What is Wrong with Free and Open Elections?

A Statement on Faculty Governance
Prepared by John T. Lehman

One of the most obvious and troubling departures from democratic governance of the University's schools and colleges is that the faculty of over half of the schools and colleges are not told whether the members they elect to represent them on their Executive Committee actually are appointed to serve.

From the Executive Summary of Democracy and Authority. Part 2.  How Executive Committees Function in the Schools and Colleges of the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor.


More than one year ago, in October 1998, Joseph M. Fenty, a student in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, School of Education, and Professor Martin Gold, Research Center for Group Dynamics Institute for Social Research, released the results of a landmark study about faculty governance at the University of Michigan.  Based on interviews with deans, associate deans, and faculty members of  executive committees from 15 units across the campus, the report provides an informative and authoritative account of governance practice.  The results highlight and call into question the electoral processes by which faculty assume they elect their representatives on executive committees.  The findings reinforce the widespread belief often heard expressed among university faculty that their “representatives” are “selected, not elected”.

The study was sponsored by the Faculty Senate, through its elected executive body, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), and by the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Chapter of the AAUP.  The full report can be read on the faculty governance website:  http://www.umich.edu/~sacua

During the present academic year, the elected leaders of Central Faculty Governance have made repeated overtures to the Provost urging an open and transparently legitimate election process at unit levels.  The leaders have bolstered their arguments with documentation from peer institutions within the Big-10 which indicates that the practices of the U-M are anomalous.  Readers can trace the progress of these efforts from the weekly Minutes of SACUA, published at the same Faculty Governance site referenced above.  Meetings of particular note include 15 November 1999, 7 February 2000, and 14 February 2000. 

There seems to be entrenched opposition to the proposal.  So far, the arguments against releasing the election results range from expressed concerns about bruising the feelings of the losers to explanations that sometimes the election results must be tempered with concern for programmatic balance and diversity.  The most recent argument is that the Senate Assembly has not been in the habit of announcing the vote counts when it elects its own representatives to SACUA.  In order to put that latter objection to rest, SACUA has proposed that henceforth not only the names of the top vote-recipients in the SACUA elections will be made public, but that the vote counts should be public as well.  For SACUA, the practice is inconsequential because the election results have always been binding.   But as Fenty and Gold learned, that fundamental expectation of democracy cannot be taken for granted across the campus.


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