Letter to the Editor: Administration fails on shared governance

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March 29, 2015

On March10, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents voted on new policies related to Faculty Tenure and Post-Tenure Review, among others. This was followed immediately by a note from the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to the campus community which included the following passage:

“I believe it is important for me to repeat once again the message I have shared with campus many times. I am committed to shared governance, academic freedom and tenure. These three cornerstones of academia have contributed greatly to the current excellence of UW- Whitewater.

Without shared governance, I believe our campus would not be as strong as it is today. Shared governance provides us with a decision-making model that taps into the collective wisdom of faculty, staff and students for the good of the institution.

Academic freedom and tenure are critical to the ongoing discovery of new knowledge and are principles that help our students develop their own sense of critical thinking and discovery. These tenets of higher education allow faculty to challenge the status quo and investigate new ideas and concepts without fear of reprisal.

These are long held traditions at this University and it is my hope we will continue to work collaboratively to support and use these guiding principles as we address the new tenure policies.”

Over the past four years I have repeatedly and consistently stood up against what I believed were poor decisions taken by the administration that disadvantaged students and their programs, none of which has ever been addressed.

Instead I have been subjected to a series of administrative complaints claiming “harassment” and the creation of a hostile work environment among others. With each complaint I was provided with a copy of Chapter VI of the Faculty Personnel Rules governing such actions. In each case they were presented to me as my “rights and protections.” These rules were created by the faculty, voted on by the Faculty Senate, and approved by the chancellor and the Board of Regents.

Yet throughout every process, these rules were almost completely ignored by both the former and current chancellor,  the director of human resources, the former dean, a dozen faculty members serving on the committees specifically designated to deal with appeals of complaints and grievances, and the former and current Faculty Senate chairs.

This could not have been out of ignorance, because with each infringement of my purported “rights and protections” I appealed to these parties. I have documented every one of these notifications. They have done nothing to insure my “rights and protections”.

More significantly, since December 2013, I have not been provided with any annual personnel reviews, face-to-face or otherwise, or any classroom visitations. Despite being due for a post-tenure review this year, this too has been denied me, although I certainly would not agree to submit to one in the absence of any previous annual reviews.

Also, as a result of the actions of the administration, I was not permitted to participate in the reviews of my colleagues within the department, another requirement of the rules. When I raised this with the administration, I was eventually provided the opportunity to review the submitted materials after the fact and after the department’s vote had long since been taken. I declined. Apparently, the rules in Chapter III of the Faculty Personnel Rules are just as irrelevant as those in Chapter VI.

Why has all of this occurred? Simply because I believed I had the right to “challenge the status quo…without fear of reprisal.” Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing has been done to address my concerns regarding the students and their programs (except repeated attempts by the administration to silence them), and the students continue to be disadvantaged. It appears to me that the fight for the retention of shared governance and tenure at this institution is being led by people who, at least from my experience, have not shown the least regard for the very rules they purport to be trying to create and protect.

All of the rules found in the Faculty Personnel Rules – not just those in Chapter VI governing complaints and grievances, but also those in Chapter III regarding tenure and promotion, and post-tenure review, and Chapter IV regarding Dismissal for Cause – were the products of, and represent the fundamental principles of, shared faculty governance, and there was certainly an expectation on my part that they actually mattered. But if the administration and the Faculty Senate of this institution have so little regard for upholding the rules they claim they are fighting for the right to be able to create, then perhaps we should be asking ourselves why the Board of Regents or the people of the state of Wisconsin should have any interest in providing them with that right.

Chris Henige

Associate Professor of Art History

Department of Art and Design, UW-W