Proposal leaves some worried about who can be a part of UMN governance

Some FCC representatives worry a committee proposal could open the governance system to outside forces.

Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota on April 5, 2015.

Daily File Photo

Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota on April 5, 2015.

Rilyn Eischens

A University of Minnesota committee’s proposal to add a representative from an outside organization has led some to question who belongs in school governance.

A proposal from the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (AF&T) to make a representative from the American Association of University Professors an official member has hit a roadblock in the Faculty Consultative Committee, which must approve the measure. Some FCC representatives worry this could open the governance system to outside forces.

AF&T Chair Phil Buhlmann said the committee regularly relies on information from the AAUP, a group that promotes academic freedom in higher education, according to its website. Over two years ago, the committee formally invited the AAUP to send members to committee meetings, he said.

“There was nothing really groundbreaking about that because AF&T meetings are open to the public,” Buhlmann said.

AAUP members have attended meetings ever since, and the committee now wants to formalize the group’s role. According to the proposal passed last year, it’s helpful to have AAUP representatives present because they provide resources AF&T relies on to support academic freedom.

This effort is unique in University governance, Buhlmann said. He isn’t aware of any University committees with members from outside organizations, he said.

One motivation for the proposal is committee turnover, said Eva von Dassow, AAUP Twin Cities chapter president and University professor who attends the AF&T meetings on behalf of the AAUP.

The committee membership changes every few years, she said, so they want to formalize the involvement of the AAUP for future work.

“If the incoming chair or co-chair doesn’t know about the AAUP rep, it might just fall by the wayside,” von Dassow said.

The relationship also gives AF&T ongoing access to expertise from the AAUP, she said, and lets AAUP representatives act in the interest of University faculty.

Buhlmann presented the proposal to the FCC on Feb. 2. The proposal must pass the FCC to go into effect, but some FCC representatives wonder why the proposal is necessary.

FCC Chair Colin Campbell said he isn’t sure why anyone from the AAUP needs to be made an official nonvoting AF&T member if they can already attend meetings and contribute to discussions, as they have for years, he said.

Buhlmann said some FCC members have raised questions about where the line would be drawn if a special exception is made for the AAUP. They wondered if any other group who asks could get official membership, he said.

Further, there could be issues if a group designed to promote the University’s interests includes non-University members, Campbell said.

No one is concerned about the AAUP itself, Campbell said, but he worries about the possible effects of letting outside groups into a University committee.

Von Dassow said since only University educators can join the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities chapter of the AAUP, there is no conflict in representation.

“I understand myself to be representing my colleagues and also the larger campus community that is inclusive of staff and students,” she said. “As an elected officer of the [AAUP] chapter, I am a representative of University of Minnesota faculty, so there’s no contradiction in those elements of my role.”