Shrinking Faculty Power

University of Delaware gives the provost more control over the Faculty Senate, and says that professors will now advise on some areas they had previously controlled.

May 18, 2016
Sheldon Pollack, former Faculty Senate president at Delaware

The University of Delaware Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to change its bylaws in ways that faculty leaders say shrink their authority. The administration contends that decisions will require cooperation between the provost and the faculty -- but professors worry that the provost will now have final say over Faculty Senate decisions.

“One of the things he has now is a central veto power over the faculty,” said Robert Opila, president of the Faculty Senate.

Under the new rules, the provost has more control over changes to the faculty handbook: the provost needs to approve changes proposed by the Faculty Senate, and vice versa.

“If one doesn’t agree with the other, they have to try to come to an agreement with the other in the spirit of shared governance,” said the acting university president, Nancy Targett. “It doesn’t give the provost veto power per se. Both the faculty member and the provost are encouraged to work it out collaboratively.”

But faculty members say that, in effect, the changes undermine the Faculty Senate’s authority.

“Once the provost has veto power over anything the Faculty Senate does,” said a former Faculty Senate president, Sheldon Pollack, “it changes the Faculty Senate to an advisory group.”

Pollack believes that some clarification is needed, but that the change is only an attempt to shift power from the Faculty Senate to the provost.

The Board of Trustees began considering the changes last October and, Targett said, it could have implemented them right away. Instead, it asked for recommendations from Targett, who formed a committee to consider the changes.

“We tried to be as transparent and open about the process as we possibly could be,” she said.

The new rules also change who counts as a faculty member and narrowed the faculty’s responsibilities. Up until now, the faculty as a body had been responsible for regulating student governance and discipline, overseeing extracurricular activities, and determining educational and academic admissions policies. Under the new rules, the faculty will make recommendations in these areas -- but they will not have control over them.

Targett said the old rules were simply outdated. While the faculty is still consulted on these matters, now the university hires employees who are experts in these areas.

At the same time, concerned faculty members believe the changes are more ill intentioned. “It’s a concerted effort,” Pollack said, “to diminish the role of the faculty.”

But what the new rules ultimately mean will depend on the provost, Opila said. While the changes are concerning, the right provost -- one who respects faculty decisions -- could assuage his fears.

“If there’s a provost who believes in shared governance,” he said, “it’s not a problem.”


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