Faculty Convocation

Rick Niswander, Chair of the Faculty

August 2003



I have three inter-related messages for you today.  First, to talk about Faculty Governance – what it is and why it is important.  Second, to inform you of a large-scale initiative we are starting that pertains to the Faculty Manual, and third to ask you for your help.


The words “Faculty Governance” and “shared Faculty Governance” are used often on our campus (and I will use them often today).  Particularly for faculty new to academia (and to some who have been here for a while), the meaning of those words may be unclear.  Very broadly, Faculty Governance is the process by which we establish, maintain, and enforce the rules and procedures that pertain to the academic mission of the University and to the role of the faculty therein. 


The next question that tends to pop up is:  why does the process of Faculty Governance matter to me?  Why should I have an interest in Faculty Governance?  Here’s why.


If you want something to say about the books, periodicals, and electronic databases in the library – you have an interest in faculty governance.


If you want input on when the semester starts and ends – you have an interest in faculty governance.


If you have opinions as to the curriculum or the appropriate course of study for students in your discipline – you have an interest in faculty governance.


If you want your voice to be heard as to resource allocations – you have an interest in faculty governance.


If you want a fair and balanced appellate process – you have an interest in faculty governance.


If you have an opinion about the academic standards of students and the enforcement of those standards – you have an interest in faculty governance.


And if you want to have a say in how faculty should be evaluated for purposes of promotion and tenure and appointment and reappointment – you have an interest in faculty governance.


In short, Faculty Governance affects the lives of faculty, students, and administration now and in the future.  It pertains to the operation and continued well being of East Carolina University.  Faculty Governance matters to each and every one of us.


And now for message 2 – an important task strongly connected to the process of Faculty Governance.


ECU’s Faculty Senate has a set of 19 standing committees, one of which is the Faculty Governance Committee.  It is the initial body responsible for revisions to our Faculty Manual, the complex document that governs us all: faculty primarily, but also students and administrators.


One of the duties of the Faculty Governance Committee is to examine our faculty personnel policies and procedures on a formal basis every five years.  This formal five year review is part of a continuous improvement process established by the Faculty Senate.


These policies are embodied in Appendices C and D of the Faculty Manual.  These sections cover University policies and procedures related to:  appointment of new faculty, annual faculty evaluation, personnel files, types and characteristics of faculty appointments (tenure track, fixed term, etc.), appointments, reappointments, non-reappointments, promotions, conferral or non-conferral of permanent tenure, termination of faculty, and due process policies pertaining to many of the above issues.  It is obvious that these appendices are two of the most far-reaching sections in the Faculty Manual.


The Faculty Governance Committee will begin the critical review process early this semester.  In my view, it is important that the required formal five-year review be comprehensive, thoughtful, timely, responsible, and responsive.  As Faculty Chair and as a member of the committee I, and other committee members, will be heavily involved in the significant work necessary to bring their report to the Faculty Senate for review and deliberation.


It is also important, in my view, that we be proactive in our stewardship of the content of the Faculty Manual taken as a whole.  We must seek input from the entire ECU community as to the content, format, and clarity of the Faculty Manual rather than wait for a member of that community to seek us out – usually because an issue has become a bone of contention.  Documents written by people do not stand the test of time unchanged.  With the self-imposed review of Appendices C and D starting in the fall, it is a good time to begin a comprehensive review of the faculty manual.


Thus, the following plan of action will be initiated

1-- The University community will be invited to provide input pertaining to suggested changes to the faculty manual.  The invitation will specifically target Appendices C and D, but will clearly indicate that input on any other section is appropriate and welcome.  The call will insist that input contain the what, the why and the how – what should be changed, why it should be changed, and how the change should be made. 

2--The invitation will be made through various means including, but not limited to, this convocation, an email to the University community using various existing distribution lists, and announcements at meetings of the Faculty Senate, Deans and Directors, new faculty orientation, unit faculty meetings, and other appropriate gatherings.

3-- Input will be provided via emails to a centralized email account and/or a web interface.  The upcoming email call will give particulars as to email and web addresses. 

4-- Output from ongoing initiatives, such as the Commission on Scholarship, will be incorporated into the mix.

5-- Suggestions will be categorized and compiled and a work plan will be devised.  Appropriate committees will be tasked with the components of that work plan.  Potential changes will be discussed, debated, and resolved through our established democratic framework. 


Let me be clear that this effort is not a minor undertaking.  The Faculty Manual in general, and Appendices C and D in particular, directly affect the personal and professional lives of 1,400 faculty members of this University – ranging from those who are here for the first time today to those who have dedicated their professional careers to East Carolina University.


Let me also be clear that the undertaking will not be easy or painless.  The task is fraught with potential pitfalls, sometimes-contentious issues, oft-strongly held beliefs, and a lot of work.  ECU is composed of many constituencies with different points of view.  As in any complex organization, sometimes those points of view cannot be fully reconciled.  Our deliberations and solutions must be reasoned and balanced.  In our process, if we believe a change is appropriate, we need to make the change.  If we believe a change is not warranted, we need to be firm in our convictions and we need to clearly state why.  The phrase “because I said so” only works for your mother.


So, for message number three, let me put the first two messages together.  Message one was what Faculty Governance is and why it is important, message two pertains to a major initiative we are starting.  Message three is that your help is needed. 


As a faculty, we have many opportunities and challenges facing us this year:  the aforementioned Faculty Manual review; a new organizational structure that we need to effectuate; the continued challenge of operating in a resource-constrained environment, on going activities pertaining to curriculum, and on and on.


The process of Faculty Governance does not spring forth as if by magic, it comes about by the hard work of many faculty members, at the unit level, the college level, and the University level.  For those of you who are now part of the Faculty Governance process or who have been part of it in the past, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  We now have new tasks. 


Whether you are an old hand or have never participated before, it is, in my view, in your best interests to help now. 




If we do not responsibly govern ourselves, we will be governed.


If we don’t care enough about our collective and individual academic futures, why should someone else?


More fundamentally, if we don’t do it, who will?


So, when we get to the end of my comments, my message today is very simple – get involved.  Call the Faculty Senate office, send an email to any of the faculty officers or senators or to Lori.  Tell us you want to help.  I fully expect I will need to appoint a number of subcommittees to help with our work.  We need your ideas, your insights, and your help.  You obviously need to balance your service to Faculty Governance with your teaching and research duties, but don’t let those duties be your excuse to not be involved.


As engaged faculty, we can shape our future.


It is important we be engaged because we, the faculty of ECU have a responsibility to ourselves, to each other, and to those who follow.


I urge each and every one of you to personally assume a small piece of that responsibility by becoming involved in the process of Faculty Governance at East Carolina University.


With your help, I look forward to an exciting, challenging, and rewarding academic year.  Thank you for your time, your attention, and most importantly, your engagement.