November 8, 2007
Officers Present: Betsy Bryan (Vice Chair), Erica Schoenberger (Secretary).
Officer absent: Todd Hufnagel (Chair).
1. The meeting was called to order by Professor Bryan at 4:05pm. A motion was made, seconded and carried to approve the minutes for the meeting of September 24, 2007 as written.
2. Professor Bryan introduced the main topic of the meeting which was a continuation of the discussion about restructuring the Academic Council and altering voting procedures for the it. She noted that the previous discussion had been productive, with a high level of participation, but not every viewpoint had been articulated, especially due to the unavoidable absence of many faculty in humanities and social sciences. For that reason, the Steering Committee had invited two people, Professor Anderson from English and Professor Cherlin from Sociology, to provide initial comments on how faculty in those areas view the issues.
3. Professor Cherlin defined the social sciences as encompassing the departments of Political Science, Sociology, Economics and Anthropology. He spoke with chairs of those departments and with faculty in Sociology to gather opinions. He reported that no pressing issues surfaced and that faculty were generally happy with the Council's performance. There was some suggestion that the Council might limit its tasks to appointments and promotion. Everyone strongly supported the idea of having two dedicated slots at least for the social sciences. Political Science faculty would be in favor of three dedicated positions. There was a strong preference for three-year Council terms and certainly at the least for four years in preference to five. There was no consensus on who should vote for the social science slots — whether it should be only social science faculty or all faculty. Everyone is absolutely in favor of abandoning the current voting system that requires you to rank all candidates. Given that change, alternative voting methods weren't seen as a terribly important issue.
Q. Professor Feldman (Physics and Astronomy): If you restrict the Council to appointments and promotions, where would you put department reviews?
A. Conceivably the Faculty Assembly. He's not sure there is a good place for it, and personally is not convinced that the Council shouldn't do it. The only reason to make this change is if the Council feels itself to be overloaded. He thinks most of the faculty in the social sciences feel the Council currently works reasonably well.
Q. Dean Falk: Was there any concern that with only four departments, three Council slots would be too much of a burden for the social sciences?
A. Professor Das: There was for us in Anthropology.
Q. Professor Marsh (Earth and Planetary Sciences): How many faculty are there in the four departments? A. 55.
Professor Anderson began by saying she was sharing her own thoughts and those of her department, as well as her sense of the September Chairs' meeting which produced a strong consensus on a number of key points that differ with the Council's proposals at that point. The reason to ask for reform of voting procedures and Council structure is that the humanities and social science faculty feel disenfranchised. The present voting system produces a situation in which the natural sciences dominate. Compensatory mechanisms have allowed humanities and social science faculty to serve one year terms, but not necessarily more. She stressed the importance of the Council's work and likened it to the Senate rather than the House of Representatives. On this analogy, each division should have equal representation, rather than representation proportional to population. We need people who can speak confidently and authoritatively about promotion criteria. We don't think the Council is functioning badly, but see this as a question of principle.
Professor Anderson reported a strong consensus at the Chairs' meeting for voting within divisions — i.e., humanities faculty vote for humanities representatives; engineers for engineers, etc. — for reasons of practicality and principle. It would be great if the campus community was small enough that we knew colleagues across divisions very well. As this isn't the case, we need to vote within divisions. Others felt voting within divisions was a matter of principle.
She reported as well a very strong consensus for three-year terms, four years being seen as too onerous and reducing people's willingness to serve. Professor Anderson noted that the Bagger report was unclear about whether you would have specifically indicated on the ballot which divisions needed representation in a particular election. Could there be candidates that received a lot of votes but who couldn't be seated that round, for example? That would be undesirable. The at-large representative would need to be shifted around. Although she understands the desire to provide a flexible enough structure to allow for cross- divisional voting, she still thinks it's not the right idea. She is worried about continued low voter turnout.
Q. Professor Ball (Psychological and Brain Sciences): How deep is the feeling in favor of voting within divisions? Would it really produce a new feeling of re- engaging with the council?
A. Yes, there would be a strong and immediate effect on participation by humanities faculty. Every chair in the humanities endorsed this.
Professor Spiegel (History) noted that when people in the humanities open the ballot, they often don't know a single name on it which leads to a profound sense of alienation. Most have stopped voting. There is, she stressed, a widespread and deep feeling in favor of this change. People really need a sense they know who they are voting for.
Professor Cherlin envisions a ballot that says there is one slot for social sciences this year and here are the candidates. Vote for one of them.' If you do that, exactly who votes is a secondary issue. Why not be inclusive rather than exclusive if it doesn't make much difference?
Professor Feldman noted that if there is a 3 year term, 4 members rotate every year. Every division will be up for election every year.
