Library Committee Handbook

Executive Committee



Faculty Governance Working Group 1

 

Improved Communications Position Paper

January 12, 2010

Background

At the July 22, 2009 Library faculty meeting, four overarching issues related to faculty governance were identified for further discussion. This paper addresses the subject of improved communication in three areas: (1) between the EC and the faculty; (2) between the administration and the faculty; and (3) within the faculty.  Members of the team are: Lura Joseph, William Maher, Scott Walter, and David Ward.

This position paper will define the issues and make recommendations for improvements and further actions including which recommendations can be implemented in the short term and which will require a longer term. Where appropriate, recommendations are followed by possible outcome measures and assessment metrics to enable the Library to evaluate the success of the various proposals one year from their implementation. This position paper will be reviewed by the EC, shared with the faculty at large, and discussed at upcoming faculty meetings.

Toward these ends, the team requested faculty input through a questionnaire distributed via the LIBFAC-L list in late November with a follow-up e-mail in early December. With a total number of only 16 respondents, the following report of issues and faculty suggestions received can only be regarded as preliminary and suggestive.

1.0  Communication between the EC and the faculty

1.1  Issues

Faculty response was mixed, with the majority of respondents feeling EC has improved communications, especially through use of the EC web site, and some faculty feeling EC is unresponsive and does not adequately consider both sides of all issues.  Additionally, most of the respondents who viewed communication as more responsive still felt it was not sufficiently detailed, timely, or informative, and had suggestions for improvement.

Respondents in general wanted more direct communication from EC members, and more opportunities to have their opinions considered as part of EC discussions.  Respondents also wanted more time to provide feedback, and felt that some of the short deadlines imposed on decisions for EC agenda items conveyed that faculty input was perfunctory and would be ignored.  Additionally, currently when a faculty member provides feedback in response to a call from EC, their feedback is often not acknowledged as having been received.

2.0  Communication between the library administration and the library faculty

2.1  Issues

By themselves, the limited number of responses received by the Task Force do not provide an unequivocal basis for restructuring the communication mechanisms between Library administration and faculty.  Still, they can provide useful anecdotal insight into perceptions and ideas that merit consideration.  As one might expect in any survey, there were some who expressed only satisfaction with existing mechanisms for administration-to-faculty communication, but others were troubled by what they had experienced as one-sided administrative communication that left them feeling as if they were in an echo chamber.  Overall, there seemed to be a clear desire for communication channels that would enable faculty to have meaningful input into administrative decisions.

While some noted satisfaction with mechanisms such as LIBFAC-L, LIBNEWS-L, the State of the Library address, and Library faculty meetings, others expressed concern that the overall lack of genuine debate at faculty meetings was contributing to a decline in attendance and usefulness of the meetings.  Regarding the Administrative Council, it was noted that the process of presenting an issue to the Administrative Council, then having Division Coordinators communicate the matter to units within their respective divisions was not so efficient as direct communication to unit heads, such as could be done through focused e-mail lists.  At the same time, it was suggested that Divisions needed to be more consistently and promptly informed of pending administrative matters. 

More than a few commented about the disjuncture between the Executive Committee and the Divisions.  Some noted that they had experienced more timely and useful communication when they had a fellow Division member sitting on the EC.  Others noted that past practice and the Bylaws had clearly separated Executive Committee membership from representation of the Divisions.  The Executive Committee has been at-large since at least the mid-1970s.  The current role of the Divisions outside of the line of authority in official policy-making was a consequence of the early 1990s disbanding of the Departments done in the name of facilitating cross-library administration, and it is arguable that this element of the 1990s restructuring, which was understood as experimental at the time, may need to be revisited, at least in part.  While replacing the current at-large basis of the Executive Committee with a representative one would be a radical step simply to solve our communication problems, there does appear to be a need for improved formal communication from both the administration and the Executive Committee to the Divisions, perhaps through the more conventional route of the Division Coordinators or perhaps through some new and creative mechanism.

While there were strong concerns about the current one-way nature of administration/faculty communication, the Task Force was disappointed that there were few suggestions for ways the faculty could increase the amount of communication it offered to administration.  Nevertheless, concerns appear to be held widely enough to call for serious attention to how we can build means for expression of dissenting views, for example through open forum debates at faculty meetings. 

