A Coup at the UW

A Coup at the UW
SM Schwartz, Professor of Pathology

The State of Washington is being badly served by what amounts to an administrative coup at the UW.

Since obtaining his PhD, Dr. Mark Emmert has devoted his time to administration.  He has no record of the papers or research that distinguish his academic colleagues.  He has such a strong interest in academic endeavour that the UW President has recently decided to leave his $1,000,000 a year state job and become the head of the National Collegiate Athletics Association.

Nonetheless, as he leaves, Dr. Emmert has claimed  the authority to override  the Faculty Code, that is the procedures the faculty uses to determine merit, retention, and pay.   Unfortunately, to the public this will seem very much like the conflict between teachers’ unions and the adminstration of the public schools.

There is a lot more at stake here then how much faculty get paid. The real crisis is about whether the UW is to continue to serve the people and State of Washington as our foremost center for research and the high quality of education that can only occur in a premier center of research.

The crisis has been growing for a long time.  The UW was established under a Faculty Code that is both State Law and the governing contract for all UW faculty.  The explicit intent of the Code was to establish a system of shared governance ..where the faculty, acting through an elected Senate, was to be responsible for academic decisions while a separate administration was to deal with the administration needed to achieve the intent of those academic decisions.

These two legs of the University were joined by the President.  He was to be a creature of both worlds, an academic and an administrator.  In that role, the President had ultimate authority, subject to the Regents, over the administration and over the faculty.  The founders of the UW assumed that the President would himself be a widely respected academic leader.

What we have now, instead, is a President who himself has no record of achievement in academic research or, for that matter, in teaching.   His administration makes academic decisions … whether those are about how faculty are to be evaluated, about the review of academic misconduct, or about what is and is not appropriate teaching and research.

Unfortunately, the concept of “shared governance” has withered. If there is a role for the Senate, the President has equated the relationship  to that of a teachers’ union that negotiates labor contracts.  Teachers’ unions do not set academic policies.

Emmert’s decisions on two recent issues may make the point.

The first was the matter of his Provost, Dr. Phyllis Wise ,seeking employment as a board member at NIKE.  Under faculty rules, this constituted a possible ethical conflict.  The rules in the School of Medicine, where she is a Professor, describe an orderly process for review of such matters by faculty.  That review never happened. Instead Dr. Emmert decided that the Provost, as well as the President, is not governed by the rules and that only the President has the authority to decide if the NIKE appointment meets UW ethical standards.  Anyone who has read Orwell’s “Animal Farm” will recognize the inevitable result of this sort of decision.

The second issue was the President’s role in reviewing a case of potential academic misconduct. In this case Dr. Andrew Aprikyan, a Research Assistant Professor, was charged with scientific fraud.  The charge grew out of a dispute over authorship of a paper that identified the cause of a disease, cyclic neutropenia.  This discovery is currently being patented by the UW with Merck.  An informal faculty group of experts in the research area  found no evidence to support the charges of fraud.  Unsatisfied with this, the Administration appointed a Vice Provost, to organize a formal investigation.  This Vice Provost, was hired as  an atttorney but is not allowed to represent the Univerisity as a lawyer.  Whatever her legal skills, Dr. Cameron has minimal or no scientific credentials.

Working with the Dean of the School of Medicine, an ad hoc group of faculty was appointed to work with the Vice Provost.  This group worked for two years, essentially shutting down Dr. Aprikyan’s lab.  They too found no evidence to sustain the original charge but .. based on other findings, the Vice Provost charged Dr. Aprikyan with fraud  and President Emmert fired Dr. Aprikyan. Dr. Aprikyan appealed to the formal process of review by the faculty.  The President objected, literally claiming the faculty have no right to review an administrative finding of scientific fraud.  When the faculty panel, with full access to all the information and to high level scientific advice found for Dr. Aprikyan, Dr. Emmert charged the faculty with being incompetent and capricious.

The Senate will meet on Thursday to discuss an issue even more fundamental than these.  The issue is simply this: can the President unilaterally rewrite the faculty Code?  If so, I suggest that the people of the State of Washington need to think deeply about whether they even want to have a premier academic university.

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Janelle Taylor #

    Steve, this is not directly a comment on your post but since I don’t have a non-UW e-mail address for you I am writing you via your blog — also thought you might want to post this.

    Bill Lyne as you may recall is the WWU professor who has spoken at UW about their experience of faculty unionization, having served both as Faculty Senate Chair, head of the Union, and now head of the United Faculty of Washington State. He recently posted to the AAUP list about this.

    He has also sent me (to my non-UW e-mail account) information about a new effort that he and others have got underway, which seems well worth supporting. The basic idea is that “budget problems” are really political problems. They’re starting a Political Action Committee to elect legislators who are supportive of Four Year Institutions — FYIPAC.

    Here is the link to their site:

    Please post or forward as you see fit (be sure not to use state e-mails).


  2. Juno Marz #

    This University is a premium educational and research institution not because of its administration, but because of its faculty and research staff and their revolutionary ideas and practical applications. For some reason the Faculty Code provides that UW president (=administration) can practically overrule every decision, recommendation, ammendment of the Faculty Senate. This appears to be the fundamental problem here. You must resolve this issue internally to be effective in “shared governance.”

    Please post when and where the Faculty Senate meeting takes place and whether it is open to public.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The administration is systematically violating the Faculty Code. /  The Ave 13 11 10
  2. Letter From Regents to AAUP: Misses the Point?  /  The Ave 22 11 10
  3. Faculty Senate Chair J.W. Harrington: “Someone needs to draw up a draft of something that could be discussed and approved as an interpretation from this body.” /  The Ave 11 01 11