Faculty look to create clearer expectations for faculty when discipline is necessary

One of the committee's goals this year is to begin developing more guidelines for how to deal with faculty misconduct.

Niamh Coomey

In an initiative that will likely span several years, the Faculty Consultative Committee at the University of Minnesota is turning its attention to developing guidelines for how faculty conduct is addressed. 

While students and faculty alike have set codes of conduct to follow approved by the Board of Regents, there is not as much guidance in place for how supervisors respond to faculty misconduct. Having continued discussions about this topic is one of the FCC’s top priorities this upcoming year. 

FCC Chair Amy Pittenger said the conversation is in its very early stages, and that the end goal has not been fully crystallized. However, FCC members know they want to create something that will provide clearer expectations for University faculty when discipline is necessary. 

“There already is a regents code of conduct and there are actually lots of other statements out there … that describe what we expect from behavior,” she said. “When that behavior is out of alignment with our existing values and policies, what are the guidelines for disciplinary action?”

Phil Buhlmann, FCC vice chair, said that he hopes this initiative will help create stronger rules, especially in situations that may be sensitive and not publicized, such as instances of sexual misconduct. This will allow the public to feel more confident that the University is handling it properly, he said. 

“I think that we would build more trust within [the] University and beyond if we had clearer guidelines,” Buhlmann said. 

While faculty misconduct is rare, Buhlmann emphasized, it tends to get more attention than good conduct. Administration has a responsibility to address this poor behavior when it occurs, he said. 

Because there has been a cultural shift toward more openness in instances of misconduct, specifically sexual misconduct, this topic hasn’t been discussed in-depth until recently, Buhlmann said, making it a fairly new issue for universities to tackle. 

“Victims are in an environment where they can more readily speak up and that’s actually a fantastic development, that’s very welcome, but at the same time it’s brought the topic more to the forefront,” he said.

The University isn’t alone in this, he said, and work has been done to collaborate with other universities. 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine created an initiative collaborating with representatives from more than 40 colleges, universities and research institutions including the University, to tackle issues of sexual harassment within higher education. 

Buhlmann, one of the University’s representatives to the initiative, emphasized his support for it, but also noted that the FCC’s initiative aims to address broader guidelines than just those referencing sexual misconduct.

Colin Campbell, the associate dean for graduate education in the Medical School, established a code of conduct for graduate faculty in the Medical School, which was voted on and approved by Medical School faculty, he said. 

Pittenger said she highly approves of Campbell’s document and hopes it will be a helpful reference to use as they continue discussing this topic within the FCC this year. 

Campbell said the language of documents of this kind is especially important. He wanted his code of conduct to be concrete and specific.

He noted the importance of the inclusion of the definition of words like “neglect” within the document, which puts clearer guidelines in place for faculty and student relationships, and illustrates exactly what abuse of those relationships looks like.

Buhlmann also said that including more specific guidelines helps both to protect faculty and serves to better discipline them when need be. 

The FCC will continue to consult with students and other stakeholders in this topic in order to make informed decisions about the topic going forward, Buhlmann said.