The Quest for Shared Governance at Boston College

The following op-ed by Susan Michalczyk, Boston College AAUP President, details the faculty’s ongoing quest for a university faculty senate and the sad state of faculty governance at a prestigious Jesuit college.  Perhaps the reality of the first Jesuit pope, who is a man committed to social justice, will enliven Boston College’s administration to improve faculty representation in the name of genuine collegiality.


Boston College: The Search for Faculty Governance Continues……

 Boston College, founded in 1863 by the Jesuits to serve Catholic immigrants, adopted a typically Catholic hierarchical structure and has never had a university faculty senate, let alone true faculty governance. A model that works for clergy or the Vatican may not be best suited for proper expression of academic freedom and transparent decision-making with faculty participation.

 For more than 20 years, faculty of Boston College have worked diligently to take an active part in decision-making at the university, yet the hierarchical structure remains firmly in place. The current administration feels that it allows faculty participation in decisions by appointing faculty to committees, allowing them to be elected to committees that have significant administration membership, or allowing them to be elected to committees that are strictly advisory and often ignored.

 In January 2010, in response to the current administration’s hierarchical structure that restricted attempts to create a faculty senate, BC faculty voted to establish an AAUP advocacy chapter with the primary goal of working for real faculty governance and a recognized and independent voice on campus. BCAAUP resolved to address the most pressing concerns of all faculty (non-tenured, tenure track and tenured). Since that time, BCAAUP has worked with our colleagues across the university and across the country, committed to addressing the lack of faculty governance at Boston College and advocating for a recognized faculty role in decision-making, and a less centralized, more democratic decision-making process.

 A 2003 Faculty Compensation Committee survey of faculty with a roughly 40% response rate, showed that 80% of the respondents desired the formation of a faculty senate and as a result, the FCC organized a task force to study the workings of faculty senates and draft a proposal. The Academic Vice President’s (now Provost’s) office provided some logistical and financial support for this.  In December of 2003, the task force presented a set of ‘guidelines’ for a faculty senate to the FCC.  In January 2005, elected members of university-wide committees began meeting as the Interim Faculty Senate (IFS) to translate the guidelines into a specific proposal, which was then submitted in a referendum to the faculty, October 5-12, 2006.  With 42.7% of eligible faculty voting, the measure passed 272-37 (88.08% approving, 11.97% disapproving). With such strong faculty support, the IFS prepared to elect senate members as part of the December 2006 elections process.  However, the Provost’s office declined to allow the election for the new Faculty Senate to be conducted, and the Provost justified this action by citing the provision in the Preamble to the University Statutes that the Board of Trustees reserved to itself the power to “establish senates, councils….” In recent years, it has been argued that the administration actually usurped the Trustees prerogatives by denying them the possibility of designating an existing faculty body as the statutory University Faculty Senate as provided by the statutes.

In the 2012 BCAAUP sponsored faculty survey, only 19% of faculty were satisfied with current faculty decision making. Faculty overwhelmingly agreed (85% of respondents) that an elected faculty committee “should explain, evaluate, and publicize” all proposed changes to the Faculty Handbook prior to posting. The concerns of greatest importance to faculty remain: 1) establishment of an independent faculty senate, 2) establishment of an elected faculty committee to review/maintain and update the Faculty Handbook, which presently is controlled by the Provost’s office and 3) establishment of positive changes in the status and prospects of contingent faculty. The view held by a majority of faculty is that faculty participation on university committees exists more for appearance sake than for providing authentic influence over policy decisions.

 Attempts to engage in meaningful dialogue rarely prove successful, whether attempted by individual faculty members or by elected representatives, even when there is a set protocol. For example, in grievance processes through the statutory and elected Faculty Grievance Committee (FGC), the Provost and President are free to follow the FGC’s recommendations or not, but they are required to respond, the former to the original grievance and the latter to any appeal. Questions remain as to whether or not appropriate protocol has been followed by the administration, specifically with respect to delayed responses or lack thereof to FGC’s recommendations or to any appeals. Such lack of communication and inconsistency in following procedures is not limited to dealings with the Faculty Grievance Committee.

