Closing the information gap between faculty in and out of leadership

Among other priorities for the 2021-22 academic year, the Faculty Consultative Committee is prioritizing improving communications between the FCC and faculty to ensure important concerns are heard and brought to senior leadership.

by Maia Irvin

As the COVID-19 pandemic revealed an increased need for improved faculty governance communication, faculty leadership at the University of Minnesota are looking for new ways to improve communication and advertise what they do.
Faculty Consultative Committee (FCC) leadership and members are now implementing new processes to improve bidirectional communication between faculty and governance to improve the role faculty play in the University’s shared governance system. Faculty often do not see the behind-the-scenes work, so by sharing more explicit information about governance actions, leaders say they hope to close the information gap.
“The environment’s pretty dynamic with COVID, and faculty have a lot of concerns [and we] want to make sure that their voices are being heard and being considered in decision making,” said Colleen Flaherty Manchester, FCC vice chair and work and organizations associate professor.
The FCC started discussing the growing need for improved communication with faculty who are not involved in University governance prior to the pandemic, but it became a priority during the past year and a half, Manchester said.
Many critical and important decisions were made at the senior leadership level during the pandemic, and these decisions may not have always been communicated in the best way, said Mark Bee, FCC member and ecology, evolution and behavior professor.
“When communication breaks down, it can lead to a high level of discontent among the faculty,” Bee said. “I believe that the return to the fall semester and how some of those plans were communicated have caused a great deal of discontent among faculty.”
Part of the FCC’s responsibilities are to take concerns from faculty to senior administrators like the president, the provost or the Board of Regents.
“Some people know that and they email us, but I don’t know how clearly everybody knows that or [that] they can contact the senate with issues,” said Ned Patterson, FCC chair and professor of veterinary medicine and genetics. “So, we’re trying to improve access to that and the ability to bring up issues to us.”
The lack of widespread knowledge of how faculty can navigate University governance to voice their concerns is one reason why FCC leadership and members said improving communication is important right now.
There are some faculty who may be in the “trenches,” so they may not know the level of consultation the FCC conducts with senior leadership, Bee said.
“[They’re] unaware of how much consultation happens between the FCC leadership and administration, and I think that’s been one element that’s been missing is making faculty aware of just how much consultation does happen,” Bee said. “Because faculty are often unaware of that, it leads to this impression that the administration is not listening.”
While the FCC takes important faculty issues to senior leadership and advocates for faculty, it does not mean the administration will always implement their advice.
“They don’t always do what we say or what other people say, but in my experience, they always listen and consider it and do have some response,” Patterson said.
This fall, the FCC started sending biweekly FCC updates to the faculty senators as one approach for improving communication, Patterson said. Prior to this, senators might not have known everything the FCC was working on, even though senators are the elected representatives for faculty.
These updates include several items the FCC has accomplished as well as several action items the FCC is working toward, Manchester said. These updates are sent out in an email to the faculty senators, which also includes a form where faculty can communicate specific issues and sign up to speak at an upcoming meeting.
While these updates are only sent to faculty senators, they can send the information along to their constituents. Faculty can then directly voice their concerns to the FCC or communicate through their senators.
Another approach some FCC members have taken is reaching out to their colleges to discuss important issues that impact more than one college or campus and remind faculty of the avenues available for communicating issues with leadership, Bee said.
While the pandemic emphasized the need to improve communications, this will be something to prioritize and develop in the future post-pandemic as well, Manchester said.
“COVID has made it more critical right now,” Manchester said. “But I think it’s an ongoing need because there’s always going to be change and things to weigh in on, so I think it’s imperative right now.”