Faculty Forum on Faculty Governance in the Arts and Sciences at Columbia

12 November 2008


Present: c. 45 members of the Arts and Sciences faculty

Moderators: Katharina Volk (Chair, ECFAS) and Amber Miller (Vice Chair, ECFAS)


This faculty forum was organized by the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (ECFAS) as part of the ARC review of faculty governance in the Arts and Sciences at Columbia.  The following is not a blow-by-blow account of the meeting, but a summary of the major points made and issues discussed.


General points

There was general consensus that the current structures of faculty governance raise a number of questions and some concern that the faculty does not have the voice and powers that it should have.  This issue is particularly pressing in the present situation, where the University is searching for both a new Provost and a new Dean of the College; under these circumstances, it is especially desirable to establish structures and procedures that enable faculty voices to be heard by the administration.


Models of governance

There are two models of faculty governance: the "consultation model" and the "input model."  In the former, there is an established mechanism for formal consultation of the faculty (e.g., a particular faculty committee regularly works with the administration on policy decisions); in the latter, there are venues for informal expressions of faculty opinion.  A number of faculty members expressed preference for the consultation model; it was also suggested that there could be a hybrid model (e.g., ECFAS as the body for consultation and the faculty meeting as a venue for input).


The Chicago model

The University of Chicago was held up as a model of faculty governance.  At Chicago, there is an elected faculty council, which in turn appoints an executive committee.  Elections are highly contested, and major decisions are not made without extensive faculty consultation.


Faculty involvement


Areas of decision-making

Faculty members singled out the following areas and topics on which it is especially necessary for faculty to have an input (as is not necessarily always the case at the moment):


Appointment of committees

Since with the exception of ECFAS, all bodies of governance are currently appointed, there was some concern that committees are "stacked" by the administration to produce preordained results.  This is even more an issue with ad hoc and advisory committees that are established single-handedly by administrators.


Specific bodies of governance

As the only elected faculty committee and a so-called "executive" body, ECFAS ought to play a central role in A&S policy—but it currently does not.  The role of ECFAS needs to be a central concern of the governance review; the committee needs a clearer mission and needs to set an annual agenda.  It was suggested that all other faculty committees should report to ECFAS.

There was general consensus that these meetings in their current format are unsatisfactory.  Despite the fact that ECFAS sets the agenda, the meetings are dominated by administrators, who simply give presentations.  Instead, ECFAS should run the proceedings.  Low attendance is a problem, but if the meetings become more relevant, attendance might go up as well.

See below under "Autonomy of departments."

There was concern that large parts of this meeting tend to be taken up by "show and tell" presentations.  There is the additional problem that Chairs do not always pass on information to the faculty in their departments.

The Senate is generally perceived as problematic.  Its powers are few and ill defined; no one wants to serve on it.


Autonomy of departments/pressure on academic work

There was some concern that the VP's office attempts to steer departments in certain intellectual directions by granting or withholding authorization for appointments and that newly-established centers and programs (which are perceived as representing an interdisciplinary approach dear to the administration) get more support than long-existing departments (on the other hand, it was pointed out that such institutions enable interesting new work that is sometimes not possible in traditional departments).  To which extent should the intellectual mission of A&S be determined centrally?  This also raises the question of ARC: Should ARC be telling departments what they should be doing? 


Other issues



Submitted by Katharina Volk

Chair, Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

19 November 2008