Arts and Sciences Council rethinks representation as Uni becomes more interdisciplinary
The Arts and Sciences Council plans to reconsider how each department is represented proportionally.
The bylaws currently allow for one representative and one alternate member for every program in the arts and sciences that has at least one regular-rank faculty member with their primary appointment in that program. This has raised concerns from some faculty due to the unequal number of faculty in each academic unit. For instance, the Department of Biology and the International Comparative Studies program each have one representative—but the former has dozens of regular-rank faculty members, and the latter has only one regular-rank professor with a primary appointment in ICS. This will likely be a topic of further discussion at the council’s March meeting.
“For some faculty, that can be some kind of issue,” said council chair Thomas Robisheaux, Fred W. Schaffer professor of history. “It could be a problem if voting and representation work in a way that don’t accurately reflect the majority sentiment of the faculty.... And we want to fully represent the faculty and units that house majors but [are] not defined in traditional ways.”
The definition of what constitutes an academic unit needs to be decided, said Makeba Wilbourn, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and council representative. She noted that neuroscience as a major does not have separate representation because it is not its own department.
“What is problematic is that certain majors and institutes on campus that are impacted by council decisions don’t have representation, such as the neuroscience major,” Wilbourn said. “What needs to be decided is where should representation be in terms of how these decisions will impact these units.”
Similarly, the linguistics program does not have representation in the council because the department makes no faculty appointments. The faculty members within linguistics come from other language departments who are interested in the subject, Robisheaux said.
Representation based on academic units also gives rise to other problems because some faculty can be involved in different interdisciplinary programs, and thus have more influence and more voice than those faculty members not involved in those programs, he added.
Despite having roughly equal numbers of faculty, the humanities have more representatives than other academic disciplines, such as the social sciences and the natural sciences. The abundance of interdisciplinary programs in the humanities compared to natural sciences explains this difference in representation, Robisheaux said.
This inequality in the number of representatives could be controversial if there is a very close vote in an issue where the split seems to be along disciplinaries' lines. He noted that last year, the council voted down the proposal to join the 2U Semester Online consortium 16 to 14, and some faculty thought that the humanities had larger block of votes than the natural sciences, who seemed to be more supportive of the proposal.
Robisheaux noted that the creation of University institutes—such as the Duke Global Health Institute, which is not part of Trinity College but offers a co-major within the college—has changed the scope of representation in the council.
The emergence of innovative programs such as global health has raised questions about faculty representation, said council representatitve Gary Bennett, professor of psychology, neuroscience and global health, and DGHI director of undergraduate studies. The council recognized the importance of having the institute represented at the table, he said.
With a separate governing body from Trinity College, the Pratt School of Engineering does not have a voting representative on the Arts and Sciences Council—even though some decisions the council makes may impact the entire undergraduate population.
Linda Franzoni, associate dean for undergraduate education in Pratt, has been attending council meetings as an ex officio regularly for the last two years
“We do not have an official vote, but our opinion is taken into consideration by the council on matters affecting all undergraduates,” Franzoni said in an email Wednesday. “There have been times when I have been specifically called upon during a meeting to give the Pratt position on a topic and times when I have just voluntarily voiced the Pratt viewpoint.”
As interdisciplinary programs and majors have developed, the academic structures may not have yet fully caught up with these changes, which is also happening to a lot of research universities in the 21st century, Robisheaux said.
The changing nature of undergraduate education poses a challenge to the structure of academic governance, Wilbourn noted
“Some of the bylaws were set up before the college grew so much and included so many programs,” she said. “There’s a blurring between what a department is and what an institute or program is, and the bylaws have to be adjusted to reflect the progression of the University.”