Faculty Senate seeks feedback on clinical faculty, lecturers


The Faculty Senate is seeking feedback from its members concerning recent discussion about expanding the Senate to include clinical faculty and lecturers.

Six speakers shared opinions in favor and against the expansion at the Nov. 21 Faculty Senate meeting. About 30 members attended in person at University Hall in the Alexander G. Ruthven Building with more than 150 people tuning in via Zoom.

The Faculty Senate, also referred to as the University Senate, currently includes more than 4,250 tenure-track faculty, researchers, librarians, deans and executive officers from all three campuses.

Members who spoke in favor of adding clinical faculty and lecturers were:

  • Brian Zink, senior associate dean for faculty and faculty development, associate chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, and professor of emergency medicine, Medical School.
  • Margherita Fontana, Clifford Nelson Endowed Professor, professor of dentistry; director, Global Initiatives Program in Oral and Craniofacial Health, School of Dentistry.
  • Kentaro Toyama, W.K. Kellogg Professor of Community Information, professor of information, School of Information.

Fontana and Zink said clinical faculty includes talented individuals who deserve a voice in key university decisions, and their exclusion from discussions that concern them is inappropriate.

Zink also said more than half of clinical track faculty are women compared to only 32% within the tenure track, and the clinical track faculty are younger by almost a full decade.

“Adding clinical track faculty from the Medical School to the Senate would add diversity to the Senate and better represent our overall faculty than just our tenure and research tracks are doing at this time,” he said.

Toyama said although lecturers are members of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization union, joining the Faculty Senate would allow them to have regular interactions with university administration. He also said the Faculty Senate could create a strategy to add clinical faculty and lecturers without losing the voice of tenure-track members.

Members who delivered arguments against the expansion included:

  • Michael Thouless, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; Janine Johnson Weins Professor of Engineering, professor of mechanical engineering, associate chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, professor of materials science and engineering, College of Engineering.
  • Rebekah Modrak, professor of art and design, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.
  • Silvia Pedraza, Faculty Senate chair; professor of sociology, and of American culture, LSA.

All three said adding clinical faculty and lecturers would significantly decrease the representation of current Faculty Senate members.

“If clinical faculty and unionized faculty joined the Senate, tenure stream faculty would constitute a minority,” Modrak said. “That would mean that tenure itself, the only guaranteer of academic freedom, would lose its voice.”

Thouless and Pedraza said the Medical School and the university are two separate entities and businesses with different priorities.

“The clinical faculty should find its own representation; they should drop their white-collar prejudices and become unionized, just like the lecturers did. That is the best way for them to gain representation,” Pedraza said.

The Faculty Senate Office provided a link during the Nov. 21 meeting for Faculty Senate members in attendance to submit feedback. After the meeting, the link was resent to attendees with a reminder to submit their feedback.



  1. Andrew Thompson
    on December 2, 2022 at 9:45 am

    I appreciate Professor Toyama’s perspective and am glad he believes the Faculty Senate can be creative in how it can expand shared governance at our venerable institution to include some of the most vulnerable instructors. To be clear, the Lecturers Employee Organization (AFT-MI local 6244 AFL-CIO) as a bargaining unit has clear limits as to what we can bargain for collectively with our contract. The discussions & decisions being made through Faculty Senate vs. union bargaining are separate discussions for a vast majority of the time. This is why non-tenure-track faculty are interested in participating in shared governance: we would like to share in the work to help shape and maintain the integrity of our university for the benefit of our students and everyone else impacted by University of Michigan’s work in our local communities and across the globe.

    Since Professor Pedraza broached the subject of class anxiety, I have a suggestion: For those professors who would like to maintain a multi-tiered classist strata across the university, you can just limit Lecturer participation to those individuals who’ve passed Major Reviews and/or Continuing Reviews. That way you can continue to ignore the majority of lecturers who are very precarious with semester-to-semester, or year-to-year contracts. Those Lecturers I, III, Intermittent, & Adjunct serve as shock absorbers to our academic programs as they navigate times of uncertainty to maintain the high quality of education our students and communities expect. Without them, many academic programs would lack the continuity of course offerings to ensure our students’ academic success,

    Sincerely, AndyT (he/him/his)
    Lecturer II, Stamps School of Art & Design

  2. Yi-Li Wu
    on December 2, 2022 at 2:56 pm

    Dear colleagues,

    There are a number of important issues that are not adequately represented in this press summary of the debate. I encourage people to thoughtfully read the materials that are posted on the Faculty Senate site, particularly those addressing the specific implications of expanding the Senate to include Medical School “clinical faculty” (who are neither tenure-track nor unionized). One might argue that there are distinct differences between the concerns of Medical School “clinical faculty” and the unionized LEO lecturers, and that we need to consider them as distinct issues.


