Officers attending: Cindy Beckett, President; Jackie Myers, Vice President; Fred Thomas, Secretary
Senators attending: Derek Allen, James Brooks, Susan Callender, Frank Clay, Ryan Murphy, Amanda Romero, Tom Singer, Charles C. Williams, Marti Shapiro
Senators not attending: Myra Grinner, Ellen Rosengarten, Marsha Wamsley
Others attending: Debbie Badonsky, Dona Fletcher, Jeanne Jacobs, Bill LeJeune, Bonnie Shane, Saundra Schuster
Cindy called the meeting to order at 2:30 in Room 7342.
1. Discussion with Dr. Saundra Schuster
Cindy welcomed Jeanne Jacobs and Dr. Saundra Schuster, the Senior Assistant Attorney General assigned to work with Sinclair.
Dr. Jacobs explained that about one year ago Sinclair became concerned that College policies might need a systematic review. Mary Gaier began to collect existing policy documents and Sinclair began to work with the Ohio Attorney General’s (AG’s) office. In some cases, existing policies are not as clear as they could be. The Faculty Handbook is one of many policy and procedure documents at Sinclair, and Dr. Jacobs felt it was important to work with the AG’s office in revising the handbook. An important goal of this meeting was to establish a good working relationship between Faculty Senate and Dr. Schuster in moving forward with the revision.
After introductions by all present Dr. Schuster briefly reviewed her own background, which includes teaching and administrative experience in developmental studies at Miami University, work as Associate Dean of Students at OSU and continuing work as a part-time faculty member at Columbus State Community College. She explained that the AG’s office is by statute the legal council for public higher education institutions in Ohio.
Dr. Schuster said that in her initial review of the Board of Trustee’s Bylaws and other Sinclair policies she has identified some issues, including gaps related to the academic freedom of faculty and possible legal problems related to First Amendment rights of students. She said two common themes that appeared often in her discussions about policy were (1) “we can’t change that without Board action,” and (2) “we’ve always done it that way.” She felt that more changes should be possible without Board approval and that some old ways of doing things need to change. The existing policy documents define the responsibilities of faculty and also define the College’s responsibility to do what it says. Both need to be expressed in a more consistent and concise way.
Dr. Schuster distributed a summary of her report to the Board of Trustees, entitled “Legal Issue Update: Governance and Policy Development” (attachment FSMA20041110-01.jpg). She said that the College’s previous legal structure did require Board approval for most significant decisions, but that this has already begun to change. The Board has delegated more decision-making authority to the President, and he has delegated some decisions to others. As described in Dr. Schuster’s summary, the Board should be most concerned with setting broad “Board policies.” Mid-level “Institutional Policies” (which includes the Faculty Handbook) should be approved by President’s Council and ratified by the Board of Trustees. “Institutional Procedures” (such as syllabi and departmental procedures) could be created by individual departments or divisions and ratified by either President’s Council or Faculty Senate. She feels that the process needs to be clearer and more streamlined.
One of the first issues Dr. Schuster noted in regard to the current Faculty Handbook is whether or not it is a legal contract. She said that the first sentence in the Handbook’s Forward (Section 1.1) is incorrect in stating, “The State of Ohio requires that all employment be governed by the provisions of employment printed in the Policies and Procedures Manual (Faculty Handbook).” Although the College can provide such a contract governing the provisions of employment, it is not required by law to do so.
Dr. Schuster will be auditing Sinclair’s current policies and preparing a report that will identify gaps, overlaps and conflicting policies. Her report will also identify any cases in which existing policies are inconsistent with law.
Cindy asked about the distinction between “Institutional Policies” and “Institutional Procedures,” particularly since department chairs at Sinclair are considered faculty, not administrators. Dr. Schuster replied that many institutions do combine these two levels. For example, a student handbook policy might state that a student disciplinary hearing will include review by a panel that includes both faculty and student members, but the procedural decision to have four faculty and three students might be contained in a letter that is only reviewed annually.
Frank and Cindy asked about the procedures Dr. Schuster envisioned for implementing change below the level of Board policies. Dr. Schuster said that decisions about such things as a departmental or program attendance policy would generally be created at the departmental or divisional level. She felt that Faculty Senate would probably create a revised Faculty Handbook. Both policies would be subject to review and ratification at higher levels. Dr. Jacobs noted that the approval process will need to be adapted to specific situations. Dr. Schuster emphasized that this is early in the review process and that many decisions remain.