Professor Anderson: My only response is that when this issue gets discussed, it is typically discussed by people who are strong and active citizens of the university and who know people across divisions. These people tend to have a wider network and see cross-divisional voting as much more feasible. Within the departments, it's a different story. My department wants voting by division.
Professor Dagdigian (Chemistry and chair of the Administration and Bylaws Committee of the Academic Council): We have had three discussions in Council since the last Faculty Assembly meeting. The Council is a deliberative body and is not meant to be a place where people advocate for their areas, but it works best when there are sufficient people with expertise in the room. They see four principal issues:
1. — apportionment of representatives. That issue, he thinks, is decided. There will be apportionment. Council's preference now is for 4 (natural science) - 3 - 3 - 3, with no at large members.
2. — term length. On Council, the feeling is generally in favor of four rather than three years.
3. — election procedures. Council is leaning towards open voting rather than voting within divisions, but no decision has been made.
4. — nomination procedures
The mechanics of voting is a more complicated issue, but they want to arrive at a system in which the winner genuinely represents the collective feeling of the faculty. A "relaxed" system of ranking would allow people to rank only the candidates they care about or know. They assume people would care most about candidates within their division and would vote for those, but they wouldn't have to.
They want a nominating system that will produce at least two candidates, hopefully more. They are considering a dual- track procedure in which faculty can nominate someone (or themselves) alongside a nominating committee, possibly composed of senior faculty from the four divisions plus the members of the Faculty Assembly steering committee. They hope such a structure would be able to address issues of diversity of various kinds.
Professor Scheinerman (Applied Mathematics and Statistics) provided a helpful introduction to the pros and cons of different voting systems. The goal is an easy mechanism that allows people to meaningfully express their preferences. It should be a system that discourages gaming and encourages people to vote their true preferences. Plurality systems, for example, perform badly on this count if there are more than two candidates. There is no ideal system — each has its flaws so you need to choose which flaws you prefer. Plurality systems are very easy to understand, which is good, but vulnerable to strategic behavior, which is not so good.
Professor Scheinerman recommended a more flexible but easier to use ballot than our current system and a new tabulation method. The ballot would provide a list of candidates with relaxed ranking and so-called Borda counts which award points based on how highly you rank each candidate. The top scorer wins. The system is easy to calculate. You don't have to rank candidates that you don't know and you can award the same number of points to different candidates. It would be possible to have separate tickets for separate divisional races (i.e., a Natural Science ballot, an Engineering ballot, a Humanities ballot and a Social Science ballot). With separate tickets but open voting, you would rank each list separately. With divisional voting, you would see only the ballot for your division.
Professor Das (Anthropology): In the present system, one of the biggest problems is that, in the end, 5th preference votes counted as much as 1st preference. We were worried that the problems were created by the voting system, not by problems with the electorate. There should be a consensus that if the voting method problem gets resolved, there are further problems with the electorate. One of the basic questions about open versus divisional voting for us is that there is an intellectual problem. Different disciplines with the social sciences division are not necessarily close. Economics may be closer to math. The assumption that disciplines within a division are closer is not correct. It's not just a matter of individual networks.
We agree that tenure decisions are very important, and that as long as there are one or two representatives from each division you would have the expertise to judge what criteria should be applied. But we also expect the Council to be taking the lead on a number of very important policy issues not related to tenure, e.g., funding, classified research and academic freedom. It seems to us that election of people who relate to that vital set of issues is important.
Professor Anderson: Professor Scheinerman's proposal has a certain simplicity, but I remain concerned about the large differences in populations: 118 in engineering, 137 in natural sciences, 88 in humanities and 57 in the social sciences. If everyone is voting, the weight of opinion outside humanities could determine the election. This seems to undercut the goal of reform which is to enfranchise the humanities. Second, it is an enormous mistake to go with four year terms. That is too long. The faculty is busy; the job burden on the council is insane. We should poll the faculty and not take the council's view. Third, it is important to have a nominating process that is decoupled from council, preferably a committee made up of chairs.
Professor Dagdigian: We wanted to decouple the nomination process from chairs.
Professor Scheinerman suggests nomination within disciplines and voting across disciplines. Humanities can nominate people they think are all good, solid people and everyone can vote. Council should not be a representative body; it should be deliberative. He is concerned about the notion that the person has to represent the humanities.
Professor Spiegel (History): It is a question of a certain kind of expertise, particularly related to tenure. There are other issues as Veena says, but presumably these people will be able to address them. There is a sense on the part of the humanities faculty that the expertise is not always present.
Professor Alexander (Sociology) wondered about the possibility of combining elements of both voting systems with some sheltered seats voted on within divisions, and some voted on in open elections. He thought the concern about being swamped by out-of-discipline votes is serious and it would threaten the legitimacy of the system if, e.g., people for social science slots were not elected primarily by social scientists.
