The Faculty Senate Grievance Committee dismissed the formal grievance that had been submitted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at NAU in January.
The decision was made after the co-chairs of AAUP at NAU, professors Heather Martel and Robert Schehr, made their case to the committee April 3. AAUP at NAU received the decision April 11.
At the pre-hearing, Schehr and Martel addressed four of the issues that had been in the formal grievance: e-learning, centralized classroom scheduling, multi-term enrollment and the search process for the Endowed McAllister Chair.
Centralized classroom scheduling and multi-term enrollment have proven controversial with faculty and students alike, and many faculty said they were excluded from the decision-making process before the new policies were implemented.
The Endowed McAllister Chair, which was filled in December 2017, has also been controversial with faculty as some feel the president did not go through the correct procedure when filling the position.
Faculty in and outside AAUP at NAU have pointed to all three as examples of NAU administrators ignoring the concept of shared governance that is outlined in NAU’s constitution, an issue the Higher Learning Commission said NAU needed to improve in the most recent accreditation report, released November 2017.
“On each of those issues, they denied our right to a full hearing,” said Schehr. “That was their conclusion following the pre-hearing.”
It is not yet clear what the reason for the committee’s denial was. Neither Martel nor Schehr would comment on the reasoning, and The Lumberjack was told by Faculty Senate records are confidential under university policy. The Lumberjack, however, will continue to request such records.
According to the Conditions of Faculty Service (COFS), which outlines what happens in the grievance process, a full hearing would have allowed AAUP at NAU to bring witnesses and evidence to support their claim. But after the committee’s decision, this will not happen.
Instead, the decision now goes to NAU President Rita Cheng, or Provost Dan Kain if Cheng is indisposed, who will make the final decision on whether the grievance was resolved correctly in the next few weeks.
But given the conduct of the NAU administration, including Cheng herself, is included within the grievance, Schehr said he is not optimistic her decision might be in favor of AAUP at NAU. The process a grievance goes through is problematic, Schehr said.
“The fact is, say you have the run-of-the-mill case where a faculty member is denied tenure or promotion of some kind,” Schehr said. “This process could work perfectly well. The recommendation from the grievance committee goes to the president or the provost, and they make their decision; not a problem. But what do you do when either of those parties is named in a grievance? It’s a clear conflict of interest.”
According to COFS, AAUP at NAU does have the ability to appeal the decision, but only in one of two ways. Firstly, they can write a response asking Cheng to reconsider the decision, something Schehr said they plan on doing.
If this does not succeed, according to COFS, the only other option would be to go off campus.
“Say we get a decision from the president that we disagree with, we could file a motion with the superior court,” Schehr said, adding that it was an option that AAUP at NAU has not ruled out. At the moment, however, the group is still trying to consider all of its options.
Faculty Senate President Gioia Woods said the Faculty Senate has been making some changes to COFS, including one subcommittee looking at the grievance process, but she described these changes as “very mild” and “nothing startling.”
Woods said the Faculty Senate is conducting a “regular COFS Cleanup undertaken by senate to review and revise certain sections of the conditions of the faculty service. A subcommittee has revised parts of the grievance language.”
But no matter what happens, Schehr made one thing clear: This is not the end of these issues for AAUP at NAU.
“Shared faculty governance and constitutional violations, those aren’t going to go away. We chose to focus very narrowly on those six to seven issues because they pertain to those grander principals. They aren’t going anywhere and neither are we,” Schehr said. “[We] really want to respect the process as it exists but having gone through it, we’re recognizing things need to be, or could be improved.”
Since they submitted the grievance, AAUP at NAU has not been dormant. Instead, the group has been visiting various departments’ faculty meetings to give presentations on what they do and what their goals are.
So far, the group has met with every department within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences as well as the biology, chemistry, forestry departments and even Faculty Senate.
“We’re trying to build membership,” Schehr said. “We want people to recognize that they don’t need to be afraid. If [faculty members] keep doing what they’re doing, nothing is going to change.”
The Lumberjack reached out to President Cheng’s office but did not receive any comment.