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Faculty votes against controversial constitutional referendum

February 11, 2010

A UW-River Falls Faculty Senate referendum that has been an item of heated debate failed to pass on Dec. 9 by a large majority.

The referendum dealt with whether or not non-instructional academic staff are eligible to serve on Faculty Senate and what their status as instructors implies.

Faculty Senate members had been in heated discussion for months on whether or not the referendum was a good idea.

Final tallies showed that 61 members voted to approve the referendum, 112 disapproved, 3 abstained and 41 ballots were improperly submitted, David Rainville, professor of chemistry and Faulty Senate chair, said.

Ballots where mailed out on Nov. 23 to give senate members enough time to make their decision based on discussion and debate that took place during the meetings.

“One of the problems with this referendum was that it polarized faculty and staff on this campus,” Rainville said. “This is the third referendum that has taken place in 28 years but it has had the largest amount of debate tied to it.”

There were other voices that emerged from within the UW-system as well during this time. Patricia Brady, a general counselor for the UW-System and a member of the legal department, voiced her opinion to Faculty Senate when she said that all academic staff should be allowed to participate within Faculty Senate.

According to chapter 36 of Wisconsin state law, faculty is defi ned as “persons who hold the rank of professor, associate professor, assistant professor or instructor of academic department.” These staff are appointed by the chancellor and faculty of the institution. Academic staff members are defined as professional and administrative personnel with duties, and subject to types of appointments that are primarily associated with higher education institutions or their administration.

Because these definitions are sometimes confusing to some on campus there is an uncertainty of who can actually vote on this campus when it comes to Faculty Senate, Rainville said.

There are academic staff members that believe that the instructional staff at UWRF need a voice within Faculty Senate because they are a part of what makes this campus run and believe that if the referendum would have passed then that voice would have been taken away. Because of the challenges that faced Faculty Senate last semester, there will be a committee formed this semester to deal with the issues from the legal system. Rainville is suggesting that if necessary, the attorney general may be involved to help things run smoothly.

“It is likely that this referendum will be appealed as early as April of this year and then another round of voting will need to take place which will hopefully run smoother than the first time through,” Rainville said. This issue doesn’t just affect faculty and staff, however; UWRF students are impacted by the members of Faculty Senate and the decisions they make.

“I find that as a student, I think all instructors, administrators and faculty should have some kind of voice on campus,” sophomore Jesse Engen said. “Each organization is accurately represented for our Student Senate, why should Faculty Senate be any different?”

This semester may prove challenging for Faculty Senate, with a split assembly over this issue and a possible appeal looming on the horizon.

“This referendum was a completely contentious issue on our campus that really changed things on campus,” Rainville said. “For now and for the future.”