Administrative Faculty

May 27, 2009

In 2008, the Faculty Senate’s Executive Board charged one of its committees, the Administrative Faculty Personnel Policies & Procedures (AFP^3) committee, with the following charges, among others:

6. Consider issues related to the creation of a new employment category for professional or technical staff, and review the policies and categories of peer institutions. Make recommendations to the Senate.

7. UNR Bylaws require that all faculty, academic and administrative, should have the protection of bylaws at the major unit (e.g., college) or below, but many administrative faculty work in divisions and units without bylaws. What bylaws are appropriate and necessary for administrative faculty, and what current examples exist? Make recommendations to the Senate, as appropriate.

What was our thinking in developing this charge? I am happy to tell you some of my own thoughts. But you must take them with a grain of salt, as I do not know if they are close to the opinion of the executive board, the senate, or the administration. They do seem not be be very close to the opinion of the AFP^3 Committee.

This question came up last year because we learned that many people report difficulties in hiring the people they need, when what they need does not fall correctly into either the “faculty” camp or the “classified” camp. There are folks who need to hire professionals who do not necessarily have a college education, but who need to work by the job, not by the hour. The hiring process can be slow, and the classified staff system has an elaborate system of bumping rights. Many are currently concerned that this will make it hard for them to compete for grants. Some grant-funded work has to be done by hiring subcontractors, which is more expensive but more flexible. I think that it is dumb and parochial for the university not to fix.

State law defines us all as professional staff, and only the Code and UNR Bylaws limit us to “faculty.” This stems for historical reasons to our old unitary faculty model, in which you could be tenured as a professor of buildings and grounds. Somebody was apparently Solomonaic a couple of decades ago and separated faculty into two types, administrative and academic, but there are other needs that these two types do not meet. UNLV has changed their bylaws to use different terminology, but they are still bound by a badly-written Code. DRI also does it very differently than we do.

The Code actually defines administrative faculty as administrators, as faculty in “executive, supervisory, or support” roles. Department chairs are supervisors, but they are academic faculty. There is a great deal of variation. Some administrative faculty were once classified staff who were given additional responsibilities. Some administrative faculty were once academic faculty, and still hold tenure in their home academic department. Some administrative faculty have Ph.D.s, some don’t even have a bachelors. Some are fully qualified to teach, and do. Some aren’t, and don’t.

What a mess.

Webster’s dictionary defines faculty as the teachers and instructors within any of the divisions or comprehensive branches of learning at a college or university, or alternatively, as the members of a learned profession. When regents, legislators, or members of the public learn we apply the word to all professional staff, regardless of whether they are qualified to teach or not, they are very puzzled. Why do we do this? Why are we so wedded to this?

I personally think that some administrative faculty truly are that. I think some are not, and we make things both confusing and difficult by insisting on lumping everybody together in the same definition.

If I could have my way, I would advocate creating new categories of professional staff, without eliminating the current category. I have tossed out the terms “technical staff” and “administrative professionals” but am not wedded to anything so specific. Current administrative faculty might choose to retain their place in that category, or might choose an alternative category if it held advantages. New hires could be made into any category the university thought appropriate.

In addition to the grandfathering issue, there are several other questions raised by the creation of new categories of professional staff. In particular, how could we best protect faculty rights, even if we no longer call some of them faculty? What rights and privileges really matter to them? We need to consider how they would best be represented, if not by the faculty senate, or how to make sure they continue to receive the benefits that matter to them. We would also need to reassure them that they were not being put at any additional risk, a difficult thing in this budgetary climate, where administrative faculty positions have been cut more than for academic faculty.

In addition to hiring flexibility and linguistic clarity, there are other reasons to consider. For more than a decade, I have been very concerned with improving and enforcing bylaws. It is very clear to me that most of the bylaws are really written for academic faculty. For decades we have shoehorned administrative faculty into them, but they just don’t really fit. For example, nowhere in the bylaws does it accurately describe the annual evaluation process for administrative faculty, and that is pretty basic in terms of rights. Instead, we talk about personnel committees and the recommendations of chairs and deans. This is just ignored for administrative faculty, but I think this is a bad idea. Bylaws become useless when they are ignored in some cases. How do you protect rights when everybody knows the rules do not apply?