Professor Feldman: You only vote for one seat at a time, so this wouldn't work.
Further discussion with varying combinations of open and divisional nominating and voting procedures ensued.
Discussion also continued on the issue of term lengths. Faculty who have served on council (Professor Hobbs, Geography and Environmental Engineering) stressed the learning curve and institutional memory as reasons for maintaining a four-year term in preference to three years. Professor Marsh continued: The time for promotion through the whole cycle is roughly ten years. The easy cases are simple. The tough ones, in a small institution like ours, are a big deal. You need institutional memory. You need to remember the last round, the history on candidates. This is a tiny university. If we don't know each other, whose fault is that? There's something deeper at fault here.
Professor Anderson: Presumably council was told that chairs overwhelmingly supported divisional voting. This is also the norm at other institutions. Why is the council refusing this? The new proposals seem too close to present system to make enough change. Why is the council resisting this overwhelming vote?
Professor Dagdigian: Faculty in his department were not polled on the issue; he doesn't know about other departments. He's not sure the case is quite so clear.
Professor Schoenberger (Geography and Environmental Engineering; Steering Committee Secretary) noted that the entire faculty of Cognitive Science was unable to be present and asked that it be made known that they preferred three year terms.
Professor Das: has deep respect for the problems expressed by humanities faculty, but we should not assume a consensus where it doesn't exist. In the social sciences there are divided feelings and one department definitely prefers open voting. With all respect to the deans, we do need a way for institutional memory and gravitas of experienced to be maintained. This is a very big concern. We can't always guarantee we will have deans who aren't trying to press an agenda. We want council members to be able to act as a counterpoint to the deans as a matter of principle.
Professor Meneveau (Mechanical Engineering): I'm in my second year, and still feel quite green behind the ears. Thinks there is something to the idea of accumulating experience. We shouldn't focus only on recruiting and voting and not on the functioning of the council. Professor Bryan: I spent six years on council. While serving and immediate years following, I would have agreed with the viewpoint in favor of 4 years or even 5 years. Now I'm a couple of years off the council, I see it as a dire need to get a wider group of people who are willing to serve. I would love a 3 year term with a fourth year option.
Professor Dagdigian: wanted to get more response from social sciences about 3 versus 2 representatives in terms of potential burden on a small group of faculty. It's easy to imagine having no social science representatives at a meeting if one is away and the other is in the department of the candidate.
Professor Das: We discussed this in the department and opinion was divided. Younger faculty were in favor of three representatives. It's possible that in the next few years there will be greater enthusiasm for participating. Some concern however that we may not be able to get enough people to stand if we opt for three representatives for three year terms. If we can't find people, it would put the whole procedure into some jeopardy.
Professor Alexander: the obvious solution is to grow the social sciences. We did discuss this in the department, where sentiment favored three seats but we didn't imagine that would fly. Identifying two or more senior social scientists of stature to run every year should be feasible. You do want to have a social science presence in the room. It is easy to exaggerate disciplinary affinity, but the likelihood of having an informed opinion at the table is higher. He also welcomed the idea of a nominating committee, especially with the possibility that the Council and the Faculty Assembly would work together. He would be glad to see closer connections between the two.
Hengt Devries (Humanities Center): has never served on Council and is relatively new to the issue. But he is struck by the sense that — although Council should be an institution that reforms itself — there have been several moments where there have been very explicit, strong expressions about how people in the humanities at least feel about this. If it is still the general sense that okay we heard from the chair's meeting but there was a faculty assembly meeting where other views were expressed .why not take a referendum of the whole faculty. Council could still take the decision, but at least they would know what people really thought.
Professor Das: Weren't the chairs supposed to poll their faculty and then report to the Council? Can't we just ask them to do this?
Professor Katz (Chemical and Biological Engineering): if we want to poll the faculty, we need information to go out with the ballot explaining the virtues and defects of different proposals.
Professor Das: this question has been around for a whole year. Sometimes I feel we make the best the enemy of the good. I think we should poll the departments, explaining perhaps with a statement by the Academic Council, and then have chairs report back. No decision will satisfy everyone. We can't go on deliberating.
Professor Feldman: we could circulate the current proposal since the council is happy with it. It incorporates feedback from earlier meetings. Let people deliberate on that and get back to us within a month or so.
Professor Guyer (Anthropology): Do we have any evidence on the issue of whether small divisions do in fact get swamped by outsiders in elections?
Professor Dagdigian: In the current voting system, everything gets skewed when votes are reallocated and it's impossible to tell.
Professor Douglas (Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean of Engineering): If you assume we have an election where everyone has one candidate, with the present numbers if, say, the natural scientists gave all their second and third votes to the social science candidate, that could overwhelm the social scientists' votes.
The meeting was adjourned at 5:50 pm.
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