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SENATE From the Senate Office

Report on Activities of the Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility, 1996-97

The Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility devoted much of its time to the drafting of a statement, "Procedural Principles for Handling Complaints Concerning Academic Freedom and Responsibility", that had been initiated by the 1995-96 committee, for the purpose of guiding the school Committees on Academic Freedom and Responsibility. That statement, published in the Almanac of February 25, 1997, was subsequently unanimously approved by the Senate Executive Committee on April 1, 1997, and will henceforth be distributed annually to each school's CAFR. SCAFR also determined that it would schedule a meeting with the newly elected school CAFRs at the start of each academic year, for the purpose of discussing and explicating the procedural principles.

The committee consulted with the administration, and with the CAFRs of several schools, in response to questions about the procedures appropriate in particular cases. At the request of the Faculty Senate Chair, SCAFR explored issues relating to the revisions of the Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators, and the Procedures Regarding Misconduct in Research, and reported their conclusions to SEC.

-- Larry Gross, Chair


Report of the 1996-97 Faculty Senate Committee on Conduct

The Senate Committee on Conduct (CoC) was created in 1988 as a forum for the consideration of complaints by "a student or staff member who believes that she or he has been subjected to racial, ethnic, or sexual harassment by a faculty member...." [from Procedure of the Senate Committee on Conduct, Almanac October 31, 1989]. The CoC is one of a number of alternative University mechanisms for dealing with such complaints.

In his charge to the CoC for 1996-97, Faculty Senate Chair Peter Kuriloff asked this committee to consider whether the CoC was necessary and should be continued. The issue was raised because the CoC has had very few cases brought to it since its creation and because other mechanisms, including the recently revised "just cause" procedure for sanctions taken against faculty members (Almanac April 22, 1997), arguably obviate the need for the CoC.

Committee Process and Recommendation: The committee met and deliberated several times during the year and also solicited information and advice from numerous parties. To gain an understanding of the history and status of the CoC, we interviewed three key members of the University community who have current and/or past connections with the CoC:

    Professor David DeLaura (Ombudsman)

    Professor Kenneth D. George (former chair, Committee on Conduct)

    Professor Barbara J. Lowery (Associate Provost)

After considering the available information and viewpoints, the committee concluded that the CoC is an appropriate body serving a very important function. Although other mechanisms exist to deal with harassment complaints by students or staff against faculty, it seems fitting for the Faculty Senate to provide a forum for this purpose. No other group on campus has the same interest in preserving the integrity of the faculty that the Senate does; nor can any other group speak with as much authority on matters of faculty conduct. Questions about the appropriateness of faculty conduct would benefit greatly from input from a properly constituted faculty body. Further, we recognize that there may be sound legal reasons for continuing the CoC. Finally, we are concerned that eliminating the CoC might be misconstrued by the University community.

Given the above, this committee recommends that the CoC be continued for two additional years, subject to the steps outlined below, and that the question of its continuance beyond 1999 be revisited at that time. Our recommendation rests mainly on our belief that much of the University community is, and has been for some time, unaware of the CoC's existence and/or mission. Thus, the CoC has not been given fair consideration as a forum for harassment complaints by students and staff against faculty members. We further recommend that appropriate steps be taken to inform the University community of the CoC's existence and function.

Potential Case: Late in the Spring 1997 term, after the committee had decided to recommend that the CoC be continued for at least two years, a potential case surfaced, presumably because of the heightened awareness of the CoC caused by this committee's activities. A letter of inquiry was received from a prospective student complainant, which may lead to a complaint being filed with the CoC in the near future. This case appears to contain elements that would make its consideration by this body particularly appropriate.

Conclusion: To summarize, the committee recommends that the Senate Committee on Conduct be continued through Academic Year 1999, with adequate and appropriate notification given annually to the University community of its existence and purpose. The CoC's further continuation should be reconsidered in 1999.

F. Gerard Adams (economics)
John A. Lepore (civil systems)
Arnold J. Rosoff (legal studies), Chair
Barbara Woodhouse (law)*
Sally H. Zigmond (biology)

* [withdrew before the end of the year due to a potentially conflicting committee assignment]


Report of the 1995-96 Faculty Grievance Commission

In many ways, 1995-96 was a very quiet year: There were no hearings and the promised draft of changes in the just cause procedure remained in committee. Over the year, several members of the faculty knocked on our door but none of their complaints matured into a formal statement of a grievance and a hearing. Several of the complaints did, however, articulate nagging difficulties in our organizational practices: e.g., sabbaticals for clinical faculty and benefits for long-term part-timers, authorial credit in collaborative curriculum projects, and the movement of faculty members from one department to another during the course of a tenure review.

The quiet of 1995-96 was framed, however, by difficult relations with the Provost. This account is necessarily both cryptic and obscure: pointing to difficulties rather than marshalling evidence or arguing a case. It is difficult to write about the work of the Faculty Grievance Commission without breaching the confidentiality that we are pledged to protect.

At the beginning of the academic year, the Provost rejected the findings of a 1994-95 panel that had heard a particularly tangled case with very broad implications across the University. The commission did not challenge his right to do so though we were alarmed by what appeared to us to be his brusque assault on the essential fairness of the grievance process itself. As events unfolded, the grievants and the Provost found a way to address their dispute through "alternative" means. After our initial growl we were content to watch that process without putting our authority at issue.

At the end of the year, we again tangled with the Provost but here a confrontation could not be avoided. A member of the faculty was accused--he claimed unfairly--of scientific misconduct and subjected to disciplinary action. He appealed for relief to the Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (SCAFR) and was advised, sensibly we believed, to bring his complaint to the Faculty Grievance Commission. The commission decided that the claim that there had been serious procedural flaws in the preliminary adjudication of the case merited the creation of a formal hearing panel.

In a series of exchanges that lapped into 1996-97, the Provost protested that this was a matter of "academic freedom and responsibility," and belonged in the domain of the committee on academic freedom and responsibility of the grievant's school. He resisted what appeared to the commission, SCAFR and the Faculty Senate leadership as the clear meaning of the Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators and our repeated advice that it was terribly important that we play this case "by the book" even at the cost of overlapping judicial processes. As letters went back and forth and the Provost delayed naming a respondent, the commission saw itself as at the edge of a major "constitutional" crisis. Happily, the Provost relented, a respondent was named and a panel heard and decided the case in the Spring Semester of 1996-97.

We report on these events now in the hope that this and future provosts will remember and appreciate the special role of the Faculty Grievance Commission in maintaining the web of trust in this very peculiar organization.

The members of the 1995-96 Faculty Grievance Commission were Seymour J. Mandelbaum, chair, Paul Kleindorfer, chair-elect and Sol Goodgal, serving as past-chair in place of Peter Kuriloff, who resigned to serve as chair-elect of the Faculty Senate.

-- Seymour J. Mandelbaum, Chair

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, October 21, 1997, Volume 44, No. 9