Faculty Senate passes cheer team resolutions, talks language on academic freedom

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Rebecca Crown Center. Faculty Senate passed three resolutions and discussed academic freedom language.

Maia Pandey, Assistant Campus Editor

Faculty Senate passed three resolutions calling for transparency amid ongoing investigations surrounding Northwestern’s cheer team in its Wednesday meeting.

In a February investigation by The Daily, cheerleaders reported facing racist and sexist treatment during their time on the team. Last month, the University filed a motion to dismiss sexual harassment allegations leveled by former cheerleader Hayden Richardson in a January federal lawsuit.

The University has announced an ongoing independent investigation into the allegations. But the first resolution claims administrators have not informed community members on how the investigator was chosen, their relationship to the University, the guidelines given to the investigator and who will be allowed access to the final report.

History Prof. David Schoenbrun, who submitted the resolutions, said these measures are extensions of legislation passed in a March Faculty Senate meeting supporting faculty oversight of University investigations.

“I just want to underscore the extent to which these (resolutions) are designed to push the administration to do things we already asked the administration to do with greater specificity,” Schoenbrun said. 

To address reports that athletic department officials did not report these allegations to the Office of Equity, the Senate also passed a resolution declaring that the University will conduct a needs assessment of training and accountability measures within the department. The resolution also called for NU to share the completed report with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.

The third resolution proposed a working group of senators, staff and students, along with associate vice president for equity TiShaunda McPherson, examine the Office of Equity’s efficacy. McPherson should report on the findings of this group in a fall 2021 Faculty Senate meeting, the resolution stated.

Faculty Senate President Therese McGuire highlighted the Senate’s response to allegations from the cheer team in her opening report of the group’s work this year.

“This is an example of the Senate addressing an issue that arose organically with members of the faculty,” McGuire said. “The members of the faculty took the issue to their senator, who then brought it to the Senate.”

McGuire also cited proposals to amend Faculty Senate bylaws and revise guidelines around academic freedom language in the Faculty Handbook as major accomplishments of the past year. 

The legislation on academic freedom language was co-led by Medill Prof. Ceci Rodgers, who was voted Faculty Senate president-elect by 95 percent of the Senate in Wednesday’s meeting.

The Faculty Handbook Committee and the Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee began work on the current academic freedom language legislation this past fall, McGuire said. 

The issue has been a focus of Senate discussion for over two years because the handbook’s current guidelines for academic freedom are a 1940 standard from the American Association of University Professors.

While the current statement grants faculty full freedom in their research and publications, it also states professors should avoid teaching “controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”

Over the past several weeks, senators gathered faculty feedback on the proposed new language, English Prof. Harris Feinsod, who co-authored the legislation, said.

“The revision builds on those foundations… by extending academic freedom to all officers of construction, including tenure eligible and non-tenure eligible faculty,” Feinsod said, “by including all campuses and branches of the university as well as work abroad and outside the classroom, (and) by expanding academic freedom and research and publication to include things like creative activities, public facing work and electronic venues.”

To allow more time for faculty review of the legislation, the Senate voted to postpone a final vote until a special meeting on July 14.

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