The Task Force notes that there is the ever-present problem of faculty timidity or even self-censorship.  In some instances it may be newer and untenured members not wanting to risk their career.  In other cases, it may be long-term veterans not wanting to be ritually dismissed as obsolete or intransigent.  In still other cases, it may be faculty who have some level of administrative responsibility concerned that whatever they say will be dismissed as the administration's "party line."  Given the interpersonal dynamics in a large academic organization like the Library, none of these fears are unreasonable even if actual incidents of such consequences are exceedingly rare to non-existent.  Because a robust mix of ideas and perspectives is so critical to our vitality in these changing times, it seems essential that we work to set such fears to rest.  Indeed, the more that diversity of opinions that can be voiced actively at faculty meetings (e.g., by the occasional minority report from the Executive Committee or occasional "point/counterpoint" discussion) the more likely it will be that all faculty will begin to understand that a rich and divergent dialogue is part of what is expected of faculty members and thus encouraged to speak up more frequently.

3.0  Communication within the faculty

3.1  Issues

Feedback from the questionnaire addressed communication within the faculty in two broad categories: 1) interactions & exchange of information between people (face-to-face and electronic); 2) discussion of issues. There is a difference of opinion regarding what does and does not work. Many mentioned communication problems within the faculty, although some noted that this is not unusual for large organizations. Some respondents indicated that they were often not sure what is going on, or whether there are issues of which they are unaware.

Regarding face-to-face communication, some individuals think that faculty meetings are important and work well for communication while others have strong negative feelings regarding faculty meetings, and believe that there should be fewer reports and more discussion of important issues.

Some individuals think that faculty meetings are important and work well for communication while others have strong negative feelings regarding faculty meetings, and believe that there should be fewer reports and more discussion of important issues. [1]  Opinions split on the usefulness divisional structure as a mechanism for communication. 

E-mail, LIBNEWS-L, and LIBFAC-L were viewed as useful for sharing information, but LIBNEWS-L and LIBFAC-L are currently announcement channels and not discussion forums. Meanwhile, ingrained habits such as over-use of unexplained acronyms in e-mails and documents act as barriers to communication.

Mention was made of "dysfunctional" communication, such as gossip and talking about other people behind their backs. Some untenured faculty members indicated that they had been advised not to speak up in faculty meetings.  Meanwhile, although some respondents commented that we need to start appreciating each other more, the desired outcome was not entirely clear. It is possible that faculty members are seeking more specific, individual commendation, in addition to pro forma appreciation given during annual talks and in salary notices.

Overall, the largest area of dissatisfaction concerned the discussion of issues. A notable response was that there is rarely real discussion of substantive issues in public forums, places where real disagreements could be raised and discussed without faculty feeling threatened with repercussions. While there is occasional discussion about policies via LIBNEWS-L, LIBFAC-L, web forums, and internal blogs, these respondents did not see much real discussion of major issues. Other difficulties noted include the problem of getting everyone together face-to-face for discussion, given staffing needs. Meanwhile, it seems clear that some people do not feel empowered to speak up in a large group. Divisions appear to vary considerably in terms of how, what, and how much they communicate internally, resulting in varying advantages and disadvantages among faculty from different divisions. There were strong feelings that faculty meetings should be venues for debating issues, programs, and projects, and suggestions that these should be voted upon.

Clearly there is overlap among the issues covered by the communication team, and those covered by the teams addressing faculty meetings and our culture. An apparent lack of common understanding about what shared governance is can contribute to unfulfilled expectations and misunderstandings.  There also is not a universal acceptance of the divisional structure, with some seeing it as antiquated, and others viewing it as providing a useful forum for communication among the faculty.  So, while there are problems related to communicating information, the main dissatisfaction appears to be with the discussion of major issues, and the extent to which the faculty has influence over outcomes.

Recommendations for improving communication between the EC and the faculty.

Recommendations for improving communication between the administration and the faculty:

Recommendations for improved communications within the faculty:

Possible outcome measures and assessment metrics

 

 


[1] The Communications Team defers details on matters regarding faculty meetings to the separate team working on that subject.

[2] It is recognized that there are a variety of communication tools already used, in differing degrees, by each of the AULs.  Because comments on this issue did not single out any particular AUL, it is impossible to surmise which mechanisms or AUL seemed to be communicating more effectively than the others.  Regardless, the concerns do suggest that there may be merit in developing a more uniform approach for such communication among the AULs.  Similarly, while the AUL's annual reports and goals can be found by clicking through the Library Staff website, the concerns voiced to the Task Force were for more frequent reporting and in ways requiring a little less digging than presently.

[3] An RSS feed might be an appropriate tool here if the technology could be "tuned" so that those wanting to get an actual notice to their e-mail box could do so while those satisfied with a simple pop-up message in their browser or in their RSS-reader software could set up their notifications in that way.