UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE ROUNDUP >>

Governance and representation guide Senate, Council agendas

By Kimber Williams and Leslie King | Emory Report | Oct. 31, 2013

University Senate

The University Senate endorsed a new open expression policy at its Oct. 29 meeting that includes the creation of a Committee for Open Expression to help promote and protect free speech, balancing issues of dissent with Emory's values of engagement and inquiry, civility and mutual respect.  

Comprised of faculty, staff and students, the 13-member committee's primary responsibilities will include:  

  • Educating and advising the community about rights and responsibilities under the Respect for Open Expression Policy;

  • Investigating alleged infringements of the right of open expression of any member of the University community through mediation and informal conflict resolution, rather than formalized conduct procedures;

  • Providing education and training to the community about issues of speech, debate, open expression, protest and dissent.

A separate, but similar, committee will be formed to protect open expression on the Oxford campus.  

The policy also articulates new investigation procedures for alleged free speech violations. A three-member panel will examine each allegation; however, the committee itself "has no disciplinary authority," the policy states.  

It also outlines free speech standards involving expressions of dissent or protest during campus meetings and events that could pose health or safety risks, impede movement around campus, damage property, incite violence, cause harassment, or violate reasonable noise guidelines.  

An re-examination of University policies was prompted when President James Wagner appointed a taskforce to examine issues of dissent, protest and community following a five-day "tent village" protest on the Quad in 2011 that resulted in the arrest of seven students for trespassing.  

In other business, a working group is being formed to explore the possibility of developing a University-wide pledge or creed, similar to one in place for Emory Healthcare that outlines treating co-workers with respect and dignity.  

The Senate also heard presentations about the newly charged Commission on Liberal Arts (CoLa), a report from the Student Government Association, and updates from the Campus Life Committee.  

The meeting concluded with a presentation by Center for the Development of Faculty Excellence Director Pamela Scully about the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), part of the reaffirmation of accreditation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The QEP topic will be "The Nature of Evidence," which is "focused very much on (students') first-year experience," Scully said.  

The QEP will be submitted to SACS in February 2014, followed by a March site visit. Implementation is scheduled to begin in fall 2014.

Faculty Council  

Results of a University-wide faculty governance survey conducted this semester dominated the discussion during the Oct. 22 Faculty Council meeting.  

The survey, which was sent out to about 3,000 Emory full-time faculty members, was intended to help Faculty Council leadership glean a better understanding of faculty perceptions around governance issues on both the University and school level, said Faculty Council Chair Deb Houry, who added that the survey was not a formal research study and may not be fully representative of faculty attitudes.  

The hope, Houry said, is that the "collective responses will help us identify areas of opportunity and improvement for shared governance at Emory."  

Survey questions, which were modified from an Association of American University Professors governance survey, explored a range of topics, including:  

  • If participation in shared university governance is seen as worthwhile.

  • If schools and units support participation in shared governance.

  • Whether or not relationships between faculty and University administrators are perceived as cooperative.

  • Does the campus climate support diversity of opinion/thought?

  • Whether or not faculty committees should set school standards regarding tenure/promotion.

  • Satisfaction with faculty governance at Emory.

An initial discussion of survey results was held in an hour-long faculty-only session. Afterward, administrators and correspondents were admitted to hear a summary of the presentation and further discussion.  

Houry reported that the discussion touched upon the need for more proactive communication among schools and units and greater visibility, observing that the work of Faculty Council was "largely invisible" to many respondents: "Although we are an advisory body, we still pass resolutions that carry some weight," she noted.  

Discussions also included how satisfaction with governance communications varied amongst schools and units, and the possibility of creating an anonymous blog where faculty could "post freely their thoughts and concerns." It was suggested that the survey be repeated every two years.  

The survey drew responses from 1,084 faculty members: a majority identified themselves as white; more than half were employed in the School of Medicine, with slightly over 20 percent in Emory College.  

The Council endorsed posting survey results to Blackboard.  School-level results will also be mailed to each dean and the school's Faculty Council representatives, and Faculty Council leadership has offered to meet with individual groups for further discussion.  

Provost Claire Sterk commended Faculty Council leadership for conducting the survey. "As far as I know, this is the first time that this has happened in Emory's history," she said.  

To advance the conversation, Sterk suggested that it would be constructive to "reach a shared understanding of what we mean by faculty governance."  

Does shared governance mean simply giving people a voice? A role in the processes that lead to decisions? Making decisions? "In five different conversations, I might hear five different meanings of the term," Sterk added.  

Honing a definition would aid "constructive conversations moving forward," she suggested.  

Employee Council  

Employee benefits, including the enrollment period and minor changes to 2014 benefits, were a big topic at the Oct. 16 meeting of the Employee Council.

Felicia C. Smith, director of employee benefits, informed the Council about several programs ongoing in Human Resources. She reminded the Council that benefits enrollment is open now, ending Monday, Nov. 4. With minimal changes to the medical plans for 2014, there are a few adjustments in those plans and related benefits. Smith said a change in the pharmacy plan is designed to raise member awareness of the actual cost of drugs.  

Smith also noted that flexible spending accounts must be elected each year and that employees covering a spouse/same sex domestic partner in a medical plan must complete the certification or the surcharge will apply. A ruling this past summer allows married spouses to be covered for benefits on a pre-tax basis.  

Smith said that Emory is considering changes to the retiree benefit program for retirees who are Medicare eligible, that is, over 65 years old. These changes apply to employees who were hired before Jan. 1, 2003, making them eligible for medical benefits after they retire, if they meet age and service requirements.   

Human Resources held two meetings specifically for Emory staff members on the proposed changes. "These changes are cost neutral to Emory, but could be beneficial for the retirees and their families," said Smith. The University Senate will be asked to vote on the proposed changes at its November meeting.   

Jacob Billings, a neuroscience graduate student, told the Employee Council about the Emory 2013 Neuroethics Symposium, "Bias in the Academy: From Neural Networks to Social Networks." The symposium is Dec. 10, but for the first time pre-symposium seminars will be held throughout November to Dec. 4, featuring Emory speakers. 

Council representatives, now organized into working groups, are also working to remove the differences in representation on the Council. For example, Council President LaDonna Cherry notes, the way representation for employees across the University is set up gives some Council representatives only a handful of employees while other representatives speak for large numbers. The Council wants to even out the numbers and make the groups similar in size.