A decision by the College faculty last month to strip professional librarians of their voting rights in meetings is one that has a potential impact on students’ academic lives.
We wonder whether the process behind reevaluating the language in the faculty handbook concerning who should qualify as members of the faculty — which hadn’t been updated since 1995 — was as transparent as it could have been. At least a few librarians were left uncertain how the language in the handbook’s preamble establishing who makes up the faculty disqualified them. It seems the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC), which was tasked with coming up with a revised list, did not give a satisfactory answer to why certain people count as faculty and others don’t.
Instead of being included in the “facpac,” a packet of information distributed before the faculty meeting, the proposed legislation stripping librarians’ voting powers was handed out on a sheet of paper at the February meeting. While we do not doubt Professor of Biology Drew Kerkhoff, chair of the FAC, is sincere in saying personal and professional reasons prevented him from distributing the revised legislation ahead of time, some were caught off-guard. Librarians did not have a chance to respond or prepare any defense of their voting rights.
Additionally, none of the librarians was contacted about the changes ahead of time, and it seems members of the FAC did not know — and did not care to find out — whom the vote might affect.
Collection Development Librarian Karen Greever, one of the eight librarians affected by the change, said the vote made her feel “some lessening of collegiality and respect on the part of at least a large portion of the faculty.” It is never a good thing when a member of the Kenyon community feels disrespected, and the process by which this legislation was passed speaks to a need for more upfront reasoning about how the College makes its decisions.
While the FAC may have seen the changes as a slight administrative change more than a significant redefinition of who comprises the faculty, it’s not clear faculty who voted on the legislation saw it that way. Does the stripping-away of administrators’ voting rights signal a move by professors to exert more control in faculty meetings? What are the benefits and drawbacks of making such meetings open to more or fewer community members?
We do not know the answers to these questions. But we do know what could clarify the decision-making process: the availability of faculty meeting minutes and the opening of those meetings to the public — not as voters, but observers. These measures could go a long way toward ensuring the body remains true to its principle of self-governance.