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Committee of Counsel on
Academic Freedom and

The 2004-05 Committee of Counsel for Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR) functioned actively on a variety of topics. The major activities, results of those activities, and resultant committee suggestions focused on: Course Instructor Survey (CIS) Processes, Faculty Tenure Process Procedural Reviews, and Changes in the CCAFR Description and Composition.

Course Instructor Survey (CIS) Processes
During the fall, the provost and Faculty Council chair requested that the CCAFR review “all issues concerning the new legal status of the Course Instructor Surveys” in light of the ruling that all course instructor information is owned by the University. This ruling raised issues around the process of reporting CIS results to the faculty, especially concerning handwritten student comments (given Freedom of Information and FERPA issues). After discussing the issues and later meeting with Dr. Chuck Gaede, Interim Director of the Measurement and Evaluation Center, the CCAFR decided that the scope of issues was substantial and recommended that an ad hoc committee of the Faculty Council be appointed. This recommendation was passed by the Faculty Council in spring, and such committee was appointed by the Faculty Council chair.

In spite of the recommendation that an ad hoc committee further review the issues, the CCAFR did undertake its own review and makes the following observations and recommendations for this report.

The committee is concerned about written student CIS comments being used for faculty evaluation (especially negatively) without the faculty’s knowledge and opportunity to refute potentially false and liable statements. Previously, when the faculty held the original student written comments, they would know when and how those comments were being used, as they would be the providers. Without knowledge that the written comments are being used for evaluation, faculty cannot respond to a particular student comment.

There is also concern about the variation in practices across campus for returning CIS documents to faculty for review. Some colleges are keeping the originals and providing scanned copies to the faculty. There is concern about the readability of the electronic copies of the student’s written comments. Some faculty are unable to read those comments at all, resulting in their not being able to know what students have said in their comments.

Other comments and issues raised by the CCAFR during its consideration of the CIS ruling implications can be found in the motion for the establishment of an ad hoc committee made on behalf of the committee at the February 2005, Faculty Council meeting (D 3778-3786).

Faculty Promotion Process Procedural Reviews
The Committee of Counsel for Academic Freedom and Responsibility is charged with responding to faculty requests for procedural review of their promotion decision process. The CCAFR received several inquiries this year and two such requests which were conducted by two separate committees and later combined. These reviews were conducted during December 2004, and January 2005, with a report submitted. As a result of this process and the committee’s experiences with it, we have several comments and recommendations which are neither independent nor mutually exclusive.

Appropriate CCAFR Focus Is on Academic Freedom Issues and Major University Policy Violations—The CCAFR cannot be a full-investigation body for promotion procedure reviews, especially during a holiday semester break, but not at any time of year. The CCAFR review should focus on academic freedom issues, not potentially wider grievance issues. This fall, the Grievance Committee was not taking new cases to the full committee (beyond chair involvement), but this is generally not the case. The CCAFR’s role should be to identify major violations of University policy within its area of responsibility. Policy is needed to clearly define what resources exist for faculty-requested promotion review purposes and differences in scope for those resources made explicit (e.g., the ombudsman, grievance committee, or the CCAFR in extraordinary situations when a process is allegedly an academic freedom violation).

Visible University Ombudsman—The University ombudsman presence should continue to be made very visible. Possibly, the University ombudsman should be the first person contacted by a faculty member seeking review of their promotion process. The CCAFR should be a resource used if the ombudsman (or grievance committee) needs to refer a larger policy question of academic freedom for exploration, while addressing the legitimacy of the particular complaint at other levels.

Allow Pre-Presidential Decision Review by the CCAFR—The committee believes that the University should revise the current timing guidelines so that procedural issues can be addressed prior to the president rendering a “final promotion decision.” Currently, at least for faculty initiated review, the CCAFR is to submit its report only after the president has rendered a decision. To avoid further academic freedom/procedural process deviations, if any, it would be useful to allow the CCAFR to report as early as after a departmental vote and before the dean renders a decision. Thus, we believe the University should revise the current stated guidelines from this perspective and allow for the CCAFR review at any stage in the promotion process when broader academic freedom issues are involved.

Increase University-wide Awareness of Existing Promotion and Tenure Review Guidelines Very Early Each Year—While there are University guidelines for promotion and tenure review in place, they may not be well-known by all faculty and administrators. In addition to the faculty being considered for review, the department chairs and deans should be reminded each year very explicitly what the University promotion and tenure review process guidelines are. We recommend improved communications at all levels of administration within the colleges and University wide, so as to make certain the University promotion and tenure review processes are followed. This communication should occur very early in the pre-process, probably in the spring, when some departments begin to send out for external references to ensure that the University guidelines are well-known by faculty and administrators prior to the inception of the decision process.

Develop Summary Version of University Promotion and Tenure Review Guidelines—We recommend that there be a “short, summary version” of the University Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure Review to serve as a “quick reference” and readily visible tool. We suggest that the provost appoint a committee that includes the ombudsman and the chair of the grievance committee to develop a shorter document of the promotion and tenure guidelines for faculty and administrators to use. Summarizing the rules in this way may be helpful in stimulating awareness and adherence to them, in spite of the fact that they are currently listed on the provost’s Web site. In short, we are suggesting an “information push” (v. “information pull”) strategy to increase ease of awareness of the guidelines and ease of adherence across campus. This is not to replace the college responsibility for providing the information to departments, but meant to enhance other processes already in existence.

Changes in the CCAFR Description and Composition
The Committee on Committees asked that we review our current description and composition. Following that review, we made several recommended changes, which were approved by the Committee on Committees and the Faculty Council. These are summarized below.

Include the provost in the list of people who can request a promotion process review from the CCAFR. This exclusion might have resulted historically from the fact that the University did not always have a provost.

A law professor should always be on the committee, and the guidelines should reflect that one be appointed, if no law professor has been elected. This recommendation is due to the legal nature of some of the issues that might come before the CCAFR each year.

Assistant deans should be explicitly excluded from membership on the CCAFR. This was to avoid a high potential for conflict of interest.

We discussed excluding assistant department chairs from membership on the CCAFR, but did not so recommend, as the University does not currently code that position, and responsibilities vary widely across campus. Thus, not wanting to limit academic freedom, we did not explicitly exclude this administrative title from the CCAFR’s membership intentionally and after due consideration. This does not mean that someone in that position could not decline to serve, if there were concern for a conflict of interest due to their job description or for other reasons.

Linda L. Golder, chair