News, University News

Faculty members seek to improve relations with staff

Faculty members also amend policy on religious exemptions for final exams

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

At the first faculty meeting of the spring semester, faculty members discussed ways to improve relationships between faculty and staff at the University.

The discussion was planned in response to data from a staff climate survey conducted in spring 2016, which found that only 52 percent of staff agreed that “Brown is a place where its staff members are treated with respect by faculty,” said Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin. Relations between faculty and staff are worse particularly in the humanities departments, where professors “don’t really have to interact with (their) staff” if they choose not to, he said.

In order to address the divide between faculty and staff, faculty members need to “raise consciousness” about these relationships, McLaughlin said, adding that it can be as easy as sharing a meal with staff members.

Faculty members noted that relationships with staff members become tense when staff members feel they are not involved in decisions about software changes and special events like bringing speakers to campus, which can add to staff members’ workloads. Dean of the College Maud Mandel urged faculty members never to send emails to staff members while angry, adding that “you can make the same point without the anger, and it goes further.”

Before the discussion of faculty-staff interactions, Mandel filed a motion to amend the policy for religious exemptions to final exams in the Faculty Rules and Regulations, which faculty members then approved. Before the new policy, if a student had to miss an exam due to a religious conflict, the exemption was treated like a medical or family emergency: The student followed excused absence procedures and gained approval from an academic dean to take a makeup exam during the next semester, Mandel said. If a student missed the exam in December, they would make it up in January. If they missed an exam in May, they would have to wait until September for the makeup. Unlike a medical emergency, a religious conflict would easily allow a student to make up the test in subsequent days or weeks. “We have evidence that if you wait several months to take a final exam, … you actually do worse on the exam,” Mandel said. Now that her motion has passed, students with religious exemptions will take their makeup exam in the same semester. This exam can be proctored by the Dean of the College.

“I’m really thrilled to see this” change, said Susan Harvey, professor of history and religion. This semester, Harvey is teaching a class called Sacred Stories, which employs materials from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths to discuss religious identity. The registrar’s computer system scheduled the date of her exam on a Saturday at the end of the semester, and she does not believe students who have religious conflicts should be required to wait until September to take her exam, Harvey said.

President Christina Paxson P’19 took a turn at the podium to discuss her concerns that Care New England’s intention to merge with Partners HealthCare would weaken the medical school, among other concerns, as The Herald previously reported. She proposed a “plan B … local alternative” to the University’s current partnership with CNE, which would involve working with Prospect Medical Holdings. 

Paxson also spoke about the current fundraising success of Brown Promise, the University’s initiative to “eliminate loans from the financial aid packages of all Brown undergraduates.” The University has been losing ground in admissions against peer institutions with established no-loan packages, Paxson said, adding that she hopes students will no longer choose other institutions over the University for financial reasons.

In addition, Professor Melinda Rabb of the Faculty Executive Committee announced  efforts to create a new standing faculty committee responsible for staffing the University’s Title IX panel. The University is working in partnership with Title IX Program Coordinator Rene Davis to ensure that members of this committee would not be overburdened by the workload, Rabb added. These efforts will be discussed further in the next faculty meeting, she said.

Provost Richard Locke P’18 also provided an update on the University’s stance on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “We’ve provided all … DACA students with legal advice, financial support … (and) additional counseling,” Locke said. “This is very active and fluid work. … This means something real to people on this campus, and we’re trying to do everything we can to be there and support those students.”

At the meeting, faculty members discussed the motion to rename the Program in Science and Technology Studies to the Program in Science, Technology and Society, which had been presented at the Dec. 5 faculty meeting. They also passed a motion to amend the rules of the Committee on Grievances, which investigates some violations of the rights of community members.

Gretchen Schultz, co-chair and professor of French studies, memorialized Beverly S. Ridgely, professor emeritus of French studies, who passed away in October 2017. Ridgely was a “kind, generous man who was devoted to teaching and to Brown, and had a passion for nature,” Schultz said.

Correction: A previous version of the article stated that faculty members passed a motion to rename the Program in Science and Technology Studies to the Program in Science, Technology and Society Feb. 6. In fact, the motion to rename the Program in Science and Technology Studies was presented at the Dec. 5 faculty meeting. The Herald regrets the error.