 Until recently the procedures of the FGC were influenced by the Provost’s office, with little or no transparency with regard to record keeping or operating procedures. While the FGC continues to address the problems, there remains a tendency to hinder the filing of grievances whether with regard to harassment or tenure decisions and rarely does a faculty member’s grievance get as far as the FGC.  Currently at Boston College, only tenure track and tenured faculty may file grievances.  Following a resolution by the FGC to establish a process for non-tenured faculty, the Provost’s office has agreed, but the process is still in the planning stages.  As yet, there are no provisions for filing of grievances by faculty who are considered part-time.

 Ironically the administration, even when faced with their own written documentation, willingly contradicts itself, thereby creating more confusion and ambiguity as faculty attempt to resolve issues of governance and academic freedom. Patterns on the part of the administration include dismissing their own written statements and documents as erroneous, altering the Faculty Handbook without discussion with faculty, and introducing policies retroactively, so as to appear not to be in violation of current practices.  Such was the case with one grievance filed by some members of the faculty regarding equity in salaries. Although the FGC found for the faculty members, the Provost dismissed the case, which, in the view of some, may have had aspects of age discrimination.

 Another example of the lack of faculty participation in decision making can be seen in the suspension of the non-statutory University Budget Committee (UBC).  For decades, the UBC had provided a forum for elected faculty and students to obtain financial information and discuss budget issues with the Provost, the Executive Vice President, and the Financial Vice President.  However, the UBC was suspended by the administration at the beginning of the budget crisis in 2007, with the Provost’s indicating that the administration would establish a successor to the Budget Committee. After six years, no university-wide body open to elected faculty participation has been established.

 Similarly, the Faculty Compensation Committee (FCC), another non-statutory, advisory committee, which addresses faculty compensation, benefits, and related academic practices, such as teaching loads, had previously met monthly with the Executive Vice President, Provost and Vice President of Human Resources.  While this committee is still allowed to make recommendations, the Provost and Executive Vice President generally decline to attend and essential university financial information is no longer made available.

 The FCC has never participated in writing the Faculty Handbook or The Retirement Planning and Handbook for Retired Faculty Members, nor is there any other type of standing faculty committee involved in writing or making changes to the Faculty Handbook. In 2006, the President reserved the right to appoint emeritus faculty. Consequently, emeritus status is not allowed to be part of retirement negotiations. Although the FCC protested the lack of faculty input with the change in emeriti appointments, there was no subsequent discussion. In addition, many faculty remain uncertain about retirement negotiations and 95% report no standard retirement agreement in their schools and departments.  Neither the UBC, the FCC, nor any faculty were involved when, in 2008, the University cut in half the supplemental healthcare benefits for most retiring and all their spouses.

 In 2010, the administration recommended that “justified ballots” were to be used in tenure and promotion cases to replace the statutory required vote of departmental faculty in a meeting.  In at  least one case, a department chair took this to mean that the meeting vote would no longer be necessary, suggested that faculty send him their letters expressing their opinion, which he then summarized, and forwarded the “justified ballots” with his tally to the University Promotions and Tenure Committee.  While the administration has said that promotions procedures need to be more uniform across the university, nothing has been done to correct such irregularities of this revised process, demonstrating yet another example of the shift of power from the faculty and departments to the administration.

 In addition, as the administration introduced new policies that restrict part-time faculty to teaching only two courses/semester, thereby eliminating benefits, some part-time and tenured faculty raised the issue with BCAAUP, asking that we share and discuss the information on our campus and with our colleagues at other universities. Not only did the changes eliminate benefits and job security, but the decision by the administration was also seen by some faculty as detrimental to the effectiveness of their departments and to the quality of student learning.

 For full-time, non-tenure track faculty (FTNTT), a new policy of “peer review” is being implemented in conjunction with renewal of contracts. While the concept of peer review has not been uniformly interpreted across the university, and guidelines vary for portfolios, methods and materials for evaluation, uncertainty remains. The administration’s implementation of such varied policies at times creates uncertainty while undermining collegiality among faculty at our university, calling to mind a variation on the well-known poem: “First they came for the part-time faculty…” And post-tenure review remains a topic still under discussion for our tenured faculty.

