Faculty Senate strikes nonbinding clause, votes down second motion


Daily file illustration by Angeli Mittal

Faculty Senate striked a clause that previously clarified the nonbinding nature of Assembly resolutions. After failing to pass a motion to govern Senate membership and communications with the university president and the Board of Trustees, several senators sought to nullify the vote.

Angeli Mittal and Iris Swarthout

Northwestern’s Faculty Senate debated amending Faculty Assembly’s bylaws Wednesday to not describe the Senate’s recommendations to administration as “nonbinding” and change other aspects of the bylaws, one of which was to specify the amount of faculty that need to be present at Faculty Assembly. While the former passed, the latter did not. 

The first topic of discussion was an amendment, introduced by mathematics Prof. Ezra Getzler, to not specify in the Senate’s bylaws that the recommendations it makes to the administration are “nonbinding.” While most Assembly resolutions are nonbinding by default, Kellogg Prof. and former Senate President Therese McGuire said inserting the clause is more explicit.

However, the motion to strike the clause passed with a 77% vote from present senators.

According to political science Prof. Karen Alter, keeping the nonbinding clause in the bylaws undermines the Faculty Assembly.

“To add ‘nonbinding’ actually looks like it’s just signaling that this Assembly is a waste of time and has no power,” Alter said. “(The legislature) is a bicameral system where both bodies are supposed to have some meaningful power, and it’s meaningful to make a resolution.”

The second motion involved three changes to the bylaws. One was to incorporate direct communication between faculty and the university president along with the Board of Trustees at Faculty Assembly, which previously did not exist. 

The second mandated a 10% minimum Faculty Assembly attendance rate, an open-faculty meeting with administration, to proceed with decisions. 

Lastly, the motion stated that only benefits-eligible faculty members would be able to become Senate members.

The motion failed with 49 votes in favor of adding these amendments and 22 against. Though not all members were present, passing the amendment would’ve required a two-thirds majority vote of the entire Senate, or 63 out of 94. 

English Prof. Barbara Newman argued mandating a minimum attendance rate at Faculty Assembly meetings is important for keeping the administration accountable. The 10% attendance is a low bar to reach, she said, and if Faculty Assembly has expansive powers, a number of faculty members needs to be present to execute them. 

“Should the administration ever do anything monstrous, the Faculty Assembly still exists as a forum in which we can gather and issue a vote of no confidence or some other strongly worded resolution,” Newman said. 

However, McCormick Prof. Luis Amaral said he is concerned about the Senate voting on the changes given that Wednesday’s meeting was not representative of the entire faculty body.

“I’m very concerned about the level of representativity of us making this decision for everyone without having properly heard from the entire faculty of the University,” he said. 

Others argued against the amendment, stating that the amendment would take power away from faculty.

Art history Prof. Hannah Feldman said the resolution’s limitations are in the altered wording of Article II, which previously referred to members present at the Faculty Assembly as “an ultimate legislative body.” The striking of that phrase, Feldman said, would limit the potential use of the Assembly in times of great need.

“This has obviously been a few years when unexpected and tremendous political, social and scientific circumstances have arisen that make people … like room for some ambiguity,” Feldman said. “Ambiguity is the place that you can find a voice that speaks outside of the strict dictators of administrative governance.”

Feldman added that the proposed language referring to a minimum 10% faculty attendance is closely tied to the Board of Trustees’ vocabulary, further limiting the Faculty Assembly’s power. When the proposed amendments did not pass, many unsatisfied senators looked to reverse the vote, suggesting a section-by-section vote.

However, molecular biosciences Prof. and Faculty Senate President Robert Holmgren said the amendment must go back to the Faculty Assembly before it reaches the Senate again for voting.

Some, like Bienen Prof. John Thorne, thought the discussion was a waste of time. He said senators that previously opposed the amendment were now looking to reverse the outcome.

However, Amaral disagreed and said determining the role of the faculty and its interaction and the role it plays with the University is one of the most important questions discussed.

“Democracy is not about efficiency,” Amaral said. “It’s about reaching consensus, reaching agreements and exploring and discussing possibilities.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated which legislative body was under discussion. The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @amittal27

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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