of faculty meetings?
My enthusiasm was kindled by our new Chair of the Faculty's first public comments at our first faculty meeting of the fall, on September 19, 2007. Professor Bishwapriya Sanyal proposed various constructive ways to make faculty meetings more relevant to the faculty and to issues we care about, and he asked for suggestions on how to increase attendance at faculty meetings and, more generally, how to improve communication between faculty and faculty officers. According to the minutes, Professor Sanyal stated, among other things:
“...what underlies the ability of the officers to perform their roles is their ability to convey your wishes and concerns to the administration. Communication is essential in order that the Faculty Officers really represent the broad view of the collective faculty.
MIT Faculty Meetings have lost their luster as a locus for serious discussion. Attendance is generally quite low.”
In this light, I was puzzled by Professor Sanyal's (and other administrators’) response at our second faculty meeting of the semester (on October 17) to the important resolution proposed by Professors Kenneth R. Manning and Patrick H. Winston (see the faculty meeting minutes for details of the debate). There, Professor Sanyal stated that he felt it more appropriate that the Manning-Winston resolution first be discussed within the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) rather than on the floor of the faculty meeting. Yet the October faculty meeting was unusually well attended, so it was a good and timely opportunity to gauge “the broad view of the collective faculty” on the critical issue at stake in the resolution.
My own impression was that most of the opposition to the resolution at the October faculty meeting came in unison from past and previous members of the administration, while the rest of the faculty in attendance remained silent, perhaps ready to vote. I myself certainly was, and so seemed nearby colleagues, until the resolution was tabled by Professor Winston after the administration voiced its opposition to the proposed vote.
In addition, the FPC is comprised of only 14 members, as compared to the large numbers in attendance at the October faculty meeting, which was virtually standing-room-only at the time the resolution was introduced.
The Manning-Winston resolution, as introduced at the October faculty meeting, was the perfect occasion to foster “a locus for serious discussion.” And if the Manning-Winston resolution deserves serious discussion, then why should the discussion be delayed and pushed away from faculty meetings, to a 14-person committee that is not so fully representative of the larger faculty?
When it comes to critical and time-sensitive issues that affect our community as in the handling of the Star Simpson case, the key choice points here are these: