Lafayette College faculty recently voted overwhelmingly to reduce the number of academic committees and lessen by 40% the number of faculty serving on them, freeing up more time to focus on teaching and research, and allow for more meaningful contributions.

Starting in fall 2023, there will be six committees and a council, with 49 faculty members, compared to the current 16 committees with 97 faculty members. There also will be faculty members elected to two campus-wide committees, one focused on diversity and the other on the College’s budget.

“This truly was an amazing moment in the life of the College,” said Provost John Meier. “A reform of the faculty committee structure on this scale is extraordinary.”

He noted that it’s tempting to focus on the shift in size and the fact that Lafayette’s committee structure was too large and unwieldy, particularly in comparison with  peer institutions.

“But for me, the most important aspect of this reform is that it was built with a real desire to do shared governance well,” Meier said. “It places the faculty in a role where it will be much easier for us to have meaningful input on matters where we bring genuine expertise.”

Lafayette’s faculty is currently divided up into committees that receive reports and work on specific tasks and assignments. The committees, staffed by anywhere between four and 13 members, then report back on their progress to the entire faculty body, which meets monthly. 

“One of our big roles is having elections every year to get people on these committees,” said Brett Hendrickson, associate professor of religious studies and chair of the faculty governance committee, which makes sure that the whole faculty governance structure is running smoothly and helps define the different roles that the committees play.

“But every three to five years, we were required to revisit the committee structure and make changes to it as needed,” he said. “We managed to make a pretty considerable change this time around.”

Change resulted from feedback from various committee members, committee chairs, the work of previous governance committees, the provost, an examination of committee structures at peer institutions, and consideration of some dissatisfaction expressed among many faculty members about committee service, Hendrickson said.

“Faculty were sometimes spending many hours in a week reviewing things that were basically already accomplished and feeling like, OK, this isn’t the best use of our time,” he added. “The other thing we found was that some of the committees were too large, that they really didn’t need as many people on them to get the job done. With President Hurd’s arrival, I think we were in a transitional time, and it was just an opportunity to make some changes.”

Dissolving more than half of the committees allows for the creation of three larger committees, with nine members on each:

Academic Standards Committee, which will work with the registrar’s office and admissions staff to track student progress from admission to graduation.

Educational Policy Committee, which will oversee the curriculum and interface with parts of the College that promote teaching and learning.

Faculty Affairs and Resources Committee, which will look at academic research and make recommendations about faculty compensation and staffing issues.

The faculty also established an Advocacy and Coordination Council, which will serve as the primary interface between the faculty and the president and provost. Separate from these three new committees and the council, President Nicole Farmer Hurd created College-wide committees for Budget Planning and for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, both of which will include elected faculty representatives.

Key committees that will remain include the Promotion, Tenure, and Review Committee, Appeal and Grievance Committee, and Governance Committee.

“Part of this restructuring is that we’ve really tried focusing these new committees to be task oriented,” said Joshua Smith, associate professor of mechanical engineering and clerk of the faculty, who’s responsible for scheduling committee and faculty meetings, and setting the faculty meeting agenda in consultation with the president and provost.

“We’re really focusing on ways that faculty can truly provide appropriate governance of the College,” Smith said. 

Acknowledging that some faculty may have concerns about giving up oversight, he noted that the shift toward fewer committees represents a vote of confidence in the administration, which has the professional staff and expertise to handle the work carried out by some of the former committees.

“The change will provide faculty simply more time,” Smith added. “While committee service isn’t necessarily a lot of time, it can take a couple of hours a week, and that additional time could be devoted toward scholarship, teaching, or mentoring students. Besides just having the extra time, people will not have the mental burden of participating in a service that they don’t really enjoy, and they can focus on things that they find more fulfilling.”

Giving faculty more time to spend among their students and on research is a significant and positive change, Hendrickson said.

“When I’m working on a committee, while it’s overall in support of the College, it’s a lot more tangential in how it relates to students,” he said. “Hopefully, by making more time available for faculty workload, that’s going to be very good for our students.”

Added Meier: “While these changes may have been catalyzed by a sense that our governance structures were burning faculty time and effort but were not effective, the construction of a genuinely new elected committee structure is aspirational, crafted in the expectation that a better structure would allow for meaningful contributions.”

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