Representatives from the Office of the Provost presented a draft Provost's Communication on Specialized Faculty to the Urbana Academic Senate on Feb. 10.
The communication, according to Katherine Galvin, associate provost for administrative affairs, was prepared with the intent of recognizing the significant contributions to the campus education, research and service missions made by individuals in faculty positions outside the tenure-track system.
Recommended by a senate task force, the communication is designed to reduce confusion and a proliferation of titles outside the tenure-track system, and to ensure that every unit has clear employment policies and practices in place. The communication identifies standards and procedures for hiring, offer letters, job descriptions, performance evaluations and grievances. In addition, the communication also creates promotional tracks, including recognizing a teaching professor title.
Teaching, research and clinical positions all fall under the "other academic" category, but the draft communication suggests that the campus adopt the broader name of "specialized faculty" to refer to this category of employees.
"We were looking for a term that more celebrated what they contribute to campus," Galvin said.
Barbara Wilson, the executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, said the document had been prepared over the last 18 months with input from several campus faculty and administrative groups through surveys and face-to-face meetings.
"We've done a lot of consultation," she said. "The general consensus was that we needed a new term that doesn't define (non-tenured faculty) by what they are not."
Several faculty members expressed general support for the changes, but some were less than enthusiastic about the new "specialized" description. Additionally, some people questioned whether individual units are required to follow the recommendations in the provost's communication.
"I'd like to see more obligatory language," said Sen. Sara Benson, a lecturer in the College of Law. "I'd like to see it go farther."
She said she also would like to see non-tenured faculty members receive incentives for serving on campus committees.
One senator worried that the use of the term "specialized faculty," considering it is not a standard term used nationally, would not translate well when those faculty members were seeking employment elsewhere. Another senator said she would like to see the communication include academic professionals with teaching duties.
"I'm just not sure if we're going to come up with a term that everyone likes," Galvin said. "I do hope this document opens up a lot of conversations in the units asking, 'Do we have people in the right titles?' "
A positive vote at the Urbana Academic Senate Feb. 10 affirming senators' support of the principles in the draft communication was nullified when it was determined not enough senators were present for a quorum.
After the vote, which was advisory in nature, Sen. Mary Mallory, doubting a quorum existed, asked senate tellers to count the number of senators present.
Quorum is set at 100, though last year senators approved a measure reducing that number to 75. However, the new quorum threshold has yet to be approved by the U. of I. Board of Trustees.
Mallory said she would like to see stronger protections for the non-tenured employees as far as termination notice rights, which are not addressed in the communication.
"It's a step forward," she said, "but everyone should have notice rights."
"It's not perfect, but many felt it was a step in the right direction," Wilson said, adding that the document was still in draft form and that discussion to improve the communication would continue.
"We will continue to meet," she said, asking anyone with concerns to contact her with suggestions. "We want to embrace your ideas."
U. of I. Police Lt. Todd Short strongly urged senators to participate in the university's emergency action initiative, which requires each campus building to create an action plan that would be followed in the event of the presence of an active shooter or other catastrophic event.
In 18 months, just 200 of the 450 buildings on campus have submitted a plan and followed up with the requisite tenant-training component required by law.
"There are things we need to work on collectively," he said. "I need your help in getting this information out."
Short said the department is considering sending out another massmail asking faculty members to read a prepared script or to post a pre-written note in a syllabus informing students where to find emergency exits and meeting area information for each building. He said the first massmail was not followed to the degree the department would like to see, a concern Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise reiterated at a recent SEC meeting. The university could face large fines if compliance is not met.
"We all need to mentally rehearse these things," he said. "We need to know what to do. We hope more people will take a lead role."
Each building is required to create a building emergency action plan, to have all of the employees in the building trained about what to do in an emergency, and to update their plans each year. Units are asked to submit "business continuity" plans outlining essential services that would continue in the event of an emergency.
Short said having professors provide information in their classrooms "would go so very far in preparing the campus security structure."
Sen. Joyce Tolliver asked Wise about union organizing efforts on campus and whether a card campaign had yet begun. Tolliver said she was posing the questions after reading an account in the media that reported that Campus Faculty Association officials claimed to have near-majority faculty support to form a union.
Wise indicated she was not aware of the status of the union movement, which is being supported by CFA.
Other questions Tolliver asked: Upon what is the estimate of "near majority" support based? Does CFA estimate that it has majority support of tenure-track faculty members and also of non-tenure-track faculty members, or have the CFA combined the two groups in estimating their support? Why have union organizers chosen to conduct a door-to-door signature campaign instead of having an open election?
Mallory, a CFA member and a facilitator in its senators group, said she would work with members to supply answers to Tolliver's questions.
Wise said she would like to see the answers "more well publicized."
Senators approved offering an honorary degree to Philip A. Sharp, who earned his doctorate in chemistry at the U. of I. in 1969. The nomination was made by James H. Morrissey, the acting head of the U. of I.'s department of biochemistry.
Sharp, the institute professor at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, was nominated for "his groundbreaking research in biochemistry, for his exceptional scientific leadership and for his pioneering achievements in the biotechnology industry," according to nomination materials. "His elucidation of RNA splicing and RNA expression in the 1970s has been described as one of the seminal discoveries in the biological sciences. He was one of the founding entrepreneurs of the biotechnology industry."