 Since its beginning as an advocacy chapter, BCAAUP has received many reports that demonstrate a pattern of abuse of power which has led to bullying, harassment and discrimination of faculty, extending to students and staff as well. The pattern of placing all blame on those who have been targeted has led to mistrust among colleagues, hostility within departments, and an increased system of rewards and punishments. Some punishments are made public and include creating a hostile and non-collegial working environment by completely ostracizing the faculty member, while others are more subtle. In theory, departments continue to hold elections of their Chair, though in only an advisory role, which in recent years has resulted in the replacement of some elected Chairs by the Provost’s Office. Rumors replace facts and the result is often a hostile environment with little security for both tenured and non-tenure track faculty.

 The internet age has allowed the BC administration to behave in an Orwellian (1984) fashion with regard to the Faculty Handbook.  With no printed copy available, changes in the Handbook appear and disappear, link to other sites that are not part of the handbook, and allow what should be a contractual agreement with the faculty to be completely at the whim of those who control the website.

 As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Boston College and reflect upon its rich history, what better time than now to look forward to engaging faculty, students and administrators in a dynamic process of shared governance.


Susan Michalczyk

President, BCAAUP

2nd Vice-President, AAUP


Filed in: Archived, Interviews & Op-Eds

10 Responses to "The Quest for Shared Governance at Boston College"

  1. valdegrace says:

    Very interesting article. I’m reminded of Tocqueville’s very positive view of the inherently
    democratic culture of God’s church, deeper than both the patrician structures of the pagan Roman world and than the feudal structures of the Germanic gentiles who invaded it. This is an exciting time of renewal for the Church and for Catholic institutions everywhere. May the spirit of Francis of Assisi inspire us all.

  2. OmahaProfessor says:

    I think Pope Francis chose his name based upon St. Francis Xavier, one of the first seven Jesuits.

  3. admin says:

    Hi Omaha,
    Please see the featured news article on the homepage slider: Why the Holy Father Chose the Name Francis.

  4. john blackwell says:

    This is amazing. How can a school like Boston College not have a faculty senate? Are there other Catholic schools in the same boat? Have the faculty at BC been so content with compensation, career advancement and the like, that faculty representation has been a non-issue? Can’t they just unionize?

  5. M171819e says:

    Michalczyk understates the problem. Following the Provost’s cancellation of the senate election, the interim faculty senate went through a long process to politely convince the provost and president to allow the election. Simultaneously, accrediting agencies pointed out the lack of faculty governance and it was hoped that this would sufficiently embarrass these administrators and the trustees to provide a route to faculty governance. Nothing has worked.

  6. valdegrace says:

    Omaha Professor, Admin:

    Did I mention the Pope anywhere? Surely it is allowed to invoke St. Francis of Assisi in a general sense? With his deep commitment to the seeing Christ in the king and the leper alike and thus to remind us that our equality before God must be taking into account even as hierarchy is needed for Holy church to function and preserve the unity of communion? Perhaps the genius of the church, as symbolized by Francis’s dream, calls it to reconcile equality and hierarchy, democratic participation and decisiveness?

  7. M171819e says:

    Michalczyk made similar comments in the BC student Newspaper, the Heights, to which the Assistant Vice Provost responded in a letter to the editor.

    LTE: Administration Is Open To Prospect Of Faculty Senate

    I’m writing to address two errors in Dr. Susan Michalczyk’s letter to The Heights that appeared in the April 8 issue.
    In May 2010, Dr. Michalczyk wrote to the Office of the Provost expressing a desire to re-establish a faculty senate at Boston College. Our office responded with detailed suggestions as to how this goal could be met in a letter that included an offer to present a proposal for a senate to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board, and then the full Board at a subsequent meeting. There was no response to this letter. Thus, Professor Michalczyk’s statement that “In recent years, it has been argued that the administration actually usurped the Trustees prerogatives by denying them the possibility of designating an existing faculty body as the statutory University Faculty Senate as provided by the statutes” is inaccurate.
    The second correction relates to the letter’s assertion that “The administration’s decision to restrict part-time faculty to teaching only two courses per semester eliminates benefits and job security …” Part-time faculty who have taught two courses per semester, i.e. four courses per year, for five years, and who continue to do so, have long been eligible for medical and dental benefits at BC, benefits obviously then not “eliminated” by restricting part-time faculty to two courses per semester.

