COLUMBIA — A three-year effort to improve MU’s grievance process will likely be extended to further test changes to it. The process is an option for faculty members within the UM System who have complaints against it.
A committee of MU’s Faculty Council suggested Thursday that changes implemented in November 2005 be examined for another three-year period while a committee is formed to explore creating an entirely new grievance process. The committee made several new recommendations, including that investigating officers in the grievance process be given the authority to make rulings on evidence.
The recommendations from the Faculty Affairs Committee now go to the full Faculty Council for review and approval. The UM System Board of Curators will make the final decision.
The current modifications to the grievance process began in November 2005 with several revisions, including the addition of an investigative officer to collect and organize evidence. Those changes are being tested at MU while the other three UM System campuses continue to use the old process.
Laurie Mintz, MU’s investigative officer for the grievance process, said two perceptions drove the initial revisions. “The perception was that grievances were taking way too long to be heard and that the chancellor’s office was not upholding the panel’s recommendations,” she said.
When a grievance is filed, a panel of faculty members hears evidence and makes a ruling. That decision then goes to the chancellor, who has 70 days to uphold, modify or reject the panel’s decision.
Frank Schmidt, MU Faculty Council chair, said the changes have resulted in fewer pending grievances and have reduced the amount of time it takes to reach a ruling. Bill Wiebold, a member of the Faculty Council, said that before the current revisions “very few grievances were settled in favor of the faculty. So it was this extremely long process almost always ending in results that weren’t all that uplifting.”
Columbia lawyer George S. Smith, who has defended 11 of the 13 people who have filed grievances against MU since November 2005, said the changes have not had much impact on the outcome in most cases.
“No matter how well structured the process becomes,” he said, “whenever the panel’s decision reaches the chancellor’s desk it falls to pieces. Every decision made by the chancellor has been modified in a way that was prejudicial to the grievant.”
Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton disagreed with that assessment. He said Chancellor Brady Deaton is committed to fairness in the grievance process. “He takes into consideration the hearing panel’s recommendations, university rules and all other relevant facts and circumstances presented to him in making what he considers fair rulings on grievance cases,” Middleton said.
Of the 13 grievances filed since November 2005, one was not accepted; five went through the entire process; four were resolved informally; two were in progress when this story was written; and one went through the process but resulted in a lawsuit before the chancellor made a ruling. According to Smith, two cases have resulted in three separate lawsuits against the university.
Wiebold, the Faculty Council member, said that even if the proposed changes are approved, the grievance process will remain difficult.
“It is always going to be less than pleasant because grievances occur under less than pleasant circumstances,” he said. “It’s the faculty’s job to experiment with the process and try to improve it, which is what we’re doing here.”