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Faculty Senate Members discuss new state administration, potential changes to Honor’s constitution

Members also expressed concern about recent FOIA requests for syllabi

In a meeting Monday, Faculty Senate members recapitulated ongoing concerns about the appointment of Ian Baucom as Provost, need for protection against academic censorship.
In a meeting Monday, Faculty Senate members recapitulated ongoing concerns about the appointment of Ian Baucom as Provost, need for protection against academic censorship.

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The Faculty Senate addressed the changed state of affairs in the Virginia Assembly and heard about potential changes to the Honor Committee’s constitution at its meeting Monday, among other topics.

The Faculty Senate is a group of 80 elected faculty members from across each academic school that represent the interests of the University faculty to the administration in all academic matters.

Alexis Earhart, executive director of state government relations, first spoke to the Senate about education legislation in the Virginia Assembly, describing Richmond as the “wild, wild west,” noting that this session is “like none that we’ve ever had.” 

Most recently, Attorney General Jason Miyares fired University Counsel Tim Heaphy, who was on leave to work as the top investigator for the U.S. House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Heaphy was hired by the University in 2018 following his investigation into the Unite the Right rally of 2017. The University said in a statement that they were “disappointed to see [Heaphy’s service] come to an end.”

The General Assembly session is 60 days long, during which members of the House of Delegates and State Senate will consider and vote on legislation.

Earhart said the pieces of legislation most applicable to the University are SB 439, an anti-hazing bill that would require universities to take decisive action to prevent hazing by Greek life organizations, and HB 1226, which would mandate that tenured professors at public universities teach 12 hours of classes every term. Currently, deans of individual schools at the University have the discretion to set teaching load requirements.

With the recent inauguration of Governor Glenn Youngkin, whose administration set up a tip line for parents to report the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, Assoc. Sociology Prof. Ekaterina Makarova voiced concerns about the impact of recent critical race theory debates.

Makarova questioned whether the University might be able to advocate for protections for faculty members against being legally sanctioned for teaching concepts from critical race theory, should a bill outlawing these teachings become law. Makarova also noted that professors have been receiving Freedom of Information Act requests for syllabi.

“It affects our relationship with our students in the classroom,” Makarova said. “It has symbolic significance, which we find very concerning.” 

In response to Makarova’s questions, Provost Liz Magill said that she hadn’t heard about the FOIA requests. Now that she is aware, Magill said administration will seek to understand what professors are experiencing so administrators can support them.

“We will absolutely have your back,” Magill said.

Another matter up for discussion was the potential for constitutional reform to the Honor Committee’s constitution. The Committee spent last semester considering five proposals for reform, but all referenda failed to pass internally.

One representative, however, recently chose to submit two referenda independently to the University Board of Elections. The first would change the sanction for committing an Honor violation from expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence. The second change would extend the period an accused student can file an Informed Retraction until the start of a trial. Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 3, the first referendum gathered over 1,650 signatures. As of Thursday, the second referendum has received just under 300 signatures. 

Referenda must garner over 1,250 signatures to appear on the ballot during student-wide elections in March. In order to pass, 10 percent of the student body must participate in the election and 60 percent of those voting must vote in favor.

Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student, described what the changes might mean for faculty during the meeting. 

“I wanted you all to be hip to the fact that this was going around, and that if any of you do seek to report more or less by the changes, then you should be informed that the changes are on the table,” Chambers said.

When an Honor offense is reported, two Honor investigators are assigned to conduct the case, beginning with an initial interview process. During this process, the individual who submitted the report presents all evidence and describes the offense. Under the current retraction process, Chambers said faculty spend about 90 minutes compiling evidence and executing the initial reporter interview.  

“Reducing the end-of-hearing sanction to the sanction that we issue at IR, and extending the period of informed retraction to the hearing … would remove the incentive structure to admit honestly early on,” Chambers said.

This would result in faculty devoting between “8 and 15 hours to the process,” according to Chambers calculations — this is five times the current load.

Walt Heinecke, Faculty Senate member and associate professor of education, finished the meeting by expressing his will to issue a formal statement objecting to the lack of shared governance in the Provost selection process, which Jim Ryan himself defended during the group’s last meeting.

The University announced Magill’s intended departure and Baucom’s appointment Jan. 13. Baucom has served as the dean of the College since 2014. Searches for high-level administrators have traditionally begun with a public posting through the University’s Human Resources department. Throughout this process, the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights works with a breadth of individuals to enforce compliance with policies ensuring that a range of candidates are fairly considered for open positions.  A public search process in tandem with the OECC legally binds the University to provide equal employment opportunities and provides for the solicitation of a more diverse range of candidates.

“It’s too important of an issue to let go at this point,” Heinecke said. “This has nothing to do with Ian Baucom … it has to do with the process of shared governance.”

Vice-Provost Maite Brandt-Pearce then presented a new edition of the Faculty Guides program, a Provost-sponsored program that tasks two faculty members with “interpreting policy in seeking answers to questions about policies and practices at the institution.” The guides are Psychology Profs. Bethany Teachman and Donna Broshek, who will serve as a liaison between the Provost’s office and faculty members. The pair will answer questions about tenure and promotion policy, consulting and internal overload and leave of absence practices. 

“They are not there to give recommendations, just to help the University to figure out what policies mean,” Brandt-Pearce said. 

Aramark Marketing Coordinator Kaylee Sciacca also provided senators with an overview of faculty meal plan options and encouraged individuals to look into the 15 meal plan — which provides 15 meal swipes — and the Law faculty flex, which provides dollar-for-dollar debit to the School of Law faculty. Aramark — a food service corporation based out of Philadelphia — has been providing the University with dining services for over 25 years.

CORRECTION: The article previously stated that Faculty Senate member Walt Heinecke opposed the appointment of College Dean Ian Baucom as Provost. The article has been updated to reflect that Heinecke issued a statement objecting to the lack of shared governance in the Provost selection process.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article listed one of the Faculty Guides as Assoc. Prof. of Medicine Donna Chen. The article has been updated to reflect that the Faculty Guides are Psychology Profs. Bethany Teachman and Donna Broshek.

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