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Office of the Provost | Communications


Office of the Provost
Fax: 202-885-2173
Leonard, Room Lower Level

Bass, Scott A.

Office of the Provost
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016-8061

April 20, 2010

 TO:  American University Community
 FROM:  Scott A. Bass, Provost
 SUBJECT:  An Open Letter to the Academic Community on Transitioning to a “Culture of Yes”


Dear Colleagues:

During the development of the Strategic Plan, faculty frequently spoke of a “culture of no” at American University and the desire for a more responsive and supportive academic environment. Rather than receiving encouragement to cultivate new ideas, some faculty members believed that innovations were likely to be met with barriers, difficulties, and reasons why things could not be done. For AU to compete among its peer and fully leverage the talents of its faculty, it needs underlying policies that contribute to a productive and engaging environment, hence, my call for a revision of the Faculty Manual and eventually the Academic Regulations. Revisions to these two critical documents will help reduce barriers, expedite decision making, and provide greater faculty involvement in critical decisions about the future of the university.

Like all complex organizations, universities require operational policies and procedures. However, overly rigid and inflexible policies and procedures can stifle the creativity that makes the university environment so special. Eighteen months ago, committees of the Faculty Senate set a goal to contemporize our Faculty Manual while retaining the special culture of A. Over the past summer, they examined faculty manuals from our peer institutions in an effort to identify appropriate models of high standards coupled with flexibility to enhance innovation. One of the early challenges was the realization that the diversity of AU’s schools and colleges required language in the new manual sufficiently flexible to serve distinctly different cultures.

What began as a committee process for considering revisions evolved into an iterative process- taking the manual line by lin- involving the full Faculty Senate and a dialogue with the faculty at large. Understandably, differences of opinion exist in our community, and deliberations about these different perspectives were weighed carefully be the Faculty Senate. As a result of this intense and vibrant dialogue, each revision improved the quality and precision of the document.

Near the end of the process, faculty members requested that the document be reviewed by an external legal counsel specializing in faculty rights. After some deliberation, the Senate secured a legal specialist to review the document, Ann H. Franke, Esq., who brought 15 years of experience at AAUP to the task. Based on her review she determined, “Overall in my professional judgment, I find the provisions in the Revised Manual Text to enhance faculty rights and protections.” Further, on dividing the manual into two sections for approval, one now and on in the Fall, she writes, “In my professional judgment, these appear compatible with the Original Manual sections on grievance procedures and discipline.” We can all be proud of the resulting accomplishment by the Faculty Senate and the AU community – an open and transparent process and a product reflecting wide input from a community of scholars.

A consensus document by definition may not quench the concerns of every faculty member but is responsive to desires and aspirations of the majority of our community. The perfect shold not get in the way of the possible, and we are now at a stage where I believe we have a document, if approved by the Faculty Senate and the faculty community, which will serve the AU community well into the future. I compliment the Faculty Senate and its leadership (in particular Senate officers Lyn Stallings, Steve Silvia, and Leigh Riddick) for their achievement.

The new document encourages a culture of the possible, moving decision-making from centralized committees or officials to appropriate points in the organization, in order to promote responsiveness and local control while maintaining a necessary balance of administrative oversight. It recognizes the need for exemptions that might have previously been unanticipated. And, most of all, it gives faculty members increased ownership of the future of their academic unit. More authority, resources, responsibility, and time for scholarship, in the hands of faculty talent, help foster a dynamic culture where faculty members genuinely believe and understand that the success of their unit and the future of the academy are in their hands.

That is why I firmly believe this revised Faculty Manual provides a foundation for AU to make the leap to be considered among the leading college-centered research universities in the nation. That is, a research university that is deeply committed to providing many of the components of quality undergraduate education found in the finest liberal arts colleges. This challenging path equally values teaching and research, but when traveled enhances individual and institutional excellence, pride, and prestige. Followed by new academic regulations, this manual will better position AU to meet its stiff academic competition and more fully leverage its greatest asset – its faculty.

It is said of the late Paul Samuelson, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, that not only was he an enormously productive and brilliant scholar, but that he also built a great economics department at MIT. We, too, can build great departments and schools at AU. A contemporary manual that reflects these values for academic excellence, like the one crafted by the Faculty Senate, is one critical component. The Faculty Manual you are being asked to approve is crafted to be a living document able to adjust and change as needed by an active community of scholar-teachers.

I look forward to your vote and the signal it sends about our collective vision for a bright future and to understand the intensity of your support for an academic culture that is more localized, faculty-centric, and more aligned with other universities we value.