JMU Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly, 39-3, in favor of the Resolution Regarding Transparency and Accountability of Appointments within the Division of Academic Affairs in Thursday’s special meeting. This was one of two resolutions before the Senate that was critical of Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Heather Coltman. The other one was postponed.
The resolution, introduced and read by faculty senator and associate professor in the College of Science and Mathematics (CSM) Hala Nelson at the Jan. 26 Faculty Senate meeting, asks JMU senior leadership to create a policy that establishes transparency and accountability in the hiring search process for leadership positions in academic affairs. It asks that these guidelines be adopted publicly by April, and that faculty be consulted in their formation.
After taking months to come to a vote, the resolution urges that JMU’s policy on conflicts of interest, which currently only applies to financial conflicts of interest, be revised to create a process for when concerns about conflicts of interest are raised, including a way for faculty to verify that those concerns have been resolved. It also requests that confidentiality agreements required by search committees clarify that confidentiality doesn’t keep committee members or faculty from raising concerns about violations of the search process.
Some amendments were made to the resolution, namely the removal of “A&P,” or administrative and professional, from the title, so the resolution isn’t limited to only A&P hiring. The Senate also struck two sections from the resolution that cited surveys about faculty discontent.
In a Friday interview with The Breeze following the vote, Coltman said she’s already been working on a new hiring policy as is mentioned in the resolution and worked with Faculty Senate Speaker Katherine Ott Walter to create a joint task force with this goal in mind. With the removal of “A&P” from the resolution’s title, though, she said that may change the task force’s charge.
“The content of the resolution was already being addressed,” Coltman said. “My impression was that was happening in a very collaborative way, and we are looking forward to hearing recommendations from that task force.”
The resolution is founded on allegations that the provost engaged in “non-transparent and intimidating practices” within last year’s CSM dean search. The resolution says Coltman disregarded qualitative faculty feedback, mishandled conflict of interest concerns and copied one of the candidates on an email about the search, which “puts the integrity of the search in question” and “raises concerns of retaliation” toward faculty members who spoke up.
Coltman addressed these allegations line by line during the Faculty Senate’s Feb. 23 meeting, defending her decisions and saying other portions of the resolution — like the “non-transparent and intimidating practices” phrase — were too vague to respond to.
“I stand by decisions that were made during that search,” she told The Breeze. “We followed rigorous processes and policies, and I think we emerged with a really outstanding team.”
When asked about a general distrust of the provost’s office among faculty, Coltman said she “can understand and acknowledge” that some faculty may disagree with some of her decisions.
“I am charged with administering and stewarding Academic Affairs … and often that’ll mean making decisions that are either misunderstood and, like I said, could be unpopular,” Coltman said. “And really, the only way to keep doing that is to continue to be transparent, trying to be as clear as possible about how and why decisions get made.”
Coltman also said there’s a shared governance task force that’ll evaluate the working relationship between JMU’s administration and faculty members, which will draw on the Climate Study results and look at how other universities operate.
As for the second resolution working its way through the Faculty Senate, the Resolution of Condemnation of Recent Actions of JMU’s Provost, the Senate voted to add a section regarding JMU’s handling of concerns raised about its Jan. 26 Holocaust Remembrance event.
The resolution says: “The provost undermined JMU’s self-proclaimed ‘recognition that JMU is a welcoming and inclusive academic community’ … by failing to publicly address the widely reported concerns raised by Jewish faculty and staff.”
The vote on the Resolution of Condemnation, last on the docket for Faculty Senate, was postponed for further discussion at the end of the meeting.
Resolution on JMU’s Holocaust Remembrance event thrown back to committee
Faculty Senate voted to return to committee a resolution in support of faculty members who voiced concerns about JMU’s Holocaust Remembrance event. The resolution, introduced and read by faculty senator Howard Lubert from the political science department in the January meeting, will be updated in committee, as some conversations about the event happened after the resolution was first written.
Several faculty senators said there’s a desire from their departments to hear more about the event and the concerns the faculty members brought forth in a letter to President Jonathan Alger two days before the event. Several senators also voiced support for adding a clause to the resolution that would urge JMU to have an open conversation with faculty about the event and address the concerns.
“A lot of the people that I talked to said that they do feel like this is a situation where one of their concerns is that they feel like there’s more information that needs to come to light about what’s happened, so a lot of the people I talked to said that they would really like to see something like an open meeting,” Anne van Leeuwen, a faculty senator from the philosophy department, said.
New resolution opposes proposed changes on use of student evaluations
A new resolution about the use of student evaluations in faculty assessments was introduced in response to a proposed change to the faculty handbook. The change would prohibit student evaluations from being used as part of a teaching portfolio, meaning they couldn’t be used for annual performance assessments, promotion and tenure applications or appealing a negative assessment.
Research has shown that student evaluations may be “invalid, unreliable or biased,” according to Inside Higher Ed, and they could disadvantage instructors in underrepresented minorities and punish faculty members who teach unpopular required courses.
As part of its reasoning for opposing the changes, the resolution says “data were not collected at JMU to determine the magnitude of bias in student evaluations, if any.”
The resolution, introduced and read by Tim Ozcan, faculty senator from the College of Business, urges that this change not be made to the faculty handbook, citing that faculty may wish to use student evaluations as part of their teaching portfolio and that the Faculty Handbook Committee “did not extensively consult with” department heads about this change.
It asks that the proposed changes not be made without extensive discussion among faculty and that these changes not be made “unless and until” the Faculty Senate votes in their favor.
Several unfinished business items — the Resolution of Condemnation, the resolution about the Holocaust Remembrance event and this resolution on the use of student evaluations — will be on the docket for the Faculty Senate’s next meeting on Thursday, March 30.