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Elections for the chair of the faculty (#996)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

On Monday, 3 February 2020, a few hours before voters in Iowa caucus for presidential candidates, the Faculty of Grinnell College will select two nominees for the position of the Chair of the Faculty. Here’s the process, taken from the 9/16/19 [1] version of the Faculty Handbook.

The Chair of the Faculty shall be elected at the first faculty meeting in February of even calendar years preceding that academic year in which office is assumed. The first and second nominating ballots shall be taken at the first regular faculty meeting in February. Members of the Faculty Organization Committee shall distribute first nominating ballots early in the session and collect and count them at once. The names of those nominees receiving the highest number of votes which total two-thirds of the ballots cast in the primary shall then be announced, after which the faculty shall limit the nominees to the two persons receiving the highest number of votes in a second nominating ballot. A final ballot shall be made available the following day to the entire voting faculty. The deadline for casting ballots shall be 4 PM (Central Time) the Friday of the same week.

Okay, I realize that the description is not self-consistent. The Chair is not elected at the first faculty meeting in February. Rather, they are nominated at the first faculty meeting. Let’s add that to the list of things to fix when we write the Faculty Handbook [2].

Who can be Chair of the Faculty? That’s elsewhere in the Faculty Handbook, which says,

The Chair of the Faculty shall be elected biennially, in even years, from among the Professors of the faculty; an individual may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

As far as I can tell, that has been interpreted to mean Full Professors, including Full Professors on Senior Faculty Status, but excluding the President and the Dean of the College [4].

So that we don’t elect [5] people who will be unlikely to serve if elected, it’s been our practice to distribute the list of eligible candidates early and allow people to remove themselves from the list.

On December 20, we got the first eligibility list and were asked to send an email by noon on Friday, 24 January 2020 if we wanted our names removed from the list. Yesterday, the current version of the eligibility list for the Chair of the Faculty was released. Why was a revised list distributed on January 22nd? Probably to remind people to remove their names.

My name is still on the list. Yesterday, after seeing the list, a colleague asked something like, I see your name is on the list of candidates. Are you interested in serving as Chair of the Faculty? My answer was Not really, particularly given staffing in my department; however, I believe that shared governance suggests that we leave our names on the list unless we have significant conflicts. Or something like that.

I see from an earlier musing that the initial list had 68 names of it, 24 of whom were SFS, on Council, entering or leaving Deanships, or known to be on leave next year, leaving 44 potential candidates.

The 22 January list is down to forty names. Of those forty, I count fourteen on or about to be on Senior Faculty Status, three center directors, and one person already scheduled to be on Council in 2020-21. SFS faculty traditionally do not want to serve as Chair of the Faculty. Center directors traditionally do not serve as Chair of the Faculty, or perhaps it’s never come up [6]. And, while I suppose it’s possible that a member of Council switches to Chair of the Faculty, that would require we then elect a replacement for their position. In any case, that means that we’re down to twenty-two or so real candidates. Of the remainder, two are former Chairs of the Faculty and one is a former Dean of the College [7]. The list is getting shorter and shorter. Or perhaps those folks are enthusiastic about serving the College again.

So what happens next? I assume some folks who are on the list will see the size of the list and remove their names. At some point, we’ll get a final list of eligible candidates [8]. Some of those will fall into the category of people who don’t read their email and, therefore, did not realize that they had to remove their names. Others will assume they won’t be elected. Nonetheless, there should be a good list of candidates left after noon on Friday.

In recent years, we’ve taken recommendations from the floor of the Faculty Meeting. Most people would call those nominations, but the Handbook says that nominations are the result of the balloting. Hence, we call what happens on the floor suggestions or recommendations. It’s considered good form to ask people if they are interested in serving before you suggest or recommend them.

It’s almost time to start emailing some of the awesome people on the list. Perhaps we should also ask some of the Center Directors. But I’ll wait until the final list comes out.

Postscript: As I noted, there are twenty-two people on my list of people who are on the current eligibility list and are not SFS, directing a Center, or already on Council. Here’s how they distribute across divisions: Nine Humanities, Ten Science, and Three Social Studies.

Postscript: I’m not sure why someone asked if I’d be willing to serve. I don’t think I’d make a good Chair of the Faculty. I’m too opinionated to be properly representative. I’m not particularly articulate [9]. I don’t have the social graces to deal with Trustees. As far as I can tell, the only things I have to recommend me are (a) I care deeply about the College, (b) I remember way too much trivia about decisions [10,11], and (c) I’m not afraid to complain and criticize openly. Oh, I also care deeply about shared governance and want to see it expanded to include staff governance. And no, that is not my platform. As I said, those positives are far outweighed by the weaknesses I exhibit.

[1] I would prefer to designate it as 16 September 2019 or 2019-09-16. However, the version says Last Revision: 9/16/19 on every page.

[2] By we, I mean the College. However, I have expressed a willingness to participate in the group that takes ownership of the rewrite [3].

[3] Yeah, I know. Saying Please, can I do that? is not the same as saying No. It may even be worse than saying Yes. However, since I complain so much about how people interpret the Handbook, it seems only fair that I play a part in helping improve it. Or something like that.

[4] Yes, both the President and the Dean are considered members of the faculty. Dean Harris’s tenure was approved at the fall Board meeting.

[5] Or nominate.

[6] A colleague reminded me that at least one Chair of the Faculty was simultaneous Director of the Rosenfield Center. So we could elect the Director of the CTLA, the Director of the Rosenfield Center, or the Director of Prairie Studies, all of whose names were still on the list as of 22 January.

[7] There are also a bunch of former Dean’s of the College and Chairs of the Faculty in the list of SFS faculty.

[8] Probably on Friday, 31 January 2020, along with the rest of the agenda for the 3 February 2020 meeting.

[9] I can be articulate when I write. I often stumble when I speak.

[10] Insert obligatory joke about elephants.

[11] Of course, Elaine Marzluff remembers more than I do [12].

[12] The elephant joke does not apply to her.

Version 1.0 released 2020-01-23.

Version 1.1 of 2020-01-24.