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Revising the Faculty Handbook (#1026)

Topics/tags: Grinnell, Academia, Rambly

This fall, some faculty realized that the contracts we received and the Faculty Handbook are a bit contradictory. I wrote about the topic earlier. As I noted, while our contract notes that The rules and regulations concerning the Faculty as set out in the Bylaws of the Trustees and the Faculty Handbook are hereby referred to and by reference are made a part hereof [1], the Handbook says The Faculty Handbook, while dealing with employment policies and procedures, is not intended to provide any assurance of continued employment and should in no way be construed as an employment contract.

How do we reconcile those two issues? Dean Harris had indicated that she would get guidance from College Counsel over winter break, but her report back at the first faculty meeting of Spring was vague. I thought the reconciliation was simple; the Handbook is not intended as a contract by itself but becomes one when included by reference in our contracts. I wonder why Counsel [3] didn’t suggest that. Oh well.

The Faculty Handbook needed rewriting in any case. I recall starting to go through it with some expert colleagues last summer and the group finding a wide variety of issues to deal with. There’s also the broader issue of non-inclusive [4] language in the Handbook, primarily a failure to acknowledge anything beyond the gender binary. The College is getting better at inclusive language and the Handbook should follow that trend.

But now the rewrite is going to be getting more complex. I think I heard Dean Harris suggest that we’re going to separate the Handbook into two (or more) parts: The part that is mostly contractual and the part that is more about the organization of the faculty. I assume that we’ll also have the appendices, which aren’t strictly part of the Handbook but which provide valuable [5] information. It makes sense to separate it. For example, the Trustees have been trying to reduce the time they spend reviewing changes to the Handbook the faculty make. Presumably, if we split it, they would only need to look at the contractual section, making everyone’s lives easier.

But separating the Handbook will be difficult. You might think that most aspects of faculty governance belong in the organizational section. But I’m not sure that that can happen. Consider, for example, our tenure processes. Those are almost certainly contractual. But they mention the Personnel Committee. So that aspect of faculty organization needs to be in the contractual section. And, of course, Executive Council sets some salaries. I suppose that also belongs in the contractual section, even though many aspects of our salary process don’t.

What about aspects of shared governance? That’s not so much a contract between an individual faculty member and the College (or the Trustees) as it is a contract between the faculty as a whole and the College (or the Trustees). How do we deal with those issues? I’m not sure. They need to be somewhere.

Then there’s the issue of faculty resolutions that appear only in the minutes of faculty meetings, but should nonetheless be binding. I think the splitting approach might be a way to ensure that these resolutions appear in the Handbook directly, although just in the organization section.

The approach might also help with the current trend of moving things out of the Handbook and into policies maintained by the Dean’s office. The problem with that trend is that the policies can change without faculty input. I don’t think anyone is trying to undermine shared governance by changing the non-handbook policies without broad consultation, but the decision as to who gets to change what is something that needs more clarification.

I appreciate that we will be involving College Counsel in all of these activities. But I’m also a bit worried. Counsel represents the Trustees and the Administration, not the faculty. Does that mean that we need Faculty Counsel, too? And can we get the College to pay for that Counsel? I don’t know.

Then there’s the whole issue of the Staff Handbook or, as it should be called, the Employee Handbook [6] since many parts of it apply to faculty as well as staff. Unfortunately, updating the Staff Handbook seems to be something that’s taking a long time. After that, someone is going to have to carefully indicate what parts deal with the employees we call faculty and the employees we call staff. I recall being surprised to discover that something that is listed as a benefit in the Staff Handbook did not apply to faculty and being told We’ll work on clarifying that issue. Of course, that was seven or more years ago. Oh well.

But it does strike me that if the College is investing in updating the Faculty Handbook, it should invest equally in the Staff Handbook. That is, if we’re setting up a working group that is supposed to be working on the Faculty Handbook half-time for a month, or full-time for a week, or something like that, we should also set up (and compensate) a working group for the Staff Handbook.

I wonder whether I’ll be allowed to contribute [7] to either process.

[1] The Trustees of Grinnell College. Faculty Contract presented to Samuel A. Rebelsky. Dated 24-Feb-00. Found in a pile of papers somewhere.

[2] Grinnell College. Grinnell College Faculty Handbook. Last Revision 9/16/19. Approved June 2019. Found online at

[3] No, not Council (i.e., Executive Council).

[4] Exclusive?

[5] Perhaps essential.

[6] Perhaps the Non-student Employee Handbook.

[7] My time and opinions, not my money.

Version 1.0 of 2020-02-24.