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Microsoft word - provost_statement_041008.doc
Statement given April 10, 2008 Faculty Meeting Marty Wyngaarden Krauss, Provost
I want to speak to you about a variety of issues, including some of the issues raised in the
March 13 meeting of the Senate, as noted in their minutes. I will defer commentary on
the specific issues raised in the preceding reports in order to consider them carefully.
I have been a member of this faculty since 1982. I share-- with you-- a deep commitment
to our system of shared
governance. There is a strong tradition at Brandeis of faculty
with the administration in how we govern ourselves and for
many years, as a member of the faculty, I have participated in such efforts. The
Handbook spells out the various mechanisms by which the faculty at large offers
opinions on University issues and the ways in which faculty advisory bodies participate.
In my experience, as a faculty member and now as provost, faculty views and advisory
opinions are taken very seriously. I come from this tradition as a faculty member and
continue to affirm this tradition as provost.
The Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities has a very special and critical role
within our system of shared governance. Over the last several years, it has offered
several opinions on faculty grievances brought to it for deliberation. As provost, I have
found this Committee to be thorough, thoughtful, and fair in its recommendations. And, I
have generally followed its advice. I think all of us agree that this committee plays an
important role as the
central faculty resource in hearing and advising on faculty disputes
across a wide range of issues.
While the FCRR has a central role in shared faculty governance, ultimately it is the senior
officers, including the provost and the president, who are responsible to the Board of
Trustees to ensure that Brandeis complies with all applicable laws. When the FCRR takes
a position or offers advice that is contrary to what the senior officers, including myself,
conclude is the legal obligation of the university, I have no choice but to follow the law,
even if it puts me at odds with the FCRR and the faculty.
As you know, there did indeed arise a singular
case last semester in which the
Committee’s views were not accepted by me. Why? because of countervailing legal
advice that I also received that convinced me that I had to follow a different path than
that recommended by the FCRR
I, and other senior officers, had specific legal responsibilities with respect to how we
handled the complaint of racial harassment lodged against a senior faculty member by
our students. This complaint was investigated, according to university policy, by the
Human Resources Department and was found to be legitimate. The consequences of this
determination had legal implications and I was advised by in-house and external legal
counsel about what our responsibilities were under the law. In a meeting with the Senate
Council, we agreed that legal responsibilities take precedence over the Faculty Handbook
provisions for dispute resolution. So, we were compelled, legally, to take the actions that
we did and I stand by those decisions. I did not take the actions I did out of disrespect for
the FCRR, but because we had to comply with the University’s legal responsibilities.
That is a responsibility that I, as provost, share with other senior officers, but that the
FCRR does not have
as an advisory committee.
This was the first time the harassment policy was invoked within a classroom context
since it was revised in 2006. There were clearly differences of opinion between the
administration and the FCRR regarding how appeals of either the investigation’s findings
or the disciplinary action imposed were to occur. I understand that the Senate has
proposed a mechanism for its review of the policy and I hope we will all benefit from its
Some feel that these issues constitute a crisis. I do not think we need to consider that
there’s a crisis with respect to the role of the FCRR in our dispute resolution process. I
believe in its role. And we, as a faculty, rely
on its role. Indeed, the committee presented
a strong argument against my actions in this case. Its opinion and analysis were read
very carefully and thoughtfully. A very detailed response was given to the FCRR which
addressed each of their opinions.
The Senate has heard from the FCRR regarding this situation. Adam Jaffe and I are now
scheduled to meet with the FCRR later this month to continue the discussion about
ensuring that the FCRR’s appropriate role within the mandates of the Faculty Handbook
is affirmed, and if necessary, clarified. We will work on this issue for as long as
necessary. No one has any interest in undermining our carefully constructed faculty
dispute resolution process.
This has been a most unhappy chapter in my time as provost. I do not like the acrimony
that has surfaced between some members of the faculty and the administration on this
issue. As many of you know, I have been meeting with various groups of faculty (and
continue to do so), to discuss what we have learned from last semester’s events. By the
end of the semester, I will have met 13 times with different groups of faculty, including
the School Councils within A&S, IBS faculty, and all of the assistant professors both on
and off the tenure track. We’ve had candid discussions. I’ve listened intently, and heard
often very frank and heart-felt concerns about how this particular situation played out
with respect to the reputation of a member of our faculty, and of the university.
What I’ve learned is that the faculty does understand that the university has to comply
with applicable law, but many with whom I’ve talked are very concerned with what they
have heard regarding the treatment
of the faculty member. Although I don’t think the outcome
of this case would have been different, in hindsight, I do agree that we could
have done a better job. I can personally assure you that should a similar or analogous
situation arise in the future, our experience from this case will be put to good use. What I
have consistently heard, and agree with, is that it is extremely important how we treat
faculty members who are the subjects of formal complaints.
Let me share with you four overriding themes from these faculty discussions:
1. Everyone I’ve talked with objects to at least one action I or others took or didn’t
take with respect to the investigation and its aftermath, but people object to DIFFERENT actions.
2. What some people found critically offensive, others were less concerned about.
In other words, people differ in what they found problematic.
3. There is a general consensus, from my meetings with faculty, that classroom
discussions/lectures—in contrast to private conversations—raise special issues with respect to harassing speech and that we should discuss and understand these classroom issues in a deeper way.
4. Faculty were frustrated that they heard only one side of the situation, were
genuinely confused as to what the facts were, and some were suspicious about why I would not publicly discuss the case. I will note that I too was frustrated with not being able to be more forthcoming about why the administration took the steps we did. However, because this situation represented a confidential personnel action, I was bound to maintain confidentiality of the facts of the case as they were discovered during the investigation, and will continue to do so.
Let me conclude by saying again that I respect and have faith in the role that the FCRR performs within our system of shared governance. The Faculty Handbook clearly spells out what its purpose and jurisdiction is, and it spells out an appeal process should the opinions of the FCRR not be shared by the academic administrator to whom the opinion is rendered. I believe that this appeal provision is included precisely because academic administrators have legal responsibility for the decisions ultimately made that affect the faculty or the university. I also believe that we have learned many valuable lessons from this experience. I want to work closely and carefully with the FCRR and the Senate, and frankly, with all of you—the faculty—to hear your concerns and to restore your confidence that this administration is committed to a shared governance with the faculty. On behalf of my senior officer colleagues, I pledge that we will continue to work daily to ensure that this great university is a place of intellectual integrity, committed to excellence in what we teach and how we conduct ourselves, and that we realize that the true measure of our impact is on the quality of the experiences we provide our students. Thank you for your attention.
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