Letter to the Editor: Meeting rules of conduct

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April 20, 2016

  1. The Chair will be running all the Department meetings. She will conduct them as she sees appropriate. If you have concerns about how meetings are being conducted, you should schedule an appointment to meet with her and discuss your concerns. Email is not an appropriate method of communication for concerns.

There are no proscriptions in either the University Email Policy or Wisconsin State Statutes that prohibit the use of email to communicate legitimate concerns. In fact, the University’s Email Policy states explicitly that:

“In support of instruction, research, and administrative functions, the University encourages the use of campus email system to share information, to improve communication, to transact university business, and to exchange ideas.”

Any attempts to prohibit the legitimate use of email for such activities is contradictory to the stated goals of the University and constitutes an abridgement of the right to free speech and the freedom of expression.

  1. Reading material should be sent to the Chair one business day ahead of time. She will determine if there is time on the agenda and appropriate ways to address written material.

The history of this department has been to allow any faculty member to add an item to any meeting agenda, and past chairs have actively solicited agenda items for upcoming meetings. To suggest that these should now be subject to censorship by the chair is again an abridgement of free speech and of the free exchange of ideas. Although State Open Meetings Law does not require university departments to distribute meeting agendas more than 24 hours in advance, at no time over the last four years has an agenda been distributed more than 24 hours in advance. This has limited the ability of participants to adequately review materials to be considered at that meeting.

  1. Agendas for meetings must be followed. If something is not on the agenda, the chair may determine if there is time or if it is appropriate to be covered at the current meeting. Her decisions about items on the agenda are not debatable.

The second line may be intended to refer only to “Items from the floor” additions to the agenda, but it must be made clear that it should not and cannot refer to agenda items submitted in advance. Faculty must have the right to have their concerns addressed through agenda items submitted according to the time limits suggested above, without the ability of the chair to simply veto them without the consideration of the entire faculty.

  1. Everyone is expected to contribute; no one is allowed to dominate the meeting. A point should be able to be made in a few sentences. Department meetings are not the time to discuss past issues, or have one person dominate the discussion. If this starts to happen, the Chair will politely ask someone to summarize their point and move on. If this doesn’t happen, she will likely cut who is speaking off and ask them to hold their thoughts. This is her job as Chair and must be respected. If the conversation goes off topic, the Chair’s job is to rein it back in. She will determine if something is off-topic and how to handle the off-topic discussion.

The flow of discussion at a meeting must be dependent on the subject matter at hand and not arbitrary limits on time and language. It is agreed that the Chair’s responsibility is to insure that the discussion stays on topic. It is not the Chair’s responsibility to dictate how that discussion flows. Everyone should be given an opportunity to speak, and to speak without restriction to the full extent of their ideas, and if that means that more time is needed than is allotted, so be it. Anything less constitutes an abridgement of free speech and limits the free exchange of ideas. If a monthly meeting is not sufficient to address the issues and conduct necessary business within the Department, then meetings should be held more frequently.

  1. Watch your body language. Body language can communicate as much as voice. It is not acceptable to roll eyes, sit cross-armed or shake your head while others are speaking.

Yet another attempt to abridge freedom of expression. Reacting to positive or negative statements is natural. If there are to be proscriptions on “negative” body language, there must also be proscriptions on “positive” body language. “No one may nod in assent, smile, or express agreement in any way.”

  1. Disagreements will happen because everyone has an opinion. No one’s opinion is more or less valuable. However disagreements must be handled respectfully. When there is a disagreement about a Departmental issue, the Chair will determine how it will be handled. If a vote is called for, then the decision that has the most votes will stand as the decision of the Department. People who did not win the vote are expected to respect the decision of the Department, support the decision of the Department and move forward.

The purpose of a chain of command is to insure recourse for any faculty member to pursue their concerns regardless of whether they are supported by the department. Faculty is under no obligation whatsoever to “support the decision of the department.” There is a history in the Department of voting on motions that the faculty has no right to vote on, as they are in direct contradiction to established policies and procedures. Allowing such votes to remain binding and unchallenged has exposed the department and its faculty to possible legal action, and has violated the rights of students. Faculty members must have the right to protect themselves and their students from the consequences of any improper actions taken at Department meetings.

  1. If individuals have concerns, they should be expressed to the Department Chair in person. Email is not acceptable unless instructed by the Chair to email her regarding an issue.

See Item 1 above.

The “Meeting Rules of Conduct” presented in italics above were given to the former Chair of the Department of Art and Design and former Dean by then-Provost Kopper and Director of Human Resources Judith Trampf on October 28, 2014. Numerous attempts to have a discussion about the enforceability of this document, and to have the faculty vote on whether or not to accept it have been quashed by former department chairs and the former Dean. The only time the discussion of these “rules” was placed on the agenda for a faculty meeting, it was removed at the eleventh hour, only to be placed back on the agenda during that meeting by the Dean. Seconds later the chair verbally resigned her position as chair, and shortly thereafter walked out of the meeting. As a result, discussion of these “rules” never occurred.

These “rules” have been imposed on the department in response to specific requests by one faculty member to discuss over a dozen items of relevance and importance to the Department. Because discussion of some of these issues was likely to be embarrassing to persons within the Department, they have been, and under these “rules” will continue to be, censored and considered “off-limits.” This is contrary to the free exchange of ideas and the right to free speech. These “rules” are also specifically directed at the former chair of this Department, as the pronoun “she” recurs throughout the document. Such a document has not been imposed on other departments, and does not reflect practice in other departments. It is unlikely that any other Department on campus would allow such rules to be imposed on it.

As a faculty, we have the right to discuss this document, to challenge it, to amend it, and ultimately to adopt a policy or practice that supports the free exchange of ideas and academic discourse within the Department. The imposition of these rules on the Department by the administration speaks volumes about that administration’s true views on shared faculty governance.

Chris Henige

Assoc. Professor of Art History

Dept. Art and Design, UW-W