    Patricia DeLeeuw
    Vice Provost for Faculties

  8. M171819e says:

    The following is a response to Pat DeLeeuw, Vice Provost for Faculties letter to the Heights.

    When Vice Provost DeLeeuw made the late-night call to pull the university faculty senate (ufs) election in 2006, which would have established an independent faculty voice, the Office of the Provost also usurped the prerogative of the Trustees to approve a university faculty senate for Boston College. The Bylaws of the Trustees of BC (II.12.g) empower the Trustees (not the Provost) to approve an existing faculty body as the official University Faculty Senate (UFS). The Provost obstructed the formation of this body.

    When in May 2010, the BC chapter of the AAUP (BCAAUP) requested the Provost to allow the apparatus for faculty elections to be used to elect a university faculty senate (note lower case to avoid confusion with a Trustee-Approved UFS), the Provost responded by questioning why a faculty senate was needed, rather than addressing the question of utilizing the election resources. The BCAAUP took this as a “no” and resolved to use the resources of the national AAUP instead, rather than respond to the Provost’s irrelevant remarks. Moreover, since the Provost had been well informed of the Interim Faculty Senate’s (IFS) efforts to establish a ufs between 2003 and 2006, and thereafter directed the remnants of the IFS toward futile efforts similar to those suggested in his 2010 letter, the Provost’s correspondence had little credibility.

    The real question is why the Office of the Provost obstructs the formation of either a UFS or a ufs that, like Senates at other universities, might be capable of holding the administration accountable. Michalczyk pointed to a pattern of administrative actions directly affecting, but excluding the faculty from input. These include: cutting medical retirement benefits by half; eliminating the University Budget Committee, that for decades had accepted faculty input; ignoring the Faculty Welfare Committee; not responding to recommendations from the Faculty Grievance Committee; unilaterally altering the tenure process; and restricting the courses taught by individual part-time faculty that eliminated the benefits of those who qualified by teaching 4-5 courses. While university faculty senates may not be especially effective, they do address egregious problems and prompt change. Recent examples are the St. Louis University faculty senate’s vote of no-confidence that caused the Provost to resign and the Harvard senate’s protest of the university’s search of faculty electronic files contrary to university policy. Boston College has also searched faculty computers looking for incriminating evidence; but, in the absence of an effective faculty voice, BC lacks any negotiated policy to modulate these intrusions.

    If the headline is true that the Administration Is Open To Prospect Of Faculty Senate, the Provost can hold the election tomorrow under the existing 2006 IFS-formulated ufs constitution and with the help of the BCAAUP.

    Michael J. Clarke
    Professor of Chemistry
    Former secretary of the BCAAUP board of directors.

  9. johnsohi says:

    It is astounding that Boston College has no faculty senate—one of the very few major universities in the country (Jesuit or otherwise) without one. Many of the problems that Prof. Michalczyk identifies have been brewing for some time, particularly in the last five years or so as the administration has made sweeping changes in university policies that affect faculty and students alike. The university’s answer to faculty governance—a set of elected committees that are purely advisory in nature—has produced widespread demoralization, prompting some to regard committee work as a waste of time. The administration in turn claims that faculty are so busy and/or apathetic that a faculty senate would be pointless. In reality, if faculty at BC had an independent faculty body and voice, they would likely engage more productively and enthusiastically in university affairs. Rather than obstructing the creation of a faculty senate, the administration should realize that an engaged and involved faculty would in fact enhance university governance and help reduce the widespread demoralization and distrust that currently exists on campus.
    Marilynn Johnson
    Professor of History
    Vice President, BCAAUP

