Rosenberg addresses faculty issues in letter

By Anna Waugh

As the college continues its search for a new provost, it is also considering a review of the college’s faculty governing structure. In a seven-page letter to the faculty, issued last month, President Brian Rosenberg expressed his concerns and opinions about the effectiveness of the existing faculty government and suggested an evaluation of the relationship between faculty scholarship and teaching. The letter also guided the faculty toward dialogues that would strengthen the community by increasing trust among faculty departments and with the administration. “I think the current [government system] is working well in some respects,” Rosenberg said. “It was overhauled just before I got here. However EPAG, [the governing body in charge of all curriculum changes], has so much to do that it is very hard for it to get through everything. It is an overwhelming job to be on that committee,” he said.

There are four faculty governing committees at Macalester. The Educational Policy and Governance Committee has seven faculty members on its board. The Faculty Personnel Committee advises the provost on tenure and pre-tenure decisions. The Resource and Planning Committee advises the president on long term financial planning and broader institutional changes. The Academic Liaison Committee coordinates the efforts of the other three committees.

“Faculty have a lot of responsibility. When they reconstituted the governance system a few years ago, they misjudged the amount of work that EPAG would have, and they took on a lot of work that administrative chairs and the provost would do at other schools,” Geography Professor David Lanegran said. “It’s one thing to have input, it’s another to have administrative responsibilities.”

He said that today’s faculty do not have the time to attend important faculty meetings because of teaching and family responsibilities, and that he felt some of the time spent administrating might be better spent in other areas.

The college is also evaluating the relationship between scholarship and teaching. Professors at Macalester are required to achieve excellence in teaching, scholarship and service, but Rosenberg asked whether the college has struck the right balance in evaluating these three pillars of education.

“Have the expectations for scholarly productivity at Macalester grown to a point where they are distorting the professional development of our untenured and some of our tenured faculty and are working against other interests-such as teaching, advising, and course development-that we recognize as critically important?” he asked in the letter.

The letter also touched on issues of trust among faculty and with the administration.

“We tend to be kind of a contentious group. We spend our whole lives critically analyzing stuff and that tends to make us not the strongest community,” Biology and O.T. Walter Professor Jan Serie said. She credits some of this contention to the fact that there are few opportunities for the faculty to meet and talk to one another, and that the current faculty meeting structure is ineffective.

“One thing I would like to see is a change in faculty meetings-we spend too much time on reports-change the structure so that we can have a way to talk to one another. We consider a lot of things at meetings that may not be important, like changes to the handbook,” Serie said.

She explained that the faculty never got a chance to vote on whether the faculty should strike against the war in Iraq, which some faculty members proposed in support of the anti-war movement, because the faculty meeting agenda had not allowed sufficient time to move beyond handbook changes to a discussion about the strike.

Rosenberg said that faculty members encouraged him to write the letter. “I didn’t want to control the outcome, but I saw a logjam. A number of issues that weren’t being talked about, and now they are,” he said.

Rosenberg has had five formal meetings with faculty since the letter was sent and more will come over the next month. Discussions have led to a definite change in the scheduling of the faculty meeting next year, which will move from the late afternoon to lunch time to encourage more participation. Also, EPAG’s responsibilities are being considered.

“I think we’ve been on autopilot for a while, and that’s fine, but after a while it’s time to have a look back,” Serie said.