Letter to the editor

Professor Jackson Miller addresses the Board of Trustee’s decision to adopt a senate-style model of governance for the faculty.

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Linfield benefits tremendously from a community of faculty, staff, and students rich with innovative ideas and eager to meaningfully participate in the necessary work to make the institution successful. Consistent with our mission of promoting “intellectual challenge and creativity,” valuing “both theoretical and practical knowledge,” and engaging in “thoughtful dialogue in a climate of mutual respect,” Linfield embraces a culture of asking thought-provoking questions and working collaboratively to address our biggest challenges. Most employees at Linfield have a great passion for their work, genuinely care for students, and love the institution.

This past March, Linfield’s Board of Trustees asked members of our community to engage in significant work to help move Linfield forward by charging the faculty with “defining and implementing new structures of University Faculty Governance.” The Faculty Governance Revision Committee, on which I served as a co-chair, was established to facilitate this process with the specific purpose of developing proposals for “new or revised faculty governance structures for Linfield University.” In the face of this seemingly robust effort to work collectively to chart a future for Linfield, I am alarmed by the recent decision by the Board of Trustees to approve revisions to Article XI of Linfield’s Bylaws (the section that defines faculty authority and responsibilities). On November 14, the Board voted to enshrine a 12-member Faculty Senate, featuring a Faculty Senate model that was not approved by the Faculty Assembly, into Linfield’s Bylaws.

As an individual who is deeply committed to our community ethos and collaborative spirit, it pains me to report that the Bylaws change process did not live up to Linfield’s standards of transparency and inclusion. Meetings between representatives of the Faculty Governance Revision Committee and other parties in this process included efforts to decrease cooperation and undercut existing partnerships. Unsubstantiated claims about the need to adopt specific faculty governance structures in the interests of “efficiency” and “future growth” were made throughout the process. Faculty representatives were, on more than one occasion, presented with unilateral declarations of “this is the way things are going to be” with minimal effort to find a compromise or to provide a clear rationale for specific decisions. Potential alternative governance proposals, models that were vague and incomplete, were introduced late in the process and treated as equivalent options to the collaborative and carefully developed faculty proposals. Finally, despite repeated requests to review the recommended new Article XI language in advance of a final vote by the trustees, the revised Bylaws were only shared with faculty leaders in a general message to the broader Linfield community after the changes had been formally adopted.

What do these Article XI Bylaws changes do? In short, they abruptly dissolve faculty governance bodies without a clear plan for continued legislative and deliberative action in faculty areas of Bylaws responsibility. In spite of repeated assurances that the faculty would have until July 1, 2021 to transition to a new system of governance, the Bylaws are “effective immediately” as of November 14, 2020, which means: 1) the Faculty Assembly and the Faculty Executive Council have been unilaterally abolished and replaced by a yet-to-be-formed Faculty Senate; 2) there are no Bylaws for a Faculty Senate, and best practices would suggest that it is not wise to elect members to a Senate only to have them turn around and immediately write their own rules; 3) the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business do not have internal governance structures in place to do the work of the previous Faculty Assembly committees; 4) with a proposed first meeting of a Faculty Senate in February 2021, Linfield is lacking a comprehensive deliberative or legislative body on curricular, personnel, student academic policies, and faculty budget issues for at least the next three months.

These abrupt and unilateral Bylaws changes create substantial harms for Linfield. In the short-term, this hasty shift in governance structures hits our community at a time when the well of ideas and the commitment to shared responsibility is already significantly diminished. Over the past year alone, Linfield employees have grappled with issues related to personal safety and a lack of flexible work options during the COVID-19 pandemic, seen the disbanding of the only body for collective action for Linfield’s non-exempt employees (the Linfield Employees Association), experienced a strong rebuff of concerns raised about institutional responses to issues of sexual misconduct, and now witnessed a significant deterioration of university-wide faculty voice. The recent Bylaws changes have, in effect, ended meaningful employee participation in institutional decision-making at Linfield.

Negative impacts on Linfield’s long-term health are also a real possibility. Colleges and universities are required to demonstrate the effectiveness of their governance structures to maintain institutional accreditation. During our most recent evaluation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), all of Linfield’s governance documents (bylaws, organizational charts, employee handbooks, etc.) were carefully reviewed, and meetings were held with administrative officers, faculty leaders, and trustees to discuss governance issues. The overall conclusion of the NWCCU evaluation team about the effectiveness of Linfield’s processes was to issue a “recommendation” (indicating a lack of compliance with standards) to highlight significant concerns. While we are several years out from the next step in our NWCCU evaluation process (a “mid-cycle visit”), Linfield must be able to document clear improvements in our institutional governance structures in the near future.

So, what can, and should we do? The future success of Linfield depends on all employees playing a significant role in the implementation of institutional goals, faculty playing a substantial role in the development and coordination of academic policies and practices, and all members of the Linfield community working diligently to promote inclusive and transparent practices. The recent Bylaws changes represent a shift away from an ethos of shared responsibility toward one of top-down hierarchy. For the long-term health of Linfield, we need our leaders, particularly President Miles Davis and Board of Trustees Chair David Baca, to make a clear and meaningful turn in a more collaborative direction which should start with a Board vote to rescind the recently adopted Article XI Bylaws changes.

For faculty, staff, and students, we need to significantly increase efforts to maintain dynamic community connections. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that a compassionate community is so much more than gathering for in-person classes and meetings – it is about genuinely caring for each other. In addition to continuing to offer this much-needed support on an individual level, we also need to push for structural changes to support and sustain these vital connections. Linfield’s governance committees, employment policies, student policies, and institutional bylaws must all foster the creation of such a caring community. To the extent that we continue to have voice and agency in crafting these policies and practices, it is our obligation to promote transparent, honest, cooperative, positive, and inclusive approaches.

Linfield is firmly grounded in genuine relationships, and all members of our community are responsible for sustaining an enriching educational environment. We have to embrace authentic opportunities for community input and reject efforts to consolidate power. Shared governance must not become an artifact of our “Linfield College” past. As we continue the important work of building a future for Linfield University, we must fight to preserve the critical roles that faculty, staff, and students play in institutional decision-making.

 

Jackson Miller