Responses to Comments on Proposed Grievance Procedures

Comment: Due to a recent uncomfortable situation in our department this year, I think the time frame to complete all the steps in the process were far too lengthy. The process put an unbelievable amount of pressure on the rest of the faculty in the department and it put us in an odd and very uncomfortable situation regarding the advisement of students and the planning of courses and scheduling. I would like to see the length of time shortened considerably. For example, we did not find out that a grieving faculty member was returning to the department for this year until the Friday before classes were to begin. I think you can understand from this example of how uncomfortable the situation was for all, and particularly for junior faculty members watching this situation play out for so long.

Response: Considering the history of grievance filed over the last five years, it is not possible to reduce the time frame unless one has the option of compulsory arbitration. In the past, almost all grievances have taken far longer than the expected 180 days. The proposed procedures provide a more realistic and longer time frame.

Comment: I would like to thank Faculty Council and the others who have worked so hard on this proposed grievance procedure. I think it is a good document as far as it goes. However, I do believe that there is a major issue which is not dealt with at all. This issue is serious enough that I would want any such policy to address it.

There are crass forms of corruption which would be difficult or impossible to complain about by means of the proposed policy. The problem is the requirement that the grievant be "personally harmed." While I understand that there are good general reasons for wanting a requirement like this, consider its effect in the following hypotheticals:

  1. Suppose that after a P & T vote, the chair of a department misreports to the dean's office the vote, giving a more favorable outcome than was really the case. (Let's suppose that this action was witnessed by a faculty member.) It is very difficult to see how a complaint about this behavior could be brought under the proposed process. Who has personally been aggrieved? In an obvious sense, some of the faculty, whose votes were misrepresented. But they cannot come forward unless they learn of the misrepresentation, and even then coming forward would mean identifying themselves as those casting the negative votes.  
  2. Suppose a chair arranges for a disproportionately large raise for a political supporter. (Suppose that documentation exists which makes it clear that this is the case.) Who has been personally aggrieved? It is true that in some sense everyone else has lost out on the fractional chance they might have had for that raise money, but this seems too diffuse a harm to be recognized by the procedure, or really even to count as the main point.
  3. Suppose a chair arranges for rewards for certain faculty members, with no documentation to any departmental oversight body as to their merits. It is in a practical sense impossible to know whether these awards are deserved or not, so no one could claim to have been personally harmed. An unscrupulous chair could, under the proposed grievance policy, simply avoid documenting decisions in order never to be called to account. (Even an honest one might be naturally tempted to follow this path.)
    More examples like these could be given. Indeed, any sort of award which is made unfairly would be hard or impossible to complain about under these procedures, because of the requirement that the grievant be personally injured. Yet such awards lead to very real damage. They quickly erode the academic standards within a department. Those who benefit from them view themselves as deserving, the chair as uniquely gifted to discern their qualities, and their colleagues as jealous, caviling backstabbers. They come to view normal academic oversight (proper evaluation of candidates for awards) as a political trick, and they support instead a system of patronage.
    These sorts of problems also lead to the potential for secondary abuses, by which I mean failures by higher administrative officers to deal with the cases properly in the first instances. Another hypothetical:
  4. Suppose a dean is brought prima facie evidence of one of the abuses listed above, and she fails to take appropriate action. (Maybe no action at all, maybe an "investigation" but not one which will get to the bottom of things.) This almost inevitably sends the signal that she is countenancing the chair's corrupt behavior and will support such behavior in the future. Who could then bring a complaint against the dean? Who could say they've been harmed?

I understand that some people would reserve the term "grievance" for a personal injury, and so situations like (a)-(d) would not, in their view, be grievances at all. I would not want to argue such a purely semantic point. The real issue is that the faculty need remedies for actions like (a)-(d) just as much as they need remedies for personal injuries. Indeed, problems like (a)-(d) could well be more common on campus than personal injuries.

As problems like (a)-(d) are different from personal injuries, one does have to think afresh about what sort of policy should be adopted for dealing with them. I understand that this is not a small task. But it is a vital one.

Whatever policy is adopted, it should have a very clear means of dealing with situations like these hypotheticals. The situations are gross enough that there should be no question that a mechanism exists for dealing with them -- one shouldn't have to worry about fine points of interpretation to decide how to proceed. Certainly one shouldn't have to worry about whether it's possible to proceed -- which seems to be the current state of affairs.

So I would suggest Faculty Council work to develop a unified policy which would address not just personal injuries, but also abuses like (a)-(d). The latter are at least as important as the former. As a test of any proposed policy, I would ask how it would process cases like the hypotheticals above.

I do not lightly ask you to take on this work. I think it is essential. Until we are willing to take it on, the potential for such abuses will be present. I hope Faculty Council will be willing to discuss such issues, both internally and with the administration.

I gather that you have already started a dialog with the administration, and I can understand that they may have some concerns about expanding the scope of grievable actions (or inactions). However, I believe they would agree that cases like (a)-(d) are serious ones which would reflect very unfavorably on the university. I would hope any concern they would have would be accompanied by constructive proposals on their part for putting in place mechanisms for dealing vigorously with such cases.

Response: The issues raised here are real, and we have to hope that these would not arise if all of us abided by the MU values of respect and responsibility. The scope of the proposed procedures does remain narrow and focused, but we do encourage a dialog between the Faculty Council and the administration on ways to address the issues that have been raised.

Comment: The following section of the proposed grievance policy is terribly flawed. It specifies that the IO will "identify the University Representative (Respondent) most germane to the grievance."

K.1 Identification of University Representative (Respondent) (Not more than 20 days). Upon receiving the grievance from the Standing Committee Chair, the Investigating Officer will identify the University representative (respondent) most germane to the grievance. During this period and for the purposes of the identification of the respondent, the Investigating Officer may meet with any apparent parties to the grievance.

The procedure should make clear at the very beginning that grievances are against the University and not against specific individual administrators. As such the University should choose its own Respondent just as it has in the past.

The flaw with the way that things were previously done was that the University would generally choose the administrator who caused the problem initially as its Respondent. This tainted individual would then effectively be making University policy and establishing the University's position vis-a-vis the grievance when they had a conflict of interest related to the outcome.

I would suggest the following section instead.

K.1 Identification of University Representative (Respondent) (Not more than 20 days). Upon receiving the grievance from the Standing Committee Chair, the Investigating Officer will solicit (within 5 days) from the Chancellor the identify of an appropriate University representative (respondent). Since the interests of the University are best served by a fair and unbiased result to this grievance process and since the grievance process is not intended to pursue punitive action against any administrator but rather, simply, to alleviate a perceived wrong done to a Faculty member (possibly) by an administrator, the Chancellor will select as the University's Respondent an individual not directly associated with the grievance. This individual should be chosen to represent the University's general interests and not those of specific administrators who may have been named in the grievance. As such, this individual should not be in any position subordinate to nor supervisory to any administrator who may be associated with the root cause(s) of the grievance. Following the identification of a respondent, the Investigating Officer will certify that the named Respondent appears to be an impartial representative of the University's interests. This process shall continue until the Investigating Officer is confident that a suitably unbiased Respondent has been named by the Chancellor. During this period and for the purposes of the identification of the Respondent, the Investigating Officer may meet with any apparent parties to the grievance.

Response: We discussed the topic of respondent selection and appointment very extensively. We believe it is very important to remove any real or apparent conflict that the Chancellor might have (with respect to his decision making authority in the matter) from this appointment. The proposed procedure removes this real or apparent conflict, and still allows for a respondent most germane to the grievance.