Faculty senate revises grievance procedure

By Jonathan Raymond

The Faculty Senate voted in favor of a resolution yesterday that will revise the faculty grievance procedure and inject more oversight into the process.

The resolution calls for the implementation of an oversight of due process into the procedure as it concerns suspension of faculty without pay.

Under the current system, if a complaint reaches the Office of Affirmative Action and Diversity, the dean of the office, Donnie Perkins autonomously conducts a fully confidential investigation into the matter and then makes a recommendation to the provost, Stephen Director, who makes a judgment based on the recommendation and can issue a sanction as severe as dismissal or suspension for a year without pay.

Some at the meeting expressed concern over the lack of transparency with the current process, as they said they feel it makes it impossible to tell if due process has indeed been followed because of the complete confidentiality associated with the procedure. Professor Terrence Gaffney of the Mathematics Department specifically spoke of the ‘chilling effect’ which this process can have on teacher-student relationships.

The new system will inject faculty oversight into the process, and, once a recommendation has been made to the provost from the dean of the Office of Affirmative Action and Diversity, a committee of faculty members will review the facts of the case, interview the grievant and make a subsequent recommendation to the provost, who will then be able to act on the information.

Another change in the process will also provide for the ability for faculty to retain legal counsel at hearings, which was not the case before.

While the resolution faced few objections and was ultimately passed handily, some in the Mathematics Department expressed lingering concern with the overall process in the wake of the case of former math department chair David Massey, who was suspended March 3, 2008 through Fall 2008 and prohibited from talking to students or entering campus during that time. The details of the case were not made public. Associate Professor of Mathematics Thomas Sherman said he felt the current process put the provost in a difficult position if he went against any sort of recommendation from the Office of Affirmative Action. Faculty involvement, he said, could act as a check to unnecessary pressure in the process.

‘[The resolution] did not address what I see as a significant issue,’ Sherman said. ‘It was a step in the right direction and it helps a bit, so I voted for it.’

In an e-mail to The News, Massey, who said he felt the process was not conducted fairly as reported in the May 21, 2008 issue of the Northeastern News, expressed the need for more faculty involvement in the process as safeguards to ensure due process is followed.

‘Various members of the Mathematics Department talked to me about [the resolution] before and after the [Senate] meeting. The changes that they mentioned sounded like they were headed in the right direction, but didn’t seem to go far enough,’ Massey said in the e-mail. ‘There needs to be faculty oversight of the Office of Affirmative Action [and Diversity] and the university Counsel’s Office, to make certain that the regulations and processes of the university, which are already in writing, are actually adhered to in practice. It does no good to change a process in writing if the University simply doesn’t feel obligated to follow the written process.’

Director and Perkins declined to comment. ‘

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