October 15, 2020

The illusion of transparency and faculty participation

The NC State Chancellor, Provost, and Faculty Senate recently held a general faculty meeting facilitated by the Chair and Chair-elect of the faculty about spring 2021 plans. Faculty left the meeting frustrated because they were not given the opportunity to discuss the issues and many of their questions were left unanswered. The meeting lacked transparency and felt like a report from campus leaders rather than a dialogue aimed at faculty participation.

NC State will make better decisions if it allows meaningful faculty participation in decision making and engages in genuine dialogue. We encourage campus leaders to rethink their approach. We offer a few suggestions should NC State leaders want to engage in a truly meaningful dialogue about spring 2021 plans or other important issues.

  1. Do not talk at us; have a conversation with us. We recognize this is somewhat difficult using Zoom, but a series of presentations and talking points by various leaders is not a way to meaningfully engage faculty. It quickly becomes a reporting session and usually leaves little time for dialogue and faculty feedback. Explain the plan and the reasons for your approach and then open up the conversation.

  2. In Zoom meetings, open up the Q & A so that we can see all participants’ questions, as well as allow upvoting and comments. During these unusual times, transparency seems particularly important. Blocking access to questions gives the appearance that leaders are hiding something by filtering out questions. We want to know what our colleagues are thinking, and upvoting allows us to understand the prevalence of their concerns. It also is useful to see what questions are not being answered. It also may be helpful to allow questions using audio. Without full transparency, it seems as though leaders have something to hide and they only want to give the illusion that they are engaging faculty.

  3. In Zoom meetings, display the list of participants. Part of building a community in an online environment is understanding who is engaging in the conversation. Who is in the meeting? How many of our colleagues are concerned enough about the issue to take time out of their busy schedule to attend the meeting? If we held this meeting in person, we would have ready access to this information by looking around the room. It seems to make little sense not to provide this in an online environment.

  4. Do more than say “we’re still working on a plan.” We understand the fluidity of the current environment, but it is unhelpful to say the campus is developing plans but that leaders have not made any decisions they are ready to present publicly. This approach prevents faculty from participating in the decision making and understanding the process for making decisions. Instead, we recommend complete transparency and ask that leaders explain the options they are considering and the pros and cons of each option, then allow faculty to give feedback on the various options. This would allow for faculty to truly participate in the decision making by providing their feedback on the various options. This also would allow leaders to collect valuable data that could better inform their decision making.