After New Email Search Revelations, Faculty Question Balance of Power

A recent string of top-down administrative decisions, culminating in revelations Tuesday that Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds broke faculty email privacy policy in authorizing the search of a resident dean’s email accounts, has faculty members calling for a broad reconsideration of their own governance and their role in decision-making at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Specifically, they said, faculty have not been consulted on a range of important decisions over the last year pertaining to the Government 1310 cheating case, the relocation of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to Allston, and a number of less visible issues affecting Harvard’s flagship professorial body.

“I think this only highlights a larger problem at this university between the administration and the faculty,” said Ali S. Asani ’77, chair of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department. “I think the searches are just another egregious example of an overbearing University administration.”

Faculty members said Tuesday’s news that secret email searches disclosed in early March were broader and more involved than previously thought exacerbates the strain that perceived top-down governance is putting on trust between faculty and their administrators.

German professor Peter J. Burgard, who is on leave this year, wrote in an email Thursday that while the secret email searches are not directly an issue of faculty governance, they are similar in spirit.

“[B]oth types of action—breach of faculty privacy and failure to consult faculty—contribute to a degeneration of trust between faculty members and the administration: the email searches more blatantly and shockingly, the deterioration of faculty self-governance more gradually but ultimately far more devastatingly for the fabric of the Faculty and the College,” Burgard wrote.

Speaking at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, history professor Lisa M. McGirr said that the monthly meetings have become something of a “spectator sport” in which faculty watch as administrators break news about their decisions. The shift, she said, points to a “gap between the administration and faculty over our sense of our rights and responsibilities.”

To help remedy this, McGirr suggested that a discussion of faculty governance and communication be docketed for the May 7 Faculty meeting.

Currently, faculty and administrators regularly interact in two types of meetings: Faculty Council meetings and Faculty meetings. The elected Faculty Council convenes on a biweekly basis to discuss items that might deserve consideration by the faculty as a whole at the monthly Faculty meetings. The 18 junior and senior faculty who are elected to the Council are expected to keep their eyes and ears open to faculty concerns and then raise those concerns in Council discussion. Council chair and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith can also propose items on behalf of the administration to be discussed at Council meetings.

The docket committee, a three-person subset of the Faculty Council, then decides which issues should be put on the agenda for discussion among all voting members of the faculty at their monthly meeting. In making decisions about what to docket, the committee tries to balance faculty concerns with administrators’ goals, as well as thematic discussions with concrete proposals, according to history professor Maya R. Jasanoff ’96.

But for history professor Charles S. Maier ’60, the Faculty Council has become too “routinized” to raise real faculty concerns for discussion.

Asani agreed, saying he believes the Faculty Council—and Faculty meetings more broadly—are too closely controlled by administrators for professors to have a free and full discussion. Rather, he suggested, the faculty should discuss the possibility of a new, faculty-only body where they can communicate and debate without administrative presence.

What exactly that new body might look like is uncertain, but faculty members said there is some recent precedent.

After a faculty motion to delay the Massachusetts Hall-proposed closure of the University’s Financial Planning Group failed last May, Burgard convened a group of faculty members to discuss the creation of a faculty senate.

With campus emptying out for summer, that group eventually fell apart, but on Thursday, faculty members said it might once again be an avenue worth exploring.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of junior and senior faculty members on the Faculty Council. In fact, there are 18 elected members, not 22.

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