    (Note, by the way, that the Medical School apprently excludes LEO lecturers from its definition of “faculty”, treating them as a separate class of personnel from the “clinical faculty” who are also on contracts and without access to tenure)

    We are all operating in an ever more corporatized university, epitomized by institutional expansion of and reliance on contingent and adjunct instructional staff. Thanks to reduction in public funding for public universities, UM has also increasingly become beholden to a small number of wealthy donors. The salaries of university presidents and other administrators are pegged to corporate norms (themselves problematic). Meanwhile, tenure is under attack nationwide, notably by conservative politicians who see elimination of tenure as a way to inhibit universities from teaching critical race theory, LGBTQ+ studies, and related topics. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2022/03/14/gop-targets-tenure-to-curb-classroom-discussions-of-race-gender

    In such an environment, it is important to have robust shared-governance institutions that can act as a counterweight to a corporatized university administration. One question is what role the Faculty Senate does and can play. It is important not to over-romanticize or over-state what the Senate is able to do. It is also important to ask why the Faculty Senate has been able to do what it has done.

    I would argue that the power of the Faculty Senate lies primarily in moral suasion (e.g. the no-confidence vote in Fall 2020 against former President Mark Schlissel), and its ability to exercise that power rests primarily in the fact that it is composed of tenure track faculty who are insulated from administrative retaliation. One question is how this will change if the Senate becomes an institution where the majority of members are non-tenure-track (and hence at-will) employees who have no power to protect tenure not any inherent interest in doing so.

    In thinking through this issue, one might note the argument (as laid out in the meeting materials) that over the past decades, the personnel policies of the Medical School have had the cumulative effect of increasing reliance on contingent contract instructors (“clinical faculty”) and diluting the power of the tenure track. Notably, it appears that contract-based instructors can serve as department chairs as well as members of the Executive Committee of the Medical School that is responsible for evaluating tenure cases. What are the implications for university-wide tenure if potentially 1/3 of the Faculty Senate membership comes from a unit in which tenure is handled in this way?

    Proponents of the Senate expansion argue that everyone deserves a piece of the pie. But what kind of a pie is it, actually? And what kind of pie will it become if it is expanded? Will we simply be left with a plate of empty calories? These are all issues that should be thoughtfully debated.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Yi-Li Wu
    Associate Professor
    Women’s and Gender Studies

  3. Silke-Maria Weineck
    on December 2, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    I very much appreciate Professor Wu’s comments here. It appears to me that the medical system has for years sought to blur the lines between tenured and untenured faculty, and the push for clinical faculty to join the senate, presented by Med School administrators, strikes me as yet another aspect of this development. UMMS now accounts for more than half of the UM budget, and to my mind, it is in fact time to establish clearer boundaries between the educational and the healthcare delivery branches of UM, lest we end up like John Hopkins, which is basically an appendix of their Med School. A senate whose majority would be constituted by employees not protected to freely speak their mind would drown the last voice that can speak truth to power here at UM without repercussions.

    I also appreciate Andrew Thompson’s comment, though I disagree with it. LEO and clinical faculty are not in the same boat, their addition would not have the same consequences, and LEO faculty joining the senate is a different proposition from clinical faculty joining the Senate. I very much understand why opposition to expansion can appear to be an attempt to hold on to class privilege–universities are infamously hierarchical institutions–, but senate membership does not render anybody less vulnerable. Tenure or other forms of contractual job protections do (thank god for unions).

    I am in favor of clinical faculty organizing themselves — whether as union or professional association — and of forming an all-faculty council at UM, staffed with representatives of the Senate, LEO, GEO, Clinical Faculty, and, importantly, staff, the most vulnerable group of all. Such a council should be empowered to speak to issues that are of shared concern and should not prioritize one group over any other. I am opposed to losing the only voice of tenure stream faculty, the Senate, whose most central task is the protection of tenure, the only institution that protects academic freedom.

  4. Rebekah Modrak
    on December 3, 2022 at 10:59 am

    The current plan is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that appears to be about equity but is really about Michigan Medicine controlling faculty voice.

    I’m 100% in favor of restructuring the Senate into a University Senate that would be made up of at least four bodies — Lecturers, GSIs, Clinical Faculty, and TT/Research/Librarians – where we would each have independent agendas but would come together to share common goals. Annual meetings would be of the entire group. Members from all four groups would sit on Senate committees, etc.

    This is not the current plan. The current plan for expansion does not include GSIs and, IMO, is not intended to empower lecturers, clinical faculty, tenure stream faculty, research faculty, or librarians. Rather, it’s meant to ensure that the Medical School has influence over the Faculty Senate by becoming the majority in the Senate, and by continuing to exert influence over their faculty’s voice by telling untenured (clinical) faculty how to vote. I’ve heard from multiple faculty in the medical school (clinical and research tracks) that this voter intimidation is already part of the culture at MM.

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