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CAREER ADVICE

How to establish a contract-faculty committee

Getting started.

By KANE X. FAUCHER | OCT 10 2012

Establishing a contract faculty committee in your department is a great way to integrate part-time faculty in the decision-making processes of the academic unit’s programming. The task of starting a committee from scratch may seem daunting, but the benefits well outweigh the negatives.

A preliminary step in this process is to gauge interest among the contract faculty. Be sensitive to the fact that they are generally a diverse group with different needs and expectations. While some members view their employment as a supplement to their professional careers, others are focused on establishing a career in academia. Also keep in mind the turnover rate, which may lead to planning difficulties in the creation and maintenance of a committee. Here are the steps you can take to help establish a contract faculty committee in your department.

Initial contact

Acquire or create an email list of all contract faculty in the academic unit. Hold an informal session to discuss the possibility of forming a committee and identify key issues with respect to workplace relations. If there is interest and agreement, solicit volunteers for two positions: a representative to speak with the chair or dean about the feasibility of such a measure and a member willing to consult governance documents and possibly draft terms of reference for the membership to team-edit.

Each academic unit’s governance structure will have a constitution and possibly a section identifying the procedures for setting up new committees. Your academic unit should have these documents on hand if you ask for them.

Liaising with stakeholders

Being inclusive of all stakeholders is essential in this process. Depending on how your academic unit is structured (departmentalized or non-departmentalized), schedule a meeting with your chair or dean to apprise them of the contract faculty’s willingness to establish a committee nested within the existing governance structure. The administrator may offer useful advice for consideration in going forward.

At this stage, you are mostly sounding out the administrator and determining if he or she would support the endeavour. This gesture signals a willingness to keep the chair or dean in the loop, and that this collaborative venture is designed to respond to a desire among the contract faculty to participate in the academic life of the unit.

The document

Creating a committee requires harmonizing with the rules of governance. Although this phase may be tedious for some, fastidiousness is needed to avoid having the committee proposal rejected on a technicality.

Most importantly, what is the committee’s purpose? The committee’s mission shouldn’t include issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the faculty union, such as issues pertaining to wages, benefits, appointments and promotion. The terms of reference in the document should have a brief list of objectives, such as “to communicate academic issues to council as pertains to contract faculty” and “to develop recommendations for increasing visibility and collegial relations for contract faculty.” The composition component of the document outlines who is eligible to join, voting procedures, length of term for committee chair, how often the committee meets, who the committee answers to, and what constitutes quorum.

Tabling the motion

If the committee needs to be approved by a faculty council, you may require the help of a member of council to table the motion on the contract faculty’s behalf. The motion should briefly state the purpose and supply the terms of reference and composition as an exhibit. The motion may receive provisional acceptance on condition of certain amendments. Be patient: the motion may have to go through multiple readings before the committee is voted into existence.

The first committee meeting

So begins the process of the first meeting where the first order of business is to elect a chair. After the “administrivia” is completed, it’s time to agree on agenda-setting items to populate the committee business and give it a sense of direction. There will be issues unique to your unit that require attention, such as availability of research and workspace resources, input on curriculum development, outreach activities for increased visibility, and representation on program committees. Best of luck!

Kane Faucher teaches in the faculty of information and media studies at Western University.

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