In March 2020, Purdue University, like most other colleges and universities, entered “unprecedented times,” with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that spring, the administration, faculty, staff, and students quickly responded to limit disruption to the academic experience. Quick responses sometimes necessitate a departure from typical procedures, and spring 2020 at Purdue was no exception.
However, the times are no longer “unprecedented.” Indeed, we are entering the third semester operating in pandemic conditions. And yet, we see alarming patterns persisting around transparency, violations of shared governance, and suspension of academic norms. The most recent instance was on March 9, 2021 when the Office of the Provost released guidance regarding fall instruction, declaring that Fall 2021 instruction will resume with in-person classes as the default mode. This is despite the fact that students and employees cannot yet be mandated to receive the COVID vaccinations due to their receiving only emergency FDA authorization instead of regular authorization. Although many individual instructors are eager to return to in-person instruction, we want to reiterate the challenges that remain:
In unprecedented as in more tranquil times, administration should be transparent with stakeholders about decisions it makes regarding public safety, including a return to normal classroom densification. But aside from blanket assurances that there are zero cases of classroom transmission, the administration has not provided any evidence for its “bullish” (February 11, 2021 communication from President Daniels and Provost Akridge) decisions on reopening. The administration should back up its decision to increase occupancy with scientific evidence in a public manner, like any public health decision, and like the peer-reviewed scholarship that Purdue faculty are expected to conduct. To wit, they should have to show us their work. The continued lack of transparency around these decisions fuels instructor distrust of the administration.
The administration has brought no legislation regarding increasing density in classrooms to the University Senate for a formal vote, let alone the wholesale decision to return to in-person instruction as the default mode of instruction. While we recognize that administrators are discussing options with some select members of the faculty, and indeed may be involving members of the University Senate or its committees, not all faculty members are represented in those conversations without a formal vote.
AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities was jointly formulated by the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), and Purdue is an institutional member of both these bodies. The Statement on Government holds that faculty hold primary decision-making authority on educational matters, which means they do not provide feedback or input to other authorities – they are authorized to make decisions about educational matters, subject only to oversight by the Board of Trustees (who themselves should overturn the decisions of the faculty rarely, and with explanation). This is in contrast with status quo, where administrative bodies consider input from faculty members, but where the faculty representative body lacks decision-making authority.
Returning to 100% in-person instruction is a decision that requires at least joint action with the University Senate. The Senate is the representative body of the faculty, and faculty must be on board with decisions affecting educational policy, as laid out in the Senate bylaws. The Senate is representative, and engages in formal votes on legislation regarding educational policy. Limiting the interpretation of shared governance to consulting with even numerous hand-selected individual faculty, with no decision-making authority, in lieu of the Senate, undermines shared governance. Given this, we inquire: in what ways was the University Senate engaged in the decision to return to 100% in-person instruction in fall 2021?
Over 300 instructors at Purdue-West Lafayette, Purdue-Northwest, and Purdue-Fort Wayne signed our open letter last summer reclaiming our right as instructors to determine mode of instruction for our courses. Our chapter has repeatedly argued that shared governance takes more than talking with some faculty about their thoughts, even if those faculty are admirable, excellent teachers, or members of the Senate leadership. Shared governance requires the representative body of the faculty, whether at the University level or unit level, to engage its decision-making authority.
Suspension of academic norms should require a declaration of academic emergency.
Purdue’s administration continues to give short shrift to the role of shared governance, and seems to be changing the rules of faculty work in pandemic, without clear bounds about when we are in extraordinary times compared to normal times. The decision-making process used in March 2020 is inappropriate for decisions made in March 2021 because we are no longer shifting with no notice to emergency virtual teaching in the context of an entirely unknown threat. Persisting in these modes will do irreparable harm to stakeholders’ trust in the administration.
Given these concerns about transparency, shared governance, and suspension of norms during the pandemic, and building on our previous statements stemming from the pandemic, AAUP-Purdue calls for Purdue to remain adaptable in order to strengthen the educational mission of residential education in continued uncertain times. Specifically, we call for:
- Increased transparency from the administration and a tangible recommitment to engaging with the decision-making authority of the University Senate, outside of the advisory committee, on issues relating to the educational objectives of the university, and the general welfare of those involved in these educational processes, as articulated in the Senate bylaws and University Code (A.4.00 “General Powers and Responsibilities of the Faculties”).
- A procedure developed by the University Senate for declaring an academic emergency in order to suspend campus norms around educational processes; such a statement would bring with it a sunset clause based on articulated criteria and conditions which would determine the end of the academic emergency.
Passed by the Executive Committee, March 2021.