The faculty senate at my school recently took a position on a professional issue that was highly confrontational toward the administration. After union negotiations resulted in a pay raise, the senate reversed itself on this issue. It was later revealed that the original position had been advocated by the union as a way of applying pressure in contract negotiations. Some but not all members of the faculty senate knew about the union's advocacy of the action. There was no direct or logical connection between the professional matter (the hiring of a vice chancellor) and the contract negotiations. A large number of union officers are also on the senate.

Do other schools have rules or standards of ethical conduct that cover this type of conflict of interest? Is it considered normal for there to be so much overlap between the union leadership and the senate, or for the senate to act so closely in concert with the union as part of labor negotiations?

  • 2
    This is going to depend on institution type and location, and the culture surrounding shared governance. As an example, where I am, faculty are not union.
    – Ben Norris
    Feb 16, 2014 at 11:32
  • @BenNorris: This is a community college in California. We're governed by California's Title 5, which states that faculty senate is supposed to be concerned with a certain list of "10+1" academic and professional matters.
    – user1482
    Feb 16, 2014 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


Many faculty senates agree to be governed by Robert's Rules of Order. Buried in it is this clause:

No member should vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the organization. For example, if a motion proposes that the organization enter into a contract with a commercial firm of which a member of the organization is an officer and from which contract he would derive personal pecuniary profit, the members should abstain from voting on the motion. However, no member can be compelled to refrain from voting in such circumstances.

Citation: http://www.cityethics.org/content/roberts-rules-has-conflict-interest-rule-local-governments-no-conflict-provisions

Note that it says that members cannot be compelled to abstain and so there was no violation per se. So in your case, I think the best thing to do would either to work within the Senate to all for an inquiry possibly leading to an impeachment or vote of no-confidence in the leadership.

If you want to avoid direct confrontation, you could leak this to the administration which would be happy to do the inquiry for you, but this would be seen as highly uncollegial and quickly make you unpopular.

How about asking the Chronicle of Higher Ed to look into this as a third alternative?

Edits: Clarifications and obfuscations.


In short: no. However, there is one rule that most higher education I've encountered seems to stick to: they really like constitutions and written rules.

A quick google of my own university found a faculty senate constitution of over 30 pages with a great degree of detail and rules, and absolutely no mention of conflict of interest.

From further review, I might propose an idea of why: interest is assumed. Rather than being an organization who seeks impartiality, there is actually a deeply vested interest assumed that all senators - and the senate as a whole - try to forward the goals of the university and the interests of the faculty itself. Using my own reference constitution, early on this line states the purpose of the Senate: "The Senate shall be the representative body of the faculty." In other words, they are out for what is best for the faculty.

As such, in the situation you briefly outline, there isn't a conflict of interest, but it sounds like a case instead of "vested interest" - the faculty, and thus the senate, want pay raises and oppose administration that seeks to oppose or refuse it, and so they do what they can to help achieve this mission. In short, this isn't unethical - it's the definition of politics and the reason why the senate exists.

Much of this is determined, at least in the US, by state law and mandate for public universities. In Wisconsin: The faculty derives its authority from 36.09(4) Wisconsin Statutes, which reads as follows:

FACULTY. The faculty of each institution, subject to the responsibilities and powers of the board, the president, and the chancellor of such institution, shall be vested with responsibility for the immediate governance of such institution and shall actively participate in institutional policy development. As such, the faculty shall have the primary responsibility for academic and educational activities and faculty personnel matters. The faculty of each institution shall have the right to determine their (sic) own faculty organizational structure and to select representatives to participate in institutional governance.

As with all good representative systems, it is assumed that there are checks and balances. There are usually student government wings, faculty senates, administrative positions, committees, etc - all designed to, hopefully, ensure an outcome that is the best for the whole community.

But in the case of a faculty senate being in favor of pay raises and also being pro-union? Yes, yes I would imagine they are. Whether or not they get a raise is usually not solely determined by a faculty senate, though, or that would be a pretty naive system.

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