  10. Christopher says:

    I can only respond to all of the above from my own personal experience as a tenured faculty member at University of The Incarnate Word in San Antonio. I begin, forthright, with profound deference and love for my institution; for, possibly like many of us, UIW when I wound up on its doorstep some 27 years ago, virtually saved my life and my spirit for I was spiritually and ideologically crushed by the corporate world and its hegemonic bureaucratic practices redolent with hidden agenda and self interest–which abraded every social and spiritual sensibility I owned. However, it was the Sisterhood of UIW, then, who readily embraced me and turned my life around thereby resurrecting my Christian values of equality for all, and the hope of human dignity to burgeon from it. The Sisters were responsible for this. However, it was a different time, then. The Sisterhood even as remarkable tenured faculty-scholars actively teaching in the classroom were the leadership in determination of faculty governance which was the vanguard of the institution’s decision-making–and, gloriously a governance by consensus. The Administration and operational power-plant in conjunction with a consensual faculty polity’s leadership functioned organically to accomplish all initiatives as determined by the faculty’s unfailing commitment, then, to their Mission, their dedication to equality, human rights, and human dignity for all. We were all blessed with the opportunity of practicing what we taught. Hence, our consensually self-governing polity was a reflection and defender of the Mission never to be violated. That was OUR unifying, communitizing, and organic commitment to the institution’s world’s view in its dedication to universal human rights. And, to this day, is still viably do-able–an added travesty; because if five thousand Ancient Greek Athenians could do it, an institution’s faculty can do it, too.

    One other factor that must be mentioned, here: In our consensually driven polity of faculty governance, although reliant as one would expect to rules of order so as to maintain order, decorum, and benevolent progress, ANY faculty member could rise and offer his or her voice over the issues of discussion–in other words, the ideal of a community of discourse where all participants were EXPECTED to respond–ANY, including non-tenured, and ADJUNCT because ALL were embraced as organic participants of the community.

    But, that was then, and this is now. I’ll begin by paraphrasing Rousseau: the day one submits to electing representatives to form a body of governance (the equivalent of a Republic, I guess, like Capital Hill) is the day one votes away his or her rights to self-governance to the detriment of well-being for all–simply because the vital instrument of consensus-building has been decimated. The results have been, now, a terrible frustration on the part of faculty to exercise the right of its community voices, and the purity of decision-making for the well-being of all; and, specifically, to defer from violations upon the values of the Mission which is what has ALWAYS made my institution a beacon of greatness.

    I’ll place myself out on a limb, here: I don’t think ANY republican-ationaled faculty senate of elected members representing constituencies is beneficial to the intended virtues of the entire process. Nationally, we have all sold our voices, our actively relevant, and self-determining self-governance away, sadly, frustratingly, tragically. I’ll cite the on-going polemic over just this at City University of NEW York. we are not a minority of anomalies over this. A faculty Senate violates our longitudinal consensus-building creativity through open discourse as a community with a republican format that is top-down top-heavy bureaucratic–and, as many of you have already witnessed, the entrée to the formation of administratively organized exclusivist star-chambers of influential administrators behind it all, driving agenda, and conducting all of it. Just their presence, even if reticent, hegemonically suppresses our freedom of voice for fear of reprisal. I mourn for all of us–in spite of my persistent unfailing love and dedication for my institution. Yet, I also witness the progression of this republic’s erosion upon democratic principle: more and more faculty are electing not to participate any more, knowing that their voices are no longer democratically, consensually influential–which, very typically, exclusionist republics and their star-chambers pray for and celebrate; hence, as cited by you, above, decisions written in stone being made without even our cognizance, and after the fact; just announcements. The continued greatness of my institution is its insistence on the part of the faculty’s old guard with an institutional memory, defense of the Sisterhood’s Virtues–those who chose us and our love for them, and the Sisterhood’s Generalite’s persistence in still actively participating in University operations to sustain the life of our Mission’s values. Now, I pray for all of us.

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