University Council and Faculty Senate

FACULTY MATTERS

May 2014, Volume 3, Issue 3


The mission of Faculty Matters is to keep the faculty informed
about policies, issues and events of interest to, and affecting, the faculty at NIU. It is written and published by the President of the Faculty Senate and distributed to all faculty. Comments and suggestions can be sent to Alan Rosenbaum, Executive Secretary
of the University Council and President of the Faculty Senate, at arosenbaum@niu.edu. Letters to the editor will be considered for publication. Letter writers must identify themselves and will be identified if the letter is published.

In this issue:
Grievance procedures for students approved
Speaking of whom...
Speaking of retirement...
Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish...

Grievance procedures for students approved

At its April 2 meeting, the University Council approved the new grievance procedures for students by a vote of 50-yes and 5-no. Despite widespread agreement that students deserved a mechanism for redressing abusive, unfair treatment by faculty and staff; many previous attempts including the formation of ad hoc committees to study the matter; and strong, vocal support of the Student Association, the University Council had never, until now, been able to craft a grievance procedure for students that was acceptable to all constituent groups at NIU. Among the concerns, successfully addressed by the new procedures, were how to protect faculty and staff from frivolous or retaliatory grievances (e.g., dissatisfaction with a grade) and how to give the policy teeth (consequences) without jeopardizing academic freedom or the tenure system.

While the procedures have oftentimes been framed in terms of student-faculty grievances, student members of the University Council consistently identified student problems with staff as the more serious and more frequent concern. The new procedures, which have been placed into the NIU Bylaws as Article 12, were crafted by the University Affairs Committee, which included faculty and staff members, a dean, as well as students. The process stretched over a two-year period during which the committee was chaired by Kathleen Coles, associate dean for student affairs in the College of Law, and Bill Pitney, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education and University Council executive secretary-elect.  

Although NIU did not have formal student grievance procedures, mechanisms have long been in place to address many of the most serious complaints of students, such as discrimination and sexual harassment. Similarly students have always had a policy for appealing arbitrary or capricious grades. The new procedures specifically exclude appeals of these, or any other issues already covered by an existing appeal or grievance policy. Faculty are encouraged to read the procedures in their entirety, but here are some of the provisions:

1. A grievance may not be based on level of academic rigor and performance expected of students by faculty. In other words, a student cannot base a grievance on the fact that the course was too difficult or the faculty member’s standards were too high. Faculty have a right to enforce academic standards and policies. [Here’s a tip: A syllabus in which the academic standards, grading process and misconduct policy are well articulated might save you some aggravation.]

2. Students are encouraged to make an informal attempt to resolve the issue prior to filing a formal grievance and that informal attempt must include the immediate supervisor of the faculty or staff member against whom the student has a grievance.

3. If a formal grievance is initiated, the committee hearing the grievance will consist of five members and include at least one student, one faculty member, at least two representatives from the same employee classification as the respondent (i.e., the individual being grieved against), and the senior administrator responsible for human resources or his/her designee.

4. If the committee finds in favor of the student grievant, the decision, along with suggested remedies, is sent to the respondent’s unit director and supervisor(s), which in the case of faculty members might include the chair and/or dean. Remedies might include a letter of apology and/or educational intervention.

If you become the subject of a grievance, you should probably contact the faculty and SPS personnel advisor or the executive secretary of the University Council (who will most likely refer you to the faculty and SPS personnel advisor).

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Speaking of whom...

Our current faculty and SPS personnel advisor, Toni Tollerud, is retiring. Toni has done a great job. We will certainly miss her and wish her well in her retirement. At the April 23 meeting of the Faculty Senate, Paul Stoddard, Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, was elected to a two-year term as faculty and SPS personnel advisor. Stoddard, a former executive secretary of the University Council, is very knowledgeable regarding NIU policies and procedures. We expect he will be a strong faculty advocate. Stoddard’s term will begin on July 1.

The faculty and SPS personnel advisor provides confidential consultation and advocacy to all members of the faculty and SPS.  Some typical issues brought to the FSPSPA include merit evaluation problems, tenure and promotion denials, grievances against other employees, interpersonal conflict, termination and academic freedom violations. You can always find contact information for the FSPSPA on both the University Council and Faculty Senate websites.

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Speaking of retirement...

Getting precise figures on the number of faculty who will be retiring this year is very challenging. Suffice it to say that we will be losing more than our usual number of faculty members to retirement. Any faculty member eligible to retire should use the retirement benefit calculator on the SURS website to check if the money purchase option is the most advantageous to them. The calculator will tell you if it is using the money purchase option or the general formula to provide the best benefit. If the answer is money purchase, you should definitely try to get a consultation with SURS (although they are being overwhelmed and it is difficult to get an appointment). 

Because many of our colleagues are being forced to resign to avoid substantial loss of benefits, when they would prefer to keep working, the Faculty Senate and University Council both endorsed a statement supporting an injunction that would prevent the state from implementing the pension changes until the courts have ruled on its constitutionality. The lawyers handling the lawsuits expect a quick decision on the injunction. While such an injunction is rational and fair, and whereas the pension theft bill (aka pension reform by our lawmakers) is likely unconstitutional, neither of those facts guarantees that we will get an injunction or that the pension theft bill will be invalidated.

One last point: It is possible that many departments may cover fall courses by hiring back retirees and, in fact, the administration is trying to simplify the process for doing that. This is a good thing for retiring faculty and for the university, as well.  Be warned, however, to NOT ask for, or get a written agreement (or an email or anything that has permanence) to teach in the fall (prior to being retired for 60 days). And certainly don’t sign any agreement or contract, or you will jeopardize your retirement. This is the law, your chair can’t waive it.

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Goodbye and thanks for all the fish...

As some of you know this is the end of my fifth, and final, term as executive secretary of the University Council and president of the Faculty Senate. It has been an honor to serve in those positions.

The focus of my tenure in this position has been to strengthen the role of faculty in the shared governance process and to foster a unity among faculty that transcends departmental and college lines. It is essential for us to think of ourselves as NIU faculty, not only as psychology, art,  or engineering faculty. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the way forward. We need better communication among the faculty. To this end, I began publication of Faculty Matters and established the Faculty Club lunches and the Faculty Holiday Wine and Cheese Social. While those who attend give these events high marks, too few are attending. I encourage you to get involved in the Faculty Senate and University Council. These are both good ways to get out of our silos and connect with each other and to the university at large. I have most enjoyed getting to know so many of you that I never would have met had I not gotten out of my department and involved in faculty governance.

The NIU Constitution entrusts the faculty with the responsibility for academic policy and standards, admission standards and the curriculum. The Faculty Senate can, and should, assert its authority in those areas, although it has not always done so in the past. It is time for the senate to have the power to make academic policy and for the academic committees to report to the senate instead of the University Council. An active, participant Faculty Senate is essential to our continued progress in this direction.

As noted above, Bill Pitney, will begin his term as executive secretary on July 1. I know he will do a great job of representing the faculty and I wish him success in that role. My thanks to all of the faculty members who have served on the Faculty Senate and University Council and to those who have volunteered to chair committees over the past five years. I hope to remain active in advancing faculty issues and to see many of you at the Faculty Club lunches in the fall. Have a healthy, restful, and productive summer.

Cheers,

Alan Rosenbaum
Executive Secretary of University Council
President of Faculty Senate

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Important Links
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Faculty Senate
Meeting Schedule
Academic Policies & Procedures Manual
Statement of Professional Ethics for Faculty
State Pension & Budget Update

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