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Faculty Discuss Grading Changes, Grievance Policies, Harassment

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Discussion and debate of faculty grievance procedures took up most of Wednesday's faculty meeting, reminiscent of the debate that dominated faculty meetings last spring.

The meeting began with the presentation of a report on student discipline cases in the last academic year [see story, p. 12].

Also at the meeting, Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Samuel Jay Keyser reported that a survey of faculty and staff showed incidences of harassment were steadily declining. Keyser gave results from his annual survey, which included 2,730 faculty and staff members.

Following the discussion of the grievance procedures, Professor Nigel H. M. Wilson PhD '70 updated the faculty on the Committee on Academic Performance's study of grades proposals.

About 15 percent of the undergraduate population responded to a CAP survey in the fall term, with about one half favoring a change in the grading system, Wilson said. The majority of those students preferred a system of letter grades combined with pluses and minuses, as opposed to intermediate grades, such as AB and BC.

A brief discussion followed Wilson's presentation, with the majority of speakers endorsing a change to the plus/minus system. Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Alvin W. Drake ScD '57 said that MIT is often a "praise-free zone," and it is important that students are liberally rewarded for their efforts.

Changes recommended

Last May, amid controversy over the closing of the Center for Materials Research in Archeology and Ethnology (CMRAE), the faculty requested that the Faculty Policy Committee "reassess the Institute's grievance procedures, and report back to the faculty its conclusion about whether they need revision."

The faculty also asked the FPC in May to consider the procedures leading up to the closing of CMRAE.

According to a report presented at the meeting by Chair of the Faculty Robert L. Jaffe, "the FPC has concluded that current processes for resolving faculty complaints, while not perfect, are generally well suited to our culture which values shared governance and collegiality"

However, the FPC did recommend that the administration make "a few modest changes" in the Policies and Procedures of the faculty. A revised Policies and Procedures, which guides the conduct of faculty and staff, will be released later this year, Jaffe said.

The FPC suggested the document be changed to encourage the president and provost "to seek the guidance and advice of the Committee on Faculty Administration on ways to involve affected faculty, students, and staff" in decisions to close or reorganize laboratories or centers.

The committee also recommended that after a laboratory or center has been closed or reorganized, the provost report to the FPC "on the extent of prior consultation, and the adequacy of planning for affected faculty, students, and staff affiliated with the closed or reorganized laboratory or center."

MIT policies unique

The MIT grievance procedures are different from other universities because the faculty "do not have a right to present their complaints to a standing, elected faculty committee for hearing," according to the FPC report.

At the meeting, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Lawrence S. Bacow, the next chair of the faculty, said that despite that difference, ad hoc committees formed at MIT to address grievances meet about as frequently as regular standing committees at other universities.

"Our current procedures are better suited" to MIT's method of shared governance between the faculty and administration, Bacow said. Creating a standing grievance committee might not have much benefit and could end up polarizing the community, he said.

The major distinction between MIT and other universities is that if no resolution is achieved, the complainant "must seek the appointment of an ad hoc committee informally," the FPC wrote.

However, the committee said that "the tradition (and expectation) of the appointment of ad hoc faculty committees to investigate controversial decisions is well established at MIT."

At the meeting, Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Judith J. Thomson disagreed with the FPC's assertion that MIT's policies differ "only in degree and not in kind from those encountered at our peer institutions."

At other universities, the elected grievance committee is the "gatekeeper" between the faculty and the administration, Thomson said. But with MIT's current setup, the provost and president are the "gatekeepers" and appoint the ad hoc committees themselves.

Jaffe countered that not all ad hoc committees are presidentially appointed. As an example, he cited the Diamond Committee (named for committee chair Professor of Economics Peter A. Diamond PhD '63), which recommended the closure of CMRAE last year.

Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Mary C. Potter raised the concern that someone with a complaint against a dean or provost would not want that dean or provost to appoint the review committee.

The faculty need a "dispassionate group," even if only advisory, to handle grievances, Potter said.

The current situation seems to work well because the faculty steps in and complains whenever a situation gets out of hand, said Professor J. Kim Vandiver PhD '75, director of the Edgerton Center. "We still have a faculty that has enough teeth" to handle difficult situations, he said.