Plan to reform faculty code sparks professor backlash

The University’s highest governing body announced Friday that it will review the Faculty Code for the first time in a decade, which some professors warned could cause drawn-out political battles over small-scale changes.

Nelson Carbonell, chair of the Board of Trustees, said a group of trustees would work with professors this fall to identify the most outdated policies in the Faculty Code – which outlines everything from research standards to the tenure process.

That task force will recommend changes to the bylaws early next semester, and hopes to approve them at the Board’s May meeting. Carbonell, who admitted he had not read the dense, 22-page document, stressed that professor input was key.

“What do I want? I have never read the Faculty Code, I have to say, to be honest with you,” Carbonell said at the meeting. “I am not here to say what I think the Faculty Code should say. I am here to facilitate a process to get the best Code possible.”

After the Board makes recommendations, the amendments will have to pass the scrutiny of the Faculty Senate or the Faculty Assembly, economics professor Donald Parsons said.

“What Chair Carbonell would have understood had he read the Faculty Code is that the Faculty Code is a compact between the Board and the faculty, and requires the approval of both before changes can be made,” Parsons said.

Carbonell said the rules will be updated to reflect the University’s 10-year strategic plan, which was approved last May, but said he did not yet know specifics of what would be updated.

The Board last reworked the code in 2004 although the Faculty Senate updates them regularly, like the sexual harassment policy approved last May.

Carbonell said he met with the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, and will speak with dozens of faculty in October.

“We also want to revise any things that are outdated and look at best practices,” he said. “Recommendations will go forward to board and we’ll look at what revisions make sense.”

But Charles Garris, an engineering professor and member of the executive committee, said he was “skeptical” about the listening tour, which he said would only gather feedback from a small group of faculty.

“I don’t believe that having a task force coming along, and cherry-picking certain things people don’t like in the Faculty Code and then coming back with [the Board] is a good response,” Garris said.

“There’s a lot of wisdom in the Faculty Code that you really have to work with it to understand it. There’s a lot of history behind it and there’s a lot of wisdom, so I would caution you to be very very careful,” he added.

Parsons said he feared that revising the Code would mean long, politicized sessions “agonizing” over small-scale changes to the Code.

“It’s going to be an enormous undertaking to review what you’re thinking from the ground up,” said Parsons, who has taught at GW for 15 years.

Michael Castleberry, who led the Faculty Senate executive committee last year, also predicted that tensions would flare as the board attempts to streamline the policies: “Something you don’t want to be adversarial is going to be adversarial by the way you set up the process,” he said.

But Carbonell said the trustees had not anticipated clashes over the details.

“We have no desire to create an adversarial process. We will make sure we get all the inputs on what everybody would like,” he said. “That process has worked for us in the past on a number of strategic things.”

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