Faculty raise alarms about shared governance at Senate meeting

John Bender is Kearns Professor Emeritus of Journalism.

Complaints about a lack of shared governance and indifference to faculty to concerns were raised by faculty members at the open mic portion of the Faculty Senate meeting Feb. 6. The issues were raised by four faculty who are members of the American Association of University Professors chapter at UNL.

Susan Vanderplas, assistant professor of statistics, said shared governance has been declining at UNL. Although faculty clearly have primary responsibility in academic areas, she said, they should also have a voice in such matters as planning, budgeting and evaluation of administrators.

Other speakers expressed worries about the university’s cuts to diversity, equity and inclusion programs and its responses to legislative proposals relating to DEI and tenure.

Vanderplas said several important decisions have been made by administrators without faculty input. She pointed to new policies about computers and information technology and changes to the academic calendar that were made without hearing any advice from faculty.

Earlier in the meeting, the Senate heard the annual report from the Academic Planning Committee. Can Vuran, the chair of the committee and a professor in the School of Computing, said Chancellor Rodney Bennett and Michael Zeleny, vice chancellor for business and finance, had provided the APC detailed information on the university’s budget structure so that the committee was able to offer suggestions about the fall 2023 budget cuts. Nevertheless, Vuran said the committee never received full information about the planned cuts. When the administration announced cuts to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and for graduate students, the committee recommended the administration find other areas to cut, but those recommendations were ignored, he said.

Vuran said more budget cuts probably will be proposed during the spring semester, but the committee has no information about what might be cut. He said his preference would be for strategic vertical cuts instead of horizontal ones that affect all units equally.

On the issue of the cuts to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Christina Falci, associate professor of sociology, and Regina Werum, professor of sociology, both raised concerns. Falci said the cuts to the ODI will harm under-represented students, faculty and staff. Cutting ODI, she said, suggests that the work of promoting equity is done, but in fact, UNL is failing to retain faculty of color or close the achievement gaps for students of color and first-generation students.

“Without fully funding ODI, the work may get done, but it will happen in a less systematic and more informal way,” Falci said. “This will underserve our students and put an even bigger service burden on our under-represented faculty. Moreover, this additional DEI work will not be rewarded in merit reviews.”

Werum brought up LB 1330, recently introduced in the Nebraska Legislature by Sen. Dave Murman, the chairman of the Education Committee. LB 1330 would prohibit state colleges and universities from spending money on any diversity, equity and inclusion program. It would also prohibit requiring employees to participated in DEI programs.

Werum said the bill is a threat to the university’s strategic goals of increasing federally funded research and returning to membership in the Association of American Universities. Having DEI programs is a requirement for federally funded research, she said, and it is a factor the AAU would consider in any application for readmission.

 “The severe cuts recently enacted that have gutted the ODI will already limit support for drafting proposals and implementing programs, and that puts us at a disadvantage,” she said.

Werum added that banning DEI programs makes no sense pedagogically. “Reams of research show that DEI initiatives help all faculty, staff and students – not just those from minoritized groups,” she said.

Alex Vazansky, an associate professor of history, said the response of UNL administrators to a legislative bill to eliminate tenure was insufficiently supportive of the role tenure plays. The bill is LB 1064, which is sponsored by Sen. Loren Lippincott.

“In press articles covering the introduction of the bill, administrators from across the state college and university systems spoke out against it,” Vazansky said, “with only UNL’s administration replying instead they would carefully consider the bill. We are not naïve about the politics at play in the state, but if the chancellor cannot issue a ringing public defense of this basic guarantor of academic freedom, then something is deeply wrong here.”

 If it passes, LB 1064 would prohibit any Nebraska university, state college or community college from establishing or continuing any system of tenure. It would also require state universities and colleges to adopt written policies relating to employee agreements, acceptable grounds for termination, annual performance evaluations, minimum standards of good practice, standards for reviewing and disciplining faculty, and procedures for dismissal of faculty and program discontinuance.

The Legislature’s education committee will hold a public hearing Feb. 13 on both LB 1330 and LB 1064. The hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. and will be in Room 1525 in the State Capitol.

In other business, the Faculty Senate:

  • Approved proposed revisions to the Faculty Code of Conduct. The revisions were introduced at the December meeting.
  • Heard the report of the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee. The committee chair, Carolyn Barber, professor of music and director of bands, said having the athletic department report to the university president rather than the chancellor has not altered the committee’s role, which is focused on academic issues involving student athletes.
  • Heard a report on the Faculty Ombuds Office from Lisa PytlikZillig. The ombuds assist faculty with various work-related problems and act as a neutral party to help resolve differences.
  • Received a proposal to revise the syllabus policy and syllabus template to include information about continuity of instruction plans.
  • Discussed the possibility of returning to requiring in-person attendance at Faculty Senate meetings in the fall 2024. The Senate started meeting by Zoom because of COVID in 2020 and has continued to offer that as an option for attendance. The rationale for in-person attendance is to enhance the faculty’s impact when hearing from the chancellor or other senior administrators. Some faculty, however, said Zoom participation is the only possibility for them or is the most convenient way of attending.

Editors’ Note: The full remarks offered during the open mic portion can be found here.