Faculty Senate moves forward with proposal to revise Faculty Code of Ethics

by Laura Place

The Faculty Senate unanimously passed a motion to revise the Code of Faculty Ethics to contain language that explicitly condemns racism in the classroom and pass it on for faculty comment period. Faculty will have a two-week period in which to comment on the revision before the senate’s final vote on the motion.

Following the faculty comment period, the revision of Section 2 of the code will go to a vote by the Faculty Senate on June 4. If the revisions are approved, it will be passed off for review by the Faculty Union to be ratified within the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the university and the United Faculty of Western Washington.

On Monday, May 20, senators discussed the implications of banning the use of the racial slur for nearly two hours before they agreed to revise the language in the code of ethics.

Section 2 of the current faculty code of ethics states that faculty condemn sexual harassment, intimidation and the exploitation of students. According to meeting minutes from April 22, the proposed revisions would add the elements of racism and discrimination against students based on protected characteristics to the list of condemned behaviors, and would explicitly state that academic freedom does not excuse racism or other forms of discrimination.

According to Western’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, any changes to the code of ethics require full review by the UFWW. The university would then involve the risk management office and Assistant Attorney General Melissa Nelson to ratify their side of the agreement.  

This week’s Faculty Senate meeting continued a conversation the senate has been facilitating since its Feb. 25 meeting on academic freedom and inclusive learning, focusing on whether faculty should have the freedom to say racial slurs in the classroom.

Prior to passing the motion on Monday, senators read through statements submitted by individuals and departments. The senate also discussed the implications of banning the N-word in the classroom as it relates to the First Amendment, referencing an earlier motion passed in April that banned the N-word in the classroom.

The earlier motion, proposed by former Faculty Senate President Kristen Larson, was rescinded on April 30 following concerns that it would violate legal agreements with the university and First Amendment rights of faculty, according to meeting minutes.

Before being rescinded, Larson’s motion passed by a vote of 4-3, with the in-favor votes cast by three students and Larson, according to Levi Eckman, Associated Students vice president for academic affairs and AS student senate pro-tempore.

At Monday’s meeting, some faculty expressed concern about how a new rule would balance academic freedom against the need to address discrimination and racism in the classroom. Paul Mueller, director of risk, compliance, and policy services, sent an email cautioning senators about this point, which Faculty Senate President McNeel Jantzen shared at the meeting.

Jantzen clarified his email, stating that discrimination is easier to prove legally than instances of racism. Other senators protested this distinction and called for explicit condemnation of racism.

“Discrimination is the umbrella term. We are simply saying that racism is an egregious instance of discrimination,” Senator Babafemi Akinrinade said. “We are not creating a new class of discrimination; racism has always been.”

Other senators noted the need to move on from the discussion of which types of discrimination are easiest to defend legally.

According to parliamentarian Lizzy Ramhorst, there is another way to proceed with a change to the code of ethics besides a bargaining agreement. Ramhorst noted that the revised code language could be sent to all of Western’s faculty for a referendum vote, which would require the majority of respondents to vote in favor of the revised code before a final vote by the Faculty Senate.

“It would also be a stronger show of support on behalf of all staff,” Ramhorst said.

Ultimately, senators rejected that option. Akinrinade said a referendum might not encourage faculty who aren’t directly affected by the use of the N-word to vote.

“Sadly, many people will not care. It’s not their problem,” Akinrinade said.

Eckman shared similar sentiments, recommending a faculty review period followed by a senate vote rather than sending out the motion for a faculty referendum vote.

“There are a lot of awesome faculty on this campus but I don’t trust all faculty, and I don’t know what it would look like if this fails for the relationship between students and faculty,” Eckman said.

In the meeting, Jantzen shared concerns regarding most faculty members’ familiarity with the code of ethics.

“I have a feeling that most faculty don’t even look at this, that most of them honestly don’t even know the faculty code of ethics exists,” Jantzen said.

After Monday’s filing, Eckman stressed the importance of faculty feedback and the vote to take place at the June 4 senate meeting.

“The next Faculty Senate meeting will be the last one that students who are currently in these positions will be sitting on, so I really hope we can honor the work of all the students sitting here in the gallery and that did all the work beforehand and we can pass that resolution,” Eckman said.

Jantzen was sent her quotes for review prior to publishing as a courtesy, and she replied saying she did not approve them being included. The Western Front is publishing her comments because they provide important context and were said at a public meeting. Jantzen also told The Western Front at the meeting they could not record the proceedings, which is permitted under the Washington state Open Public Meetings Act.

This article was updated on May 22 to clarify that after the faculty review period of the code revisions and the final senate vote, the motion will be passed off to the United Faculty of Western Washington to be bargained with the university in their Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

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