This past May, in an effort to reestablish the Faculty Senate, a committee of faculty submitted a proposed constitution to the provost and President Shirley Ann Jackson. Currently on their third revision, the Faculty Governance Recommendation Committee worked to find an appropriate compromise between the administration and faculty that would allow the senate to reform. The proposed constitution has been given to Jackson, who promises to give the faculty a response by December before the board of trustees meeting.
The Senate was disbanded during the summer of 2007 after a dispute between the faculty and the then-new Provost Robert Palazzo; the provost, along with the board of trustees and Jackson, disapproved of the Senate granting voting rights to associate and clinical professors. Previously, the Senate had been a privilege of tenure, tenure track, and research professors as well as librarians, archivists, and retirees. Since the Senate is in charge of such things as deciding tenure and configuring curriculum, the administration felt that matters of such importance should be handled exclusively by those who are the most invested in the Institute: the tenure and tenure track faculty. According to Palazzo, “the tenure and tenure track faculty should be the chief stewards” of RPI.
Since 2007, there have been many attempts to reestablish the Senate; two separate constitutions have been proposed to the Senate and administration—all previous attempts have failed. The first constitution came about from a committee of faculty picked by the provost and included Vice Provost Prabat Hajela, previous Dean of Engineering, and Palazzo. This initial effort was not approved by the faculty.
The next attempt to draft a compromise was started at the faculty level. Nicknamed the Watson Plan from Dr. Bruce Watson, a key member in the initiative, it was ultimately rejected by Jackson and the board of trustees. They claimed it was not in line with the recommendations the administration had set for the faculty.
Helping with the current constitutional effort, Associate Professor Atsushi Akera “hopes to put the issue to rest.” The faculty voted in May with 74.9 percent of tenure and tenure track faculty and 67.9 percent clinical and research professor, librarians, archivists, and retirees voting “yes” on the measure.
Following Senate approval, Akera and the committee gathered other support from groups such as the provost’s office. Following the provost’s proposal, the constitution went to the president’s office where it is currently awaiting a response.
This constitution excludes non tenure and tenure track faculty from voting although they may act in an advisory position. According to Akera, other than restricting voting rights, it provides a “stronger committee structure.” Although the new constitution was strongly approved by faculty, some, such as Professor Jane Karetz, believe the new measure is simply a “watered down version” of the previous Watson Plan.
However, many faculty are just looking forward to having an active Senate again. According to Karetz, the process of reestablishing governance has been prolonged and exhausting. “Some are really tired of continuing to be involved,” she said. Following three attempts spanning over five years, the Faculty Senate is close to being formed once again. The final step lies with Jackson and the board of trustees.