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A&S Council's restructuring plan draws heat

Back to the drawing board.


A plan to restructure the Arts and Sciences Council met with resounding disdain at the body's December meeting, prompting Council Chair Katherine Ewing to delay the vote on the plan from its Jan. 15 meeting until at least February and spurring the bylaws committee to rethink its proposal.


The primary issue at hand is the size of the Council. Currently, the governing body consists of 55 members plus the chair and ex officio members, but under the proposal, that number would be cut to 15. Five members would be elected by faculty from each of the Arts and Sciences divisons--the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences.


"The main reason for making this really dramatic shift in the structure of the Council is because right now we have a body that is fairly unwieldy, and that was built on the model of the Academic Council, but actually serves different structures," Ewing explained. "It's been the consensus of the former chairs of the Council and the current executive committee that it is a very unwieldy body to deal with and bring issues through in a timely fashion."


The smaller council would also meet bi-monthly instead of monthly, so that the group could take up pressing issues much more quickly and develop a closer relationship with the administration. It would also restructure its committee system, adding five new ones and creating a system in which each committee reports back to the entire Council.


But Council members at the December meeting said the proposal does not cut to the heart of the real issues the body faces.


"Since there are a number of deliberative bodies that are much larger than this, as I see it, the problem with the Council is not the size, but its faculty involvement and a lack of quorum in a number of instances," chemistry professor Al Crumbliss said. "I'm not sure that statistically going from [55] to 15 is going to cure that."


Longtime member Ruth Day, an associate professor of psychology, suggested that though the Council may be "unwieldy" as Ewing said, the more significant problem is that the members are "largely uneducated."


"When new members are elected or appointed to come here, there, as far as I can see, is nothing done to educate them about what their role is," Day said. "They just get a welcome from [A&S staff assistant] Joan Shipman [and] a schedule for the coming semester.... I think the Council, whether it going to go to 15 or 55 or 155... has to be considered in terms of the role that it is asked to play, and whether it is pro forma: Here's the agenda, show up, listen, give a pot shot and go home."


Other members noted that a lack of communication and a true mission, among other issues, were more pressing concerns than the Council's size.

"One of the reasons why there is attrition from the Council, and why there is lack of attendance and failure to meet quorum, is the perception that the Council doesn't do anything," lecturer in biology Ron Grunwald said. He added that the Council typically serves as an audience to the administration and never takes on "meat and potato issues."


The proposal's authors, however, defended the restructuring as an effective means in eliminating the rubber stamp atmosphere of the Council.

"What we're really after is to find 15 people who really want to put some significant time and energy into the process of faculty governance of the college," said executive committee member and history professor John Richards, who spearheaded the initiative. "If we do that, we want them to have an effective role. A smaller Council can react to [issues] and have a voice. It is perfectly possible to try to take this structure we have now and try to rejuvenate it, but its more problematic than going the route we suggested."


Nonetheless, what seems to have emerged from the Council's December meeting is a mix between those two paths.


In what professors began dubbing the "Grunwald plan" toward the end of the meeting, the Council is now most closely considering a compromise suggested by Grunwald, in which each Council member represents a department or collection of programs in Arts & Sciences, and the executive committee expands in size.


The proposal's authors were open to changes.


"I would be very happy to see a compromise which actually got people interested and alarmed about the possible loss of voice so that they might actually do something about it," Richards said. "If that's the case, the effort put into putting together the bylaws would not be lost."


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