A few weeks ago, University Senate regrettably missed an opportunity to increase accountability and reduce the cynicism surrounding its current operation and structure. By just one vote, it killed a measure that would have required roll call votes on all final substantive measure considered by the senate. Three reasons were cited by opponents at the meeting for rejecting the measure.
The first reason was that it might be difficult to discern what constitutes the kind of "substantive" final vote for which roll calls would be required. This is not a problem at other universities where the same language and procedure is used. It is clear that substantive measures are those involving academic and university policies. As the current chair of the Indiana University Senate which has a similar standing rule told me when I asked if the body he oversees has difficulty distinguishing substantive from non-substantive votes, "This has never been a problem."
The second reason cited by opponents for rejecting the requirement of a roll call vote was that it would take too much time to call the roll and record the vote of each senator. This excuse is bogus. Other universities, including Miami of Ohio--which we are constantly reminded by administration we should emulate, have more members than our senate and they do not mind the few extra minutes it takes to record their votes. The fact that our senate regularly cancels meeting for lack of agenda items clearly demonstrates that time is not a problem.
The last and most tragic reason given for rejecting the proposal was the claim that faculty and staff fear retribution if their votes are recorded. If this is a genuine fear-as members of senate claimed , then we might properly conclude that all of the proceedings of the senate and all measure passed are suspect. This does not bode well for the health of shared governance, a feature of university operation that must be demonstrated convincingly to accrediting agencies. What is perhaps more tragic, however, is the fact that no administrative official present at the meeting rose to give assurances that on this and any other measure with absolute confidence that intimidation from any quarter would be treated harshly and swiftly.
The vote last week was revealing about both the state of governance on campus and the strength of commitment of university leaders to academic freedom. The saving grace was a united student voice and a number of courageous faculty and staff willing to demand openness and accountability. Perhaps, we can build on that.