There’s a lot to say about Tuesday night’s Board of Trustees meeting. Before we say it, however, we urge you, if you have not already done so, to read President Keen’s update on our Middle States progress, which was included as an item for discussion on the Academic Senate’s March 7th agenda. That document provides crucial context for the disconcerting (and, we hope, ultimately unnecessary) ultimatum the Board of Trustees issued in a prepared statement that Board Chair Gardyn read Tuesday night. With apologies for any errors in transcription, this is what that statement said. (The statement begins at around 24:58 in the video. If you’d like to watch it without having to scroll through the footage, click here.):
The impending date directed by the Middle States Commission for the college’s submission of its next progress report raises concerns with respect to the timely compliance of certain accreditation parameters. The faculty will shortly conclude its spring semester. The report is due by September 15th. The Board of Trustees is concerned that the pace of work on accreditation Standards 4 [Leadership and Governance] and 5 [Administration] may not enable the college to receive full accreditation by the end of this calendar year. Hence, we have directed the president to report at the April meeting of the Board on the status of efforts to comply, and to articulate to the board the deficiencies in completion in the necessary work for timely compliance. If necessary to achieve compliance with Standards 4 and 5, the president has been directed to advise the Board on appropriate board resolutions to ensure full compliance with these Middle States standards for accreditation.
No one likes to be given an ultimatum, but the Board’s concern is not misplaced. To date, despite many meetings and many discussions between and among President Keen and representatives of the elected faculty leadership, there has been little to no agreement on how to move forward in responding to the Middle States requirements for Standards 4 and 5. Regardless of where the source of that stalemate lies, if we do not make substantial progress in meeting those requirements before the end of May, the college will have no choice but to submit its September 15th report without being able to note such progress. The Board is worried, as we all should be, that Middle States would interpret that as a sign of our inability to meet its prerequisites for removing our probationary status. None of us wants to live through the consequences of that decision.
The requirements for the standards in question are as follows:
Standard 4: Leadership and Governance
The Board of Trustees must appoint a permanent president.
- The Board of Trustees must establish an organized and systematic way of orienting new board members.
- The Board of Trustees must establish an organized and systematic way of self-assessment and evaluation.
- The institution must create a system of shared governance in which each major constituency carries out its role in a complementary manner consistent with the principles of shared governance and New York State Regulations.
- The Institution must rebuild trust and collegiality among the constituent groups to ensure the interests of students are protected and the future of the College is secured.
- The Institution should invest the necessary resources to ensure that the constituent groups are trained in the conventions of governance and college leadership.
Standard 5: Administration
- The College must prioritize and complete its search for a permanent President.
- The College must complete a formal review of the roles & responsibilities and authority of all constituencies and staff of the College, including but not limited to issues of policy creation/revision, policy final approvals, and policy implementation. The results of this review must be clearly communicated to all constituencies of the college.
Some of these requirements—the hiring of a permanent president and those that concern the Board of Trustees—have already been, or are in the process of being, met, and we have made progress in “rebuild[ing] trust and collegiality among the constituent groups” on campus. There are, however, two major points on which we have not been able to come to agreement. First, is the question of whether ours is already “a system of shared governance in which each major constituency carries out its role in a complementary manner consistent with the principles of shared governance and New York State Regulations” or whether compliance with that Middle States requirement necessitates a change in how shared governance operates on our campus. Second, is the question of whether the “formal review of…roles and responsibilities” that Middle States has mandated also mandates structural change in the Academic Senate, the contractually established and defined entity through which shared governance on our campus is operationalized.
Dr. Keen has made it clear that he reads the Middle States requirements as a call for change, and he has created the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF)—the charge and membership of which are defined in the document we linked to above—as the forum for proposing to the campus what that change might be. At its first meeting, Dr. Keen submitted to the GRTF a draft of his vision for change, which we are in the process of reviewing. Because it is a draft, we are not going to share details here. Suffice it to say, however, that especially for those of us who have been on campus long enough to remember our last Middle States review, when we were lauded as a national model for our system of shared governance, this is a very difficult and uncomfortable conversation to have. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that we are being made unjustly to suffer the consequences of the failed leadership that plagued us during the last six years.
The fact remains, however, that the end result of those six years was a breakdown in shared governance on our campus and that this breakdown, as much as the failures of our leadership at the time, was what Middle States bore witness to. We need to take responsibility for that—which, we hasten to add, is not the same thing as accepting blame. Rather, it is to acknowledge that the problems Middle States identified make the discussion Dr. Keen has started about governance on this campus a necessary one, not just for the sake of our accreditation, but for the continued health of our institution overall.
We are grateful—we all should be grateful—to Senate Chair Evelyn Deluty and the members of the Academic Senate Executive Committee for making sure that the strengths of the system of shared governance that has served us so well have remained in the forefront of that conversation. (Professors Paul Rosa and Chris Merlo did this quite eloquently on Tuesday night. You can read Paul Rosa’s statement here.) We are also glad to note that the process Dr. Keen has defined for arriving at change acknowledges and respects the Senate’s role as the deliberative body on campus. Nonetheless, as Dr. Gardyn forcefully reminded us Tuesday night, time is short, and we have work to do. No one (including, in our estimation, the Board) wants the Board to have to do it for us.
As the executive committee of this union, we are very aware of the vigilance concerning our collective bargaining agreement that any discussion of shared governance requires. Vigilance, however, does not have to mean resistance. The GRTF is about trying to build a consensus, and consensus inevitably means that everybody loses something so the entire group can benefit from what it gains. We do not expect to agree with everything that Dr. Keen proposes, and there are lines we will not be willing—that none of us should be willing—to cross. Short of those lines, however, we believe that flexibility and compromise are the watchwords of the day. We all want to avoid the alternatives.