OP-ED: Faculty must have a say in determining UConn’s future

Faculty must have a say in determining UConn’s future Diana L. Rios, Associate Professor of Communication and El Instituto 

Published 12/30/15 in The CT Mirror Viewpoints http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/12/30/faculty-must-have-a-say-in-determining-uconns-future/

An important key to organizational success in a workplace is the role of the employee voice. That is, the ability for key stakeholders, those who do the work, to voice their concerns, ideas, and opinions to influence the direction of the organization. In higher education it is vital that those who teach and conduct research have a strong voice in the operations of the university. Those who do the core mission of the university are the faculty – the professors, the researchers, and the lecturers.

Faculty exercising their voice in university decision-making is called “shared governance.” This means that educators have a seat at the table when it comes to hiring other faculty, selection of academic administrators, preparing the budget, and determining academic policies. At the state’s flagship university, UConn, it means UConn American Association of University Professors – the union that represents the faculty– should have an opportunity to weigh in on matters of academic and operational importance.

It might be helpful to note that UConn-AAUP is not a special interest group solely looking out for the interests of its members. It is a public interest group looking out for the future of student learning, public higher education, meaningful research, and the future of the state’s economic viability. Not to mention, the union is not a third party entity but is made up of the university’s scholars, researchers, and others who do the core work of the university.

With that said, the staunch advocates for public higher education and stewards of the state’s future – UConn-AAUP- should have a strong role in influencing university decisions that impact the common and public good.

Unfortunately we have witnessed exclusionary praxis from the UConn administration in recent months – dismissing the role of UConn-AAUP and leaving them out of vital decision-making. If this pattern continues where educators don’t have a voice in student learning conditions, scholarly work, or university direction, then the quality of education at UConn will suffer immensely.

We have seen the rise of UConn as a top 20 public university in the country, with AAUP and faculty having a role in decision-making. So why would the university administration want to vanquish shared governance and leave out the faculty?

Is it a matter of money? Is it a matter of budgetary emergency? Does it save money? Faculty having a voice does not fit the bill of being a fiscal issue. But, there is a trend across higher education – administrative bloat and power. This power concentration pushes aside the faculty and other core contributors, and advances administration’s own self-interested agenda to build their resumes and hop up to new high paying administrative jobs.

Administrators come and go. Faculty stay. They stay because they care about their students, their research, the university, and their communities. They stay because they have historically had a seat at the table to voice their concerns, ideas, and be a partner in advancing the university organization.

We are defending the soul of higher education. We need to let the state, the UConn Board of Trustees, and the university community, know that we need to protect the faculty voice for a better UConn and a better future for our state.

I care deeply about my university.

Diana I. Rios is an associate professor of communications at the University of Connecticut.