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Violations of Shared Governance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In a report published today, an AAUP investigating committee finds that, in suspending the faculty senate in 2007 and refusing to grant governance rights to contingent faculty, the administration of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute “contravened basic principles of shared academic governance.”

In the summer of 2007, the governing board and administration of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute suspended the faculty senate after senate leaders rejected the board’s demand that they amend the senate constitution to exclude non-tenure-line faculty from the senate’s constituency and membership. Most full-time faculty members on contingent appointments had previously been included.  In place of the senate and its representative faculty bodies, the administration created a “transitional” structure of faculty governance. 

After several joint administration-faculty efforts failed to resolve the impasse and after the RPI administration rejected the AAUP’s offer of a mediator, the Association’s general secretary authorized an investigation into issues of academic governance at RPI. Investigations are carried out by AAUP members with no previous connection to the case.

In its report, the investigating committee finds that the administration violated in several respects principles of shared academic governance set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities and widely accepted by academic institutions.  In particular, the report shows that the administration and board failed to provide the faculty with compelling reasons for suspending the senate, acted in opposition to AAUP-recommended standards in rejecting the participation of contingent faculty in governance, and imposed an alternative governance structure that deprives the faculty of its appropriate role in academic decision making. 

“In many respects, the previous committee system overseen and administered by the RPI senate represented an exemplary instance of faculty governance. From promotion and tenure to grievance procedures, the senate guaranteed an authoritative voice for the faculty in its areas of concern and expertise,” says Cary Nelson, AAUP president. “The loss of the senate brought those governance traditions to an end.”

Both the RPI administration and campus AAUP leadership, however, have expressed hope that the current efforts to restore the faculty role in governance will bear fruit.