Some administrative faculty like the title, but others find it problematic. Some complain that being lumped in with academic faculty puts them at a disadvantage, since they must compete for benefits (e.g., sabbaticals, awards) that are really tailor-made for academic faculty. They are rarely ever recognized for what their jobs are, and are almost always outvoted by academic faculty even on matters that aren’t academic in nature.

Some work with students and find the title of faculty helps get their respect. Otherwise, I am not sure why anyone would care as long as it does not affect your rights. “Call me anything you like,” my father used to say, “just don’t call me late for dinner.” Some just like having the title, or just being part of the larger group. Some of my friends who are administrative faculty who came from other universities think it is a little silly, and have never understood why we do it this way. Others have never been at any other university, and assume that we do it the way it should be done.

There are, however, practical differences. In the Senate, we sometimes have a difficult time getting administrative faculty to serve to the extent academic faculty are expected to serve. Academic faculty are evaluated by their peers on teaching, research, and service, but many administrative faculty are evaluated by their direct superiors on the performance of specific duties, which does not always include significant service. We once tried to appoint a committee chair who had to get his supervisor’s permission to serve on a committee. This is antithetical to the independent nature of academic faculty. Last year, the AFP^3 Committee failed to even report because everybody on it was too busy with other duties to even meet.

Regarding representation on the Faculty Senate, I have mixed feelings. I value the contributions of our administrative faculty to the debate, and they bring a fresh perspective to the table. I like and respect them individually. On the other hand, I’m not sure they really ever get their concerns heard, and there are practical problems too. There is a strong tradition in the Senate that the Chair should be already tenured, since this allows the Chair the independence to speak for the faculty, to stand up to the administration, the Regents, and even the Governor when it is necessary. This tradition makes the Senate stronger. But with administrative faculty making up a third of the Senate, we have a relatively small pool to choose from in nominating the Chair-elect (especially if there are other characteristics we want in a Chair).

Some have suggested that a different governance structure might make sense. I am agnostic on this, but I do think somebody ought to at least think about it. If we do create new categories of professional staff, the issue will have to be dealt with because these new folks will need some sort of representation.

There are also academic faculty who are concerned with voting rights. Some academic faculty do not like the idea of having people who do not have the degree, who do not teach or research, voting on curricular issues or tenure-track hires. It’s never been an issue for me personally, but some faculty are really concerned with this.

Another reason the issue remains a concern for me is that issues come up every so often with the Executive Board that appear to result from this aggregation of professional staff into one catch-all category. For example, one issue we have been trying to resolve is whether or not “A contract” faculty are allowed to consult. These faculty are required to take leave before they consult. This may make sense for administrative faculty who are expected to keep regular hours, and this makes sense for academic faculty who are funded entirely by grants. But what about state-funded “A contract” academic faculty? Faculty on “B contracts” do not have to take leave, but are instead only expected to report their consulting and keep it under an average of one day per week. Try explaining this difference to the Board of Regents, however.

We are concerned that if these issues are so obvious to us, then eventually they will be obvious to somebody else with the power to dictate change. We know some regents and legislators think the university is a little nuts on issues like this. If we are going to have change, we need to get in front of it to make sure it is done right and reasonably, to make sure it is done carefully and with full consideration by both academic and administrative faculty, to make sure rights and privileges are protected as best they can be.

Finally, I must admit to being in disagreement with the belief that Nevada is inherently different. I love Nevada and I love this university, but I want more of us to open our eyes and see what others do. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel or make change for the sheer love of change, but I think we should study the best practice of our peers, and adopt what works best. We should be willing to make changes that make sense, and not fear change.