Saturday, April 21, 2012

How to Keep a Good Faculty-Administration Fight Going

If you are looking for a blueprint for a way to continue a running faculty-administration conflict, Idaho State appears to be writing the book.

Idaho State U. to Hold Faculty Senate Elections on Administration’s Terms

First the administration disbands the faculty senate, then installs an interim body with an expiration date. Then it imposes elections for a new body - which apparently doesn't have a constitution yet - and bans anybody who served on the previous two bodies from running. That's quite a string of decisions.

I have no idea about the specifics of this case - I don't know anybody at Idaho State. It could be that the faculty have been (to borrow a phrase often applied to Harvard faculty) "ungovernable". It could be that the administration is power-crazed and unreasonable. But in this case, I don't have to know who's right and who's wrong to know what will happen next.

Any body elected to represent the views of the faculty at large will either represent those views or it won't. At this point, it's a good bet that there's a healthy amount of anti-administration sentiment among the faculty there. It's likely that the reps who served on the disbanded senate, and possibly the now-expired one, represented those views faithfully. Maybe the administration hopes to eliminate those views from a new senate.

But that's where this is guaranteed to continue the fight. If anti-administration sentiment is significant, one of two things will happen. Either the faculty will find new people to elect that represent that view, or the administration will get its wish of a pro-administrative senate. In the latter case, anti-administration faculty will feel disenfranchised, and deny the new senate (and any new constitution) legitimacy.

This is the thing about university conflicts. Unlike the world of civil wars, there is no "winning". You can't beat the other side into submission, especially if you're the administration side. Every once in a while, a faculty manages to run off a president - though serious problems in administration usually go deeper than one person. But in generally, there is no equivalent of a "military victory". The only choice is finding a way to get along with the other side, and get done what needs to be done.

Sometimes, of course, that's not possible, and so the conflict continues. Idaho State may very well be stuck right now in that kind of impasse. If so, they will stay there until a solution is worked out that is acceptable to all sides - whether that takes a year, or five years, or twenty. There are no alternatives - only longer and shorter conflicts, and more or less cost to the institution.

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