Duquesne admin should solicit advice of professors

By Trey Weise | Contributor

Duquesne celebrates its faculty as exemplary models of the teacher-scholar: innovative in the classroom, excellent in their academic areas, cutting-edge in their research and committed to the health of the university. In my experience, this praise is well-deserved, and I have found my professors to genuinely care about their students and their communities. So it is puzzling to find that the upper administration seems to deem it unwise to solicit their insight and expertise when developing policy and making decisions. As I interviewed numerous professors across various schools, I was struck by a common refrain: While faculty do feel that their work is valued in terms of their research and classroom instruction, it is clear to them that their input into important decisions is not welcome.

Prof. Bruce Ledewtiz, at the Law School since 1980; Prof. Stuart Kurland, in the English department since 1988; and Prof. David Delmonico, in the School of Education since 1997, all highlighted that this is not a recent trend—faculty at Duquesne have never felt involved in governance, at least not in the last 30-plus years. To be fair, not all professors want this responsibility. Some, like Prof. Ledewitz, are troubled by an increasing service load because committees meetings take them away from what they really want to be doing—teaching and researching. And perhaps not all faculty members feel so disconnected from the decision-making process. For instance, Dean Mary Ellen Glasgow of the School of Nursing gives her faculty regular updates on the details of budget and enrollment, providing a forum for feedback and input from those actually teaching.

But according to the 2007–08 report from the Middle States accrediting agency, practices like Dean Glasgow’s have been exceptions rather than the rule at Duquesne. The report documents that faculty considered their involvement “marginal and even inadequate,” that in service on committees they felt “their efforts would be ineffectual” and that “they express a clear wish that there be more faculty involvement in planning and budgeting, and that decisions be better explained to them.” The report offers a clear suggestion that “The President and Provost should consider how to improve communications with the deans and faculty, perhaps instituting more regular meetings with the assurance that all parties would freely express their views to each other and with a commitment to greater transparency.”

According to Profs. Delmonico and Kurland, many were hopeful that this report would lead to positive changes in the administration’s closed-door approach, but nothing came to fruition. Far  from it, things  seemed to only get worse in the past ten years as, according to Prof. Ledewitz, the administration’s language shifted subtly from “faculty members” to “employees,” and the unofficial policy of refusing to include faculty grew more entrenched. Prof. Delmonico pointed to several key examples of this “policy,” including the sale of Duquesne’s public radio station without allowing the faculty to offer any input, the appointment of several endowed chairs by executive privilege without consulting even the Faculty Senate, and most significantly a presidential search committee that included only one faculty member.

A number of professors mentioned to me their hope that President Gormley’s administration would usher in a new era of faculty involvement, and there have been some hopeful developments—though the results have yet to be seen. The Provost’s office has solicited feedback from the faculty in its development of the Strategic Plan for 2018-23 as well as the current reworking of the Faculty Handbook. The President, on his part, formed a new advisory board composed of department chairs and program directors, and has committed to annual meetings with each school.

But faculty described these new initiatives in the same way they characterized the Faculty Senate: mostly an avenue for the administration to talk at the faculty, not a forum for back-and-forth conversation. As English chair Prof. Greg Barnhisel described it, faculty want “real, ongoing…dialogue with upper administration: not just us being told what is happening but us being…sought out as advisors.” In this light, the fact that not a single faculty member was consulted on the recent decision to close the University Press feels all too familiar, another episode in a long history of closed-door administration.

“There will always be tension between the administration and faculty,” Provost Austin said in an April 21st meeting with a group of students who had expressed concern about the Press closure, “but hopefully this tension can be productive.” The tension will never be productive, however, until it is undergirded by a mutual trust and respect maintained through transparency and open lines of communication. Undoing years of administrative disregard for faculty input will require not only intentional and concerted effort but also formal, institutional change. President Gormley and Provost Austin may not be to blame for the atmosphere of mutual distrust that has long festered between much of the faculty and the administration, but I sincerely hope that they will take on the responsibility of working to heal it.