Susan said that the Faculty Handbook is a critical document for faculty and asked if the audit is likely to change its status. Dr. Schuster replied that she wants to make the Handbook stronger. She agreed that it is a critical document which identifies the terms and conditions of faculty employment and she said that there are currently gaps in how the document holds both faculty and administration accountable. She suggested that a court might find the document too vague to be applicable in some disagreements.
Cindy asked Dr. Schuster’s opinion as to whether Faculty Senate should consult its own attorney. Dr. Schuster replied that she represents the institution, including faculty. She felt the Handbook review process should be as collaborative as possible and that a separate attorney could make this more difficult. She also noted that it might be difficult to identify precisely who another attorney represents and to whom attorney-client privilege would apply.
Cindy asked about the policy expressed in the current Forward to the Handbook, which states that most Handbook changes can only be implemented on Sept. 1. Dr. Schuster replied that she feels this cuts faculty off from changes that need to be implemented sooner.
Cindy said that some faculty feel there is a need for protection against the possibility of arbitrary changes that might be implemented by some future administration, such as changes to the promotion and tenure process. Dr. Schuster replied that faculty have a contract which protects against that possibility. Dr. Jacobs joined in a brief discussion about whether Sinclair’s tenure-track faculty now receive an annual contract with legally incorporates the Faculty Handbook or merely a “salary letter.” Dr. Schuster said that from the perspective of contract law, the Faculty Handbook probably could not be changed in midyear without the consent of both sides.
Frank asked if there can be an implied contract based on past practice. Dr. Schuster replied that a signed contract would legally supercede past practice.
Fred asked if all faculty would need to agree to a mid-year change. Dr. Schuster replied that Faculty Senate is empowered to approve changes on behalf of faculty even if a minority of faculty disagree.
Dona said that many chairs face the difficulty that they work with ACFs, special adjuncts and part-time faculty who are not represented by Faculty Senate. Dr. Schuster replied that this is a very important question. She said that if the Handbook speaks differently to different groups, then the voice of each group needs to be represented in some way.
Bill asked if Dr. Schuster was saying that since ACFs are full-time faculty they should have representation. Dr. Jacobs emphasized that it is important to hear all voices.
Fred asked about possible legal implications if Faculty Senate were to approve a change in midyear to a part of the Handbook that applies specifically to ACFs, such as their job description. Dr, Schuster cautioned that Senate should carefully consider both the risks and the benefits of any action of that sort.
Charles and Jim noted that many other steps seem necessary before Faculty Senate acts to implement Handbook changes. Dr. Schuster agreed, suggesting that Faculty Senate needs to read her full report and to consider the broad policies that the Board may implement before beginning major changes. She expects implementation over the next eighteen months to two years and expects to provide updates to Senate at least monthly.
Susan commented that micromanagement seems to have worked well in the past at Sinclair but that the College may have outgrown this style of administration. Dr. Schuster agreed. She said that Sinclair is an incredibly vibrant place with lots of good things going on. She went on to say, “We can’t afford to operate like a mom and pop institution.”
Dr. Jacobs said that Sinclair has added things to the Faculty Handbook to a point that there are conflicts and sometimes there are practices that do not follow the written policy. She expressed her hope that the College can move forward through a collaborative process to improve the Handbook. She emphasized that internal communication is extremely important in this process.
Cindy asked about the specific process that would apply to the expected Handbook revisions. Dr. Schuster replied that she wants as open a process as possible with as few layers as possible. She intends to define the issues and to look to Faculty Senate to decide directions. She encouraged Senators and other faculty to contact her directly. Starting in January, she will be at Sinclair on a regular, part-time schedule.
Dr. Jacobs asked Senate to consider strategic directions for the process. She would like to see the policy audit focus early on the Handbook, but the Board may decide instead to focus first on general personnel procedures or on some other area.
Cindy thanked Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Schuster for taking time from their busy schedules for this meeting and for their openness to ongoing discussions.
Senate went into executive session at 3:56 to discuss plans for future meetings.
Senate reconvened at 4:00.
The meeting adjourned at 4:01.
Submitted by Fred Thomas
Approved by Senate, Nov. 17, 2004