From the Desk: Faculty council president details the care and feeding of a Faculty Constitution

In a few weeks, the Indiana University Bloomington faculty will vote on whether to ratify several amendments to its constitution. Boring, except that the constitution determines a significant part of how the campus is run and who runs it.

I refer, of course, to the Bloomington Faculty Constitution, which gives the faculty authority over the academic mission of the campus, promotion and tenure, admission and retention of students, student discipline, student evaluation, curriculum and General Education, procedures for appointment and review of some administrative officers, and structures of faculty governance. The constitution also gives the faculty consultative authority over campus facilities and budgets, and over athletics. A similar set of provisions gives the faculty legislative and consultative authority over these matters within each school.

Moira MarshView print quality image
Moira Marsh.  Photo courtesy of the Bloomington Faculty Council

In other words, at Indiana University the faculty have the right -- and responsibility -- to govern themselves. At the campus level, faculty governance is run through the Bloomington Faculty Council. At present, the council consists of 53 elected members, six senior administrators, one ROTC representative, two staff representatives, four graduate students and two undergraduate students. Another 100 faculty serve on the various elected and standing committees of the council.

The upcoming vote asks all faculty to ratify 13 amendments to the constitution. Some of these amendments simply bring the constitutional language up to date with actual current practice. The most consequential amendments concern the role of non-tenure-track faculty in campuswide shared governance.

Ten years ago, the council created three seats for non-tenure-track ranks (one each for lecturers, clinical faculty and research faculty). Non-tenure-track numbers have more than doubled since that time. Today, the campus has 715 non-tenure-track faculty and 1,585 tenured or tenure-probationary faculty. The current amendments will increase the number of seats for non-tenure-track faculty so they are more proportional to their current numbers.

The Nominations Committee will propose the exact numbers, but if ratified, this amendment will add at least 10 new seats to the council. To accommodate these additions and keep the council beast to a manageable size, two amendments will cut the number of at-large tenured/tenure-track seats from 10 to five and reduce the number of graduate student representatives from four to three.

Why are we doing this? The faculty council is meant to be a representative body. Faculty elect some of their number to work with administrators and exercise their legislative authority over campus affairs. Non-tenure-track faculty (lecturers, research faculty, clinical faculty and professors of practice) now comprise almost one-third of the faculty on the Bloomington campus. Many of these faculty have served at IU for decades, yet with only one council representative for each rank, they only have the opportunity to elect a representative once every two years. Expanding non-tenure-track faculty representation on the faculty council acknowledges their vital contribution to the campus academic mission and ensures that shared governance of the campus remains robust and healthy.

There is an apocryphal story about the consequences of neglecting university rules that comes from Cambridge or Oxford, which I quote from snopes.com. A student arrived for the final exam and asked the proctor to bring him Cakes and Ale. The following dialog ensued:

Proctor: I beg your pardon?

Student: Sir, I request that you bring me Cakes and Ale.

Proctor: Sorry, no.

Student: Sir, I really must insist. I request and require that you bring me Cakes and Ale.

At this point, the student produced a copy of the four-hundred-year-old Laws of Cambridge, written in Latin and still nominally in effect, and pointed to the section which read (rough translation from the Latin):

"Gentlemen sitting examinations may request and require Cakes and Ale."

Pepsi and hamburgers were judged the modern equivalent, and the student sat there, writing his examination and happily slurping away.

Three weeks later the student was fined five pounds for not wearing a sword to the examination.

This story is an urban legend that trades on the motif of the wily student who outsmarts the university, only to be outwitted in the end by the even wilier university. For my purposes, the point of this story is that to be useful and relevant, the constitution of the Bloomington faculty must be kept up to date with the current realities of university life. Without the proper care and feeding, this document would be as dead as a Latin stipulation for Cakes and Ale.

The Bloomington Faculty Council will be holding campuswide town halls to discuss the constitutional amendments. All interested faculty should consider attending. More important still, look for an electronic ballot in your inbox and vote!

Moira Marsh is president of the Bloomington Faculty Council.