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28 Feb Posted by in Academics, Business | Comments

I’ve written before about widespread faculty concerns about excessive regulation, from requirements for sexual harassment training to safety or human subjects’ rules, with all sorts of things in between. We decided to tackle this difficult subject by getting a task force together, with faculty and support unit representatives, and holding a faculty forum.

Discussions were admittedly a bit tense at points. A few faculty made claims about regulatory extent that proved not to be true. A few accusations resulted in defensive counterthrusts.

But actually the tone of conversation was for the most part civil and constructive. We were able to identify and address some problem areas, and we’ll work on some others. Thanks to lots of suggestions, particularly within the task force, we have some new suggestions and guidelines that we’ll issue soon, that may help in future; and we may have a structural proposal as well, toward some individual or unit charged with monitoring the overall regulatory environment. We’ll also continue to hold an annual forum, so faculty and staff know there’s an established opportunity to voice concerns.

The two big, related lessons however are pretty straightforward, and we’ll be writing these up more amply. First, communicate: support units need to reach out to explain and to solicit feedback and faculty and staff need to realize that if they contact a unit about a problem they will often get a very positive response (there’s often a sincere lack of awareness that the shoe ended up pinching). Second, to the units issuing rules and regs, provide advance notice, get suggestions before firm rules go into effect (including information about the “soft costs” of responding to new guidelines), and maybe do a pilot project or two.

We’ll continue to have tensions. We’ll continue to need, because of external requirements, to introduce some rules without as much testing as we’d like. But it’s clear that almost all those involved have the interests of the University at heart and are really open to mutual contact and advice. Again, without pretending that everything is resolved, I emerge really impressed that we can do better, on specifics and on general atmosphere, and that we benefit from a really constructive approach from all major parties.