January 28, 2013


A. Report on the status of legislation pertaining to faculty voting rights (D 8512-8513 and Appendix A).

Professor Neikirk (chair, General Faculty Rules and Governance Committee; electrical and computer engineering) informed the Council that no vote was expected at the meeting, but that he hoped to receive the Council’s advice on how to properly phrase the proposed legislation on faculty voting rights. The legislation had previously passed the Council, but was being resubmitted to clarify language on who votes and who does not. He wanted to gauge if the intent was that only tenure and tenure-track faculty vote or if voting rights should extend beyond that group. Chair Elect Hart interjected that non-tenure-track lecturers with four consecutive semesters of service at UT Austin currently have voting rights, whereas other non-tenure-track titles cannot vote no matter their UT-affiliated service. Professor Neikirk confirmed that the previously approved legislation essentially based voting rights on appointment longevity for lecturers.

Professor William Beckner (mathematics) asked for clarification regarding the voting status for clinical faculty. Professor Neikirk responded that clinical faculty members currently do not have voting rights. If the Council decided that a more inclusive policy were preferred than what is currently in place, the details would need to be worked out.

Professor David Hillis (integrative biology) noted that different titles were used differently across University organizational units and asked if voting rights could therefore be decided at the unit level rather than the University level. Professor Neikirk responded that the proposed legislation only addresses voting rights at the General Faculty level. Rather than titles, the committee had been working with long-term association as a determinant for voting rights since that had been the precedent, but he acknowledged that the variance in titles and functions had raised definitional difficulties. He emphasized that he did not deem it appropriate that voting rights at the General Faculty level would necessarily determine voting rights at lower organizational levels.

Professor Jon Olson asked if the number of different titles was too extensive to list. Professor Neikirk gave an affirmative response emphasizing that unit names and faculty titles are not used uniformly across campus.

Chair Elect Hart clarified that Professor Neikirk was merely trying to reaffirm if the principle to expand voting rights beyond tenure and tenure-track faculty, as it had been approved twice before, was still supported by the members of the Faculty Council. Professor Vaaler, chair of the Faculty Welfare Committee, noted that her committee has been concentrating on the rights or privileges of non-tenure-track faculty and unanimously supported the expansion of voting rights for faculty with long-time affiliation. She also noted the follow-up to the “Langlois Report” in 2005 on the status of non-tenure-track faculty specifically recommended full General Faculty voting rights for lecturers, senior lecturers, and distinguished senior lecturers with membership eligibility in the Faculty Council after four or more long-term semesters of service. She acknowledged that she had also run into issues with non-universal use of titles.

Chair Hilley asked Provost Steven Leslie if he wished to comment on the issue of voting rights in view of the development of the new medical school, which will surely have a variety of clinical faculty. Provost Leslie agreed that the medical school would have a large number of clinical faculty, as well as research faculty, in addition to tenure-track faculty. Professor Hillis expressed concern that a large number of research and clinical faculty would be voting on curriculum matters. It would be essential to parse out who is eligible to vote where. Professor Neikirk agreed and said this would not be an easy task considering that even the term “academic” had proven difficult to define. Professor Hillis asked if the voting rights at the General Faculty level could remain as currently legislated, but left up to the organizational units below the General Faculty level. Professor Neikirk responded that a unit-level decision might impact a University-level decision on certain issues, such as curriculum modifications. He felt that units should, at the very least, have a guaranteed minimum set of rules determining voting rights.

He then presented a tentative definition for General Faculty voting rights: tenured and tenure-track faculty, as well as non-tenure-track faculty gauged in terms of their commitment, which is currently defined as having a 50 percent appointment for at least four continuous long-session semesters. This definition was part of the legislation that had previously been passed and was currently in place. He indicated that a problem existed because there was no specific definition or guideline regarding “appointed for what.” For example, should a clinical or research professor with no teaching responsibilities, even if appointed in an academic department, be allowed to vote at the General Faculty level? He said this particular issue and similar ones have held up progress on legislative proposals for over three years. Vice President for Legal Affairs Patti Ohlendorf agreed regarding the issue of inconsistent title designation within different units at the University. She further acknowledged that the fundamental question is, who is involved in long-term curriculum and similar matters for the University? Another key question that is difficult to answer is, should employees with continuous part-time status be included or should fundamental questions only be decided by full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty?

