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Address to general faculty 2004-2005

Professor Mary Adams, senior Faculty Assembly Delegate
August 18, 2005

Assembly Report for the Fall 2005 General Faculty Meeting:

I’m Mary Adams, outgoing Vice Chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly. Because this year’s delegation is brand new, I’m here as the retiring delegate to tell you what Faculty Assembly is. I brought some visual aids you can take with you—kind of like the student welcome packets, only without the condoms.

The Faculty Assembly is the elected body of representatives of the faculty of the sixteen campuses of the University of North Carolina. Its objectives are (1) to gather and exchange information and (2) to advise the powers that be (President, Board of Governors, interested legislators, campuses, and others) about faculty concerns.

Based on its size, Western sends three delegates to Faculty Assembly. As Mary Ann Nixon and I retire, this year’s delegates will be Newton Smith, Gary Jones, and Sharon Jacques. Delegates meet four times a year. Each belongs to a subcommittee that deals with Academic Freedom and Tenure, Faculty Welfare, Development, Planning, Governance, Budget, or Technology. Our senior delegate reports to the senate after each Assembly meeting, but this is your only chance to hear from us directly.

The Assembly’s first objective, the gathering and exchanging of information, is its crucial task. Last year we brought your concerns about self-governance, salary, benefits, and academic freedom to a forum that included the Office of the President and the Board of Governors. We learned a lot, too. This year we learned faculty are actually overpaid. For example, a faculty member at UNC Asheville makes $172,000 to “prepare to teach.” (Turns out, he’s a former chancellor). I’ve learned how others perceive us. For example, one delegate from Charlotte took part in a videoconference with Western. He saw so many administrators and so few teachers, he wondered if we were “phasing out” instruction.

And sometimes we learn how others have tackled the problems we face. For example, UNC Greensboro authored a Teaching and Technology policy that guarantees its faculty ownership of online curriculum. Why does Western need such a policy? Take a look at the underlined portions of our University Policy #84 on Copyright, on the back of your handout. Its current language allows Western to use your electronic course materials for any “educational” purpose. Your syllabi and notes could be made into web modules for use by proctors or graduate assistants, who will work for even less than you.

What’s more, if the university finds you developed your course materials with “exceptional use” of their resources, they could claim your materials for themselves and regulate even your access to them. That’s why a former head of the Assembly’s Technology Committee loads only handwritten notes, scanned into Adobe Acrobat, on his web site. For those of you using WebCT, think long and hard about what materials you load onto university-owned servers.

No one suspects our University officials of framing these policies to make faculty obsolete. But where there is leeway for abuse, each one of us must be wary, especially in a world changing so fast that none of us can imagine the nature of academic life in 20 or 30 years.

The Assembly meets its second objective--advice to governmental agencies, to the president, or to the campuses—through its official actions or resolutions. Many are symbolic, but some can have lasting consequences. One important resolution—on the first three pages of your handout—took over a year to research, write, and ratify. It sets minimum standards of shared governance that all campuses should meet. By looking at other campuses, we learned that Western’s governance is exemplary in many ways. But let me point out a few places where we still fall short:

  • Under Faculty Governance Responsibilities, item number 2. Note that in all cases of creation, change, or elimination of departments, colleges, majors, and programs, these actions should be initiated and approved by faculty representatives who are elected by faculty, not appointed by administration.
  • Under the same heading, items 5 and 7. Note that all university policies affecting faculty, and all honorary degrees we confer, must be approved by elected faculty representatives.
  • Under Administration-Faculty Collegiality, item number 3. Note that faculty should be given meaningful input into such matters as the budget, campus master plan, and building construction. You can tell who had a say in our master plan. They still have parking.
  • Under the same heading, numbers 8, 9, and 10. Read carefully what the Assembly advises about the appointment and term limits of deans and department heads. Note also that faculty should regularly evaluate the performance of senior administrators.

In the past, we have not always attended perfectly to Assembly recommendations. For example, three years ago, the Assembly endorsed a report on the welfare of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty. It recommended such faculty be included in decision-making processes at the department, college, and university level, particularly those affecting their own responsibilities and employment conditions. We still have a long way to go to make that happen.

However, our Faculty Chair will now be one of our delegates. Under Newt’s direction, the Academic Freedom and Tenure committee will grapple with a growing trend: pressures from religious and other interest groups to legislate our curriculum. In several states, proponents of the so-called Academic Bill of Rights have attacked what they perceive as a liberal bias in subjects ranging from Biology to Freshman Comp. While the Office of the President works to head off such attacks, they warn us to expect more of them.

Academic people are notoriously private. We work alone, guarding the halcyon inner life that makes us curious and wise. But before we can park, we must learn where they have moved our parking space. Consider that a metaphor for vigilance.

It has been my privilege to represent Western at the UNC Faculty Assembly. I know our new delegates, Gary and Sharon, will be a credit to that body. I look forward to learning from them. Thank you.

Copyright 2006 Western Carolina University
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