From the Desk: University Faculty Council leaders share governance updates

The University Faculty Council, known as UFC, is the largest governance body at Indiana University that you have never heard of.

Before the council was formally organized in 1947, faculty met informally and without broad representation. When IU became a multi-campus university in the later 1970s, the University Faculty Council continued to serve as the primary academic and faculty policy maker for all matters relevant to IU as a whole.

From left, Joe Wert, Moira Marsh and John Watson with the University Faculty CouncilView print quality image
From left, Joe Wert, Moira Marsh and John Watson with the University Faculty Council. Photos by Indiana University

Today, it boasts 33 voting members, including President Michael A. McRobbie, Executive Vice President John Applegate, IU Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel, IUPUI Chancellor Nassar Paydar, two student representatives and 27 faculty representing every IU campus.

With such a far-flung membership, the University Faculty Council meets face to face only once each semester. We need nametags to remember each other. However, these meetings are just the tip of a very large iceberg made up of committees and task forces that meet separately, often through the magic of videoconferencing, to exercise faculty authority over the teaching, research and service aspects of the university's academic mission.

The University Faculty Council Executive Committee, including McRobbie, Applegate and the heads of the faculty governance legislative bodies at all seven campuses, meets regularly but virtually by videoconference to coordinate faculty governance in universitywide matters. Three standing council committees are devoted to recommending honorary degrees, consulting with the administration about budgetary affairs, and reviewing policies that affect the academic mission of the university and the working conditions of the faculty.

Once upon a time, the University Faculty Council had many more standing committees. Today, much of our work is done through task forces instead. Unlike a standing committee, a task force has a finite lifespan and a specific charge. Faculty members are appointed to each ad-hoc group based on their interest and relevant experience.

Today the University Faculty Council has three task forces at work. The Non-Tenure-Track Taskforce is considering adding a third tier for the lecturer rank, to parallel the tenure-stream and clinical professorial ranks. The campuses considering the issue have strongly favored the change, but there remains vigorous disagreement on the title. The task force charge is to propose a universitywide policy that builds on conversations that have happened on several campuses already.

Another task force is looking into university regulations on consensual relationships. In the #MeToo era, it is time to re-evaluate the Code of Academic Ethics as it applies to consensual romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and students, staff or junior faculty. The task force will consider whether the current regulations at IU are enough.

Finally, a newly formed task force is exploring alternatives to the current student course evaluation system at IU. Research suggests that commonly used forms of course evaluation tend to be biased against women and minorities. Further, existing course evaluation systems may not be measuring the most important things about good teaching. (Ratings of instructors' "hotness" are not pedagogically useful.) We have been inundated with faculty wanting to serve on this task force.

Although the University Faculty Council rarely makes the headlines, its work affects the lives of faculty and students on every campus. Although every IU campus has its own faculty council or senate, IU is one university with a commitment to academic freedom and shared governance from top to bottom and vice-versa. Respect for shared governance between faculty and administration is a part of the genius of IU, and we, the faculty co-chairs of the University Faculty Council, are happy to be a part of that.

Moira Marsh is president of the Bloomington Faculty Council; John Watson is president of the IUPUI Faculty Council; and Joe Wert is regional campus co-chair.