The Senate Executive Committee endorsed the recommendations of its summer Task Force on Faculty Issues and Concerns Sept. 9 and have released the task force's report to the public. The committee also sent the recommendations to the Urbana Academic Senate for further discussion. (See related story.)
"It's not just a bunch of ideas," said Nicholas Burbules, a professor of education policy, organization and leadership. "These are concrete, actionable proposals, and many things are already moving forward."
Burbules and Randy McCarthy, a mathematics professor, urged the formation of the task force following their debate last spring before the full senate on the pros and cons of unionization and the strength of campus shared governance.
The 14-member task force met over the summer using three subcommittees to address 10 areas of campus concern.
The areas: salary, benefits, the tenure review process, family leave practices, the budget review process, transparency and consultation at all levels, due process during program reduction efforts, deferred maintenance, protecting faculty tuition waivers, and shared governance and mutual respect.
The final report offers 18 recommendations for improvement. Representatives of the provost and chancellor's offices also attended committee meetings and were involved in the discussions.
"I think the administration was extremely forthcoming with information," Burbules said, praising the "open, collegial way in which the conversations were conducted."
The recommendations were presented to SEC members by Burbules, McCarthy and Joyce Tolliver, a professor of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, who is the chair of the General University Policy Committee. Each chaired one of the task force's three subcommittees.
Each recommendation suggests which senate campus body should take action, and most ask for further consideration of and implementation by the provost's office.
As for the salary issue, the task force recommended adopting a five-year program to bring faculty member salaries, especially salaries of associate professors, more in line with salaries at peer institutions. It also suggested forming a Compensation Review Committee working with the existing Campus Budget Oversight Committee to further study salary and benefits issues and make recommendations to the provost.
The report endorses the U. of I.'s Institute of Government and Public Affairs' six-point plan for solving the state's under-funded pension situation but calls it "less than perfect," and advocates the creation of a faculty benefits handbook.
The task force report contains numerous recommendations for improving budgetary transparency and shared governance. Among them, it urges administrators to do a better job of posting campus and university budget data and to continue reporting the data in person to the senate. It also includes a directive for the senate's budget committee to directly communicate to college and department leaders the importance of following campus statutory requirements in developing their unit budgets.
The report also recommends that a serious discussion take place with Facilities and Services, as well as with the appropriate senate subcommittees and administrators, about the long-term maintenance of campus buildings.
"A realistic plan must be developed to bring our campus facility condition index down to (an acceptable level) within a period of several years," the report says. "We recommend that the Senate Committee on Campus Operations work with F&S to better refine what level of annual investment will be required to achieve this objective."
"The problem is there are no new recurring funds except for student fees," McCarthy said, adding that it is likely campus would need an additional $20 million annually to put it on a positive building maintenance trajectory.
"There's no way we're going to be able to do all these things without cutting something," he said. "We have to be a part of that discussion."
Concerning promotion and tenure, recommendations include finding ways to reduce the varying number of levels of review for promotion, making the system more equitable across campus, providing departments and colleges with guidelines to assist and mentor associate professors, and reminding leaders of the requirement of mentoring and of providing annual formal performance reviews.
Other recommendations call for "serious consideration" of the Seventh Senate Review Commission to find ways to improve the processes of the senate and its committees while maintaining transparency and participation, as well as the general promotion of an ongoing dialogue between faculty members and administrators that "contributes to productive exchanges with greater collegiality and less conflict."
"There's a real value to that long deliberative process," said McCarthy, "But how can we make more timely decisions and not jeopardize shared governance and transparency?"
Abbas Aminmansour, a professor of architecture and an SEC member, called the report "very, very positive and very productive."
"This is not just a faculty report," Tolliver said. "It was created with intensive, frequent conversations with administrative colleagues."
Barb Wilson, a professor of communication and the executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, called the recommendations "very doable."
In other business:
- Chairman Roy Campbell, a professor of computer science, asked the General University Policy Committee to review the results of the recently released faculty survey, which was designed to gauge faculty satisfaction and faculty members' feelings regarding inclusiveness in decisions made at the department and college levels, and to make follow-up recommendations.
- Wilson provided printed copies of the recently released Strategic Plan, which outlines campus goals for the next three years.
"It was a very intense process with a lot of faculty input," she said of the work it took to produce the plan. "It's readable, realistic and ambitious."
Wilson, speaking on behalf of Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise, who was traveling, said funding for the Targets of Opportunity program was being increased to meet the university's diversity commitments.
Money in the program earmarked for salary for diverse hires was increased from $70,000 to $85,000; for searches, from $40,000 to $60,000.
"Diversity is a very important priority for our campus," Wilson said. "We want to remove the barriers to hiring excellent and diverse faculty."
Wilson said the recommendation came from the chancellor's four-member faculty diversity council, which also called for forming a faculty recruiting group.
She also reported that strategies are being employed for the "cluster hiring" of faculty members, specifically addressing three of the six themes outlined in the chancellor's Visioning Future Excellence initiative. That process asked a wide variety of campus voices to plot the university's future for the next several decades.
"We're trying to cluster some of these hires around those themes," she said, which will involve creating new cross-disciplinary connections. "We're seeing natural clusters across campus; they haven't looked at each other's hiring plans before."
- Melissa Madsen, the assistant director of human resources for the College of Fine and Applied Arts and the SEC's Council of Academic Professionals representative, reported that the State Universities Civil Service System Merit Board has convened an advisory committee to address the job classification exemption authority issue - without anyone appointed to represent the Urbana campus and without any faculty members from any state public university.
Public universities retained exemption authority following merit board hearings last semester, in essence keeping the ability to classify employees based on their own interpretation of SUCSS job classifications.
SUCSS Executive Director Tom Morelock, who appointed the new committee, known as the stakeholders' group, had sought to take away the universities' exemption authority, but lost that bid after board members voted against the measure.
He argued that biannual SUCSS audits showed the universities were abusing the authority and misclassifying jobs as academic professional instead of civil service. The universities, including many speaking on behalf of the U. of I., argued they needed to retain authority in order to staff research and other support positions requiring specialized skills.
Madsen expressed disappointment in not having any faculty or even an Urbana campus representative on the committee, "despite our having asked for it." She said there were no faculty representatives on the committee. Campbell said both he and former SEC chair Matt Wheeler provided faculty names to serve on the committee but were not contacted. U. of I. Trustee Karen Hasera also asked SUCSS leaders at one of the earlier hearings to appoint a more representative committee.