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Former regent head: UI faculty system needs major changes

BY LUKE VOELZ | JULY 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa Faculty Senate is facing criticism from former Board of Regents President Michael Gartner, reviving a debate some UI academics call a sign of the times.

In a Sunday opinion piece for the Des Moines Register, Gartner described changes to the UI faculty system as key parts of a reform needed to bring financial and political balance to the university. The Faculty Senate, he asserted, overstepped its governance bounds by trying to manage the university itself instead of focusing on curricular matters.

"Now, faculty political leaders insist they should help manage the institution — but woe to the administrator or regent who wants to have a say in the classroom," Gartner wrote. "The concept has outlived its usefulness and is a roadblock to planning, to change, and to effective administration."

But UI faculty members told The Daily Iowan they don't think any organization is governing where it shouldn't.

Though Richard Fumerton, the president of the UI Faculty Senate, agreed with most of Gartner's non-faculty criticisms, the philosophy professor disagreed on his assertion of the senate's power.

"I think [faculty having too much political influence at the UI] would be rejected by just about everyone at the UI," he said. "When I was chairman of a department and I was interested in coming up with policies that affected that department, I always talked thoroughly with faculty to seek advice. It doesn't matter if its university or business, you should be consulting people affected by policies."

Fumerton said he hasn't heard other regents say the Faculty Senate oversteps its bounds, a claim that had little backup in Gartner's article.

"You'll notice there's almost nothing offered as evidence for that conclusion," Fumerton said. "It was simply asserted."

UI law Professor Sheldon Kurtz, who served as Faculty Senate president during Gartner's presidency, agreed with Fumerton.

"The Faculty Senate plays a vital role in the governance of the university and no more and no less a role than it is appropriate for the faculty to play," he said.

The body votes on policy issues in the university that would affect faculty members. Most recently, Fumerton and faculty members conducted the search for a new provost, resulting in the appointment of P. Barry Butler. The search cost around $13,000, $40,000 less expensive than a 2008 search.

Yet state legislators have asked for more transparency in spending among the regents and their institutions, said Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia.

"We will be taking a close look at the governance of universities," he said. "I do believe there is a lack of transparency within the board of regents and how money flows."

The split between Faculty Senate and the regents mirrors the nation's increasingly factionalized political system, said John Keller, the dean of the UI Graduate College.

"The faculty are the workers, while the administrators and regents are the administration — the bosses, big brother," he said. "From that perspective, there's a very democratic, liberal faculty which Iowa City is known for versus a different view in Des Moines. That leads to the kind of political situations we've had, not only in the country but in local institutions."

The recent lack of a long-term UI president makes it difficult to manage the debate, Keller said. Former UI President David Skorton held the position for four years, and current President Sally Mason is approaching her fourth.

"There hasn't been a consistent leadership style here for quite some time," Keller said. "It takes a while to develop that rapport."

Former UI Faculty Senate President Edwin Dove echoed the need for a consistent president, though he said senate members only performed what they were asked.

"We don't purport to govern the university," he said, "We certainly don't govern the Board of Regents. Our role is to give advice to the president of the university, and the president of the university makes the final decisions."


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