AAUP announces investigation into shared governance

On December 18, the American Association for University Professors announced an investigation into key issues of shared governance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, specifically, the ongoing suspension of the Faculty Senate. Having suspended the Senate in August 2007, the Board of Trustees has established a transitional faculty government in which only certain committees—such as the Committee on Promotion and Tenure as well as the Curriculum Committee—continue to function. At the time, the AAUP sent a letter to President Shirley Ann Jackson criticizing actions taken by the administration to suspend the Senate.

According to Provost Robert E. Palazzo, the existing form of faculty governance is functioning well in terms of actual operations and the university moving forward. The existing structure also includes elections from each school of members to create the Faculty Advisory Committee, which meets with the Provost. With regard to communication, Palazzo stated that he is “willing to not only participate but help facilitate … processes that further … the way that we interact and communicate.”

The Associate Secretary of the Department of Academic Freedom Eric Combest, Tenure and Governance of the American Association for University Professors, has been assigned to the investigation. According to a statement by Combest, the “ongoing suspension of the Faculty Senate and the imposition of a state of ‘transitional faculty governance’” led to the Association’s investigation. After the Association finishes forming a committee to undertake the investigation, it will contact the administration. Combest anticipates the cooperation of both the administration and faculty leaders on campus.

Palazzo expressed a strong interest in working within the governance process already approved by the Board of Trustees. While he had received an offer from the AAUP to provide an external mediator, Palazzo felt that it was his role to mediate the situation, saying that he consults directly with faculty and the Faculty Advisory Committee. He stated that his goal is to “have a strong relationship with the faculty and the president … and to continue to try to be fair and honest in bringing recommendations forward.”

According to the AAUP’s Standards for Investigations in the Area of College and University Government, the investigating committee will be gathering information about shared governance at RPI to determine whether the standards set forth in the Statement of Government of Colleges and Universities have been violated and whether unacceptable conditions of academic government prevail. This investigation also includes a campus visit, which is intended to be a fact finding mission, which Combest expects to occur sometime in early spring.