New MU faculty grievance policy is up for vote

Sunday, October 26, 2008 | 4:23 p.m. CDT; updated 10:50 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Wednesday, the MU faculty may vote to add an administrator to its grievance resolution panel. The administrator would be part of the initial body that gathers and evaluates information related to a complaint.

If passed, the policy would make MU one of the few universities — perhaps the only — in the country with this type of policy, said Laurie Mintz, MU's investigative officer for the grievance process.

The change is backed by some members of MU's administration and was endorsed in a 20-3 vote by the Faculty Council.

But with Chancellor Brady Deaton — the final arbiter in the grievance procedure —  at times deciding not to uphold the panel's recommendation, some faculty members say adding an administrator to the panel will further tip the scales in the direction of administration.

MU faculty will cast either a yes or a no for what Mintz calls "Policy 2.0."

Under what is known as "Policy 1.0" — MU's current pilot grievance procedure — when a faculty member files a grievance:

  • The chancellor reads it and then sends it to the co-chairs of the standing committee to decide if the grievance has merit.
  • Mintz then collects evidence regarding the grievance. 
  • Eventually, a hearing panel made up of five faculty members looks at the evidence, holds a hearing and makes recommendations to the chancellor on what steps to take next.
  • Ultimately, the chancellor decides to support, deny or amend the recommendations.  

In the revised policy, "Policy 2.0":

  • The grievance would go directly to a grievance resolution panel made up of two faculty members and one upper-level administrator.
  • Evidence is gathered, and if possible, the panel would mediate an informal resolution.
  • If the conflict is not resolved, the panel would collect additional evidence and make a recommendation to the chancellor. 
  • In the end, the final decision is still in the chancellor's hands.  

But the new process would add oversight by creating a Faculty Council oversight committee, or what Mintz calls "the fly-on-the-wall committee."

One member of the three-person oversight committee will be present for every meeting, record the behaviors of the people involved and will provide a continuous report on the process. Mintz hopes that this will be a "safeguard" to the process.   

Notable changes are in giving the panel the investigatory role, which was once Mintz's, and reducing the total time the grievance can take from more than 320 days to 135 days. The new process also would put more emphasis on resolving disputes informally.

Some faculty members are not sure whether the new process is an improvement on the old one. The sticking point is the addition of an administrator to the panel that reviews the grievances.  

Karen Piper, an English professor and member of the executive council of MU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, became personally involved in the grievance process when one of her former colleagues filed a grievance. Piper said there was "a big problem with the chancellor taking away the remediation the panel had given (the colleague)."

"It seems like there is a pattern happening," she said. "People aren't being made whole."

"If the problem is with the administration, then adding another administrator to the panel won't make things better," Piper said. "(The outcome) could very easily be swayed by an administrator."  

Although Mintz understands that it might be more intimidating to go in front of a panel not entirely made up of peers, she doesn't think it is a valid argument.  

"In the current process, 1.0 and in the old process, an administrator eventually hears about it because the chancellor is our very highest administrator," Mintz said.  "He eventually hears about the grievance, and reads about the grievance and gets the panel's recommendation. And so an administrator, indeed our very highest administrator, is already involved in the process."

Mintz cited reasons for changing the process:

  • to strengthen the informal mediation process;
  • to make the entire process more efficient and less disjointed;
  • and to create an oversight committee.  

Mintz said that after reviewing the process for the past three years, it became clear that having an administrator on the panel would expedite the resolution process. Since Mintz became the investigative officer in November 2005, four out of 18 grievances have been handled through informal resolution.  

"And how I did that resolution was by involving an upper level administrator," she said. "The faculty panel does not have any power to mediate a settlement. Only administrators have power to do something like that, or the resources to do something like that."  

"What you have now is the people who are closest to the data are the ones farthest away from the decision," Mintz said. "In this process, the people who are closest to the data are the ones making the recommendations."

Piper isn't quite sure what the best solution is. She said she thinks that adding an administrator is not going to solve the problem. "If the problem is with the chancellor, then there is no way around it," she said.

Mintz disagrees.

"Certainly, if you want to go to a panel of your peers and bare your soul to people who have absolutely no real way to fix your problem, then you are right. The other process is better," Mintz said. "But if you want to talk about your problems to people who can actually fix your problem, then this process is best."

Tenure-track faculty received a paper ballot to vote on the new changes in the mail two weeks ago. The ballot must be sent or delivered to the Conley House by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Votes will be counted on Friday or Monday.  

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