Governance changes proposed

Two of the University's most powerful faculty governance committees could undergo major changes next year under a proposed restructuring that will be presented at Thursday's Academic Council meeting.

In initial discussions, the reorganization was proposed as a merger to help consolidate overlapping agendas of the two committees--the President's Advisory Committee on Resources and the Academic Priorities Committee.

"We realized that the campus has gone through an extensive strategic planning exercise... but the structure of faculty governance had not undergone such a review to see if maybe it could be improved," said professor and chair of chemistry John Simon, who is chairing APC for the fourth year and also chaired an ad hoc committee created this summer to the study the issue.

Committee members ultimately abandoned the idea of the merger--because the workload would be too great-and proposed an alternative system, Simon said. APC would change its name to the Academic Programs Committee, and PACOR would become the University Priorities Committee.

The new APC would deal strictly with issues related to the development of departments and programs on campus and serve as the final stage in the external reviews of departments and programs, an area that Simon said has not garnered complete attention under the current system.

"That set of responsibilities is about half of what [the current] APC does," Simon said. "Because of the amount of material that was being thrown at us, some of the external reviews were handled a little bit faster than they should have been. [The new APC] will really give the committee time to focus on those sets of issues."

Provost Peter Lange said he expects the new APC to also discuss broader University-wide issues that transcend divisions and departments, such as interdisciplinary collaboration and other intellectual trends.

The UPC would take on the APC's strategic development, such as strategic planning, space and building construction issues, and maintain the current responsibilities of PACOR, which considers University initiatives in relationship with the budget.

"[UPC's agenda] will range all the way from the large academic priority setting to student life issues and it will be able to discuss the context of these issues within budgetary constraints so that when priorities are being made they are also being made with respect to the budget," Simon said.

He added that a standing subcommittee in the UPC will handle budgetary issues that are not necessarily the highest of priorities, providing the necessary budgetary oversight that faculty seek.

"The system is an attempt to try to ensure that certain discussions where matters are linked happen in the same place," said law professor Paul Haagen, a member of APC and the Executive Committee of the Academic Council. "You won't have groups of people working together across purposes or in ignorance of one another. This is a thoughtful, creative way of dealing with an organizational problem."

Faculty governance has undergone significant changes in the past 15 years, and Lange said this move would be a logical next step.

"A decade ago there was a good deal more distrust on the faculty's part in the administration," Lange said. "That was rooted in part by the fact that so much less was transparent to the faculty about our budget. There was also a sense that the administration didn't really seek the faculty's advice except when it was absolutely necessary. We've changed those things and... built up a much more positive and useful situation."

Lange said the new system will afford faculty even more influence on the direction of the University's top priorities.

Earl Dowell, J. A. Jones professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and two-time PACOR member, said the committee was created in the early 1990s during former president Keith Brodie's tenure to address concerns about lack of faculty participation in important budget and priority decisions.

"It is a good time to think about whether or not these committees are doing what you want them to do because right now the University is having largely good times," Simon said. "And what you want to do is create a structure that not only works in the good times but one that provides a good forum for discussion when you have to make hard decisions in bad times."

Simon said some professors may feel the rearrangement could weaken faculty governance, especially because issues that in the past would have appeared on both committees' agendas would likely only appear on one or the other in the future. The ad hoc committee behind the proposal said it hopes to foster better communication between the committees.

Simon and his colleagues will present the plan Thursday and field questions from the Council. Faculty will have the chance to debate the proposed changes at its January and February meetings, possibly voting on the matter in February.


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