Associate Vice President Renee Wallace noted that there were some definitions within certain title series related to individuals’ teaching or research roles. She cautioned that voting rights legislation needed to be made clear and systematic so that a population of eligible voters can be automatically determined and not be created on an ad hoc basis for each election. Professor Neikirk added that, at a minimum, there needs to be a clear set of codified instructions for units to use in generating a list of eligible faculty members for elections.

Secretary Greninger explained that the whole issue of faculty voting rights surfaced after a number of faculty members’ titles had been changed from instructor to clinical faculty, which resulted in their losing their voting rights. She said some thought they had received promotions and were dismayed when they could not vote in General Faculty elections. She stressed her concerns about voting logistics. Changes in voting rights criteria will likely require reprogramming of election software, which will result in additional financial and time costs.

Professor Neikirk further explained that there has to be a process for getting into the voting pool and for coming out of it, depending on appointments for a certain amount and length of time. Details such as, will faculty members who are only appointed for 40 percent one semester be taken off the list and will their eligibility clock have to be restarted? Rules for inclusion and exclusion have to be defined very clearly.

Professor Neikirk then turned the discussion to voting rights below the General Faculty level. Since terms like department, college, school, etc., are not always utilized in a consistent manner across the University, he was now referring to these organizational structures as “units.” He noted that increased inclusiveness had guided the legislation that had been approved in the past. Professor Neikirk said he was seeking guidance from Council members for a core principle for the future as to whether or not they still favored this inclusive approach for units below the General Faculty level. Professor Susan Klein noted that in the School of Law only tenured faculty vote on tenure and was very concerned if the University should try to impose different rules. Professor Neikirk noted that the Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP) defines duties of budget councils, which include decisions regarding tenure. He said any proposed legislation regarding voting rights would not supersede the HOP, although he noted that the HOP’s language could also use some refinement.

Professor Anthony Petrosino wanted to go on the record that he had serious concerns about this legislation. He felt that there were a lot of unanswered questions about the effects on tenure, voting rights, graduate study committees, the meaning of inclusion, etc. He was concerned about the effect this would have in the College of Education. He wondered what the problem was that was to be solved and where the call for this legislation had initiated. Professor Hart explained that when lecturer positions were converted to clinical professor positions there had been some unfairness regarding the University’s universal suffrage. Faculty retained the same responsibilities they had previously performed, but found they had lost voting privileges. Professor Neikirk added his own sentiment that faculty members under short-term contracts who teach 50 percent or more semester-after-semester should have a say in curriculum matters. He reiterated that this legislation had passed Faculty Council before. Professor Petrosino noted that four consecutive semesters (the language in the current proposal) is different from year-after-year-after-year. He thought two consecutive years of teaching did not show the same commitment that full-time tenure/tenure-track faculty have to the University and pointed out that was a shorter time than the three-year review required for tenure track faculty. Professor Neikirk noted that tenure track faculty have voting rights. He also acknowledged that specific details and requirements were certainly open to discussion, once the basic question—if the threshold of time can be used to set voting rights—had been answered. If so, then he said the proposal might be amended from the floor when it comes up for vote.

Professor Neikirk asked if units should be allowed to expand voting rights for local issues, which is not currently addressed and might thus be officially put into writing. The General Faculty Rules and Governance Committee has suggested that voting members of a unit decide if they want to expand voting rights for local issues to a defined eligible group of voters. The decision should be revisited periodically, in fixed intervals yet to be determined, and either be reaffirmed or revoked by those faculty members who are eligible to vote in General Faculty elections rather than the expanded group. He noted that the HOP has similar rules in place for extended budget councils or executive committees, which should also be reviewed periodically, even though units do not always remember to do so.

Professor Marvin Shepherd noted that the College of Pharmacy has a rather large number of clinical faculty members and that he would be strongly in favor of granting them input into curriculum content matters. Professor Neikirk affirmed that there would be a minimum set of criteria, that allows voting rights which could not be reduced, but local units could expand those rights for local decisions at their own discretion.

Another issue Professor Neikirk brought up related to voting rights for faculty members on phased retirement or modified service, a group that is no longer considered tenured or tenure-track and currently has no voting rights. The General Faculty Rules and Governance Committee was proposing that faculty members with a continued and appropriate level of involvement be treated similarly to the previously discussed group with expanded voting rights at the local level. Once faculty members fully retire, they are no longer appointed and would therefore no longer be eligible to vote. The committee suggests that the rules in the HOP governing emeritus appointments need to be reconsidered in this context as a separate issue.

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