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Task force appointed to study grievance, disciplinary procedures
Citing faculty grievance and discipline procedures that have become increasingly time consuming and expensive, President Gerhard Casper has announced the formation of a top-level task force charged with making specific recommendations to streamline the system.
Casper made the announcement during his Oct. 29 State of the University address before faculty, staff and students at Kresge Auditorium. He used the address to decry the increase in litigiousness at Stanford that reflects a trend in society as a whole.
From 1990 to 1995, the provost's office received two to three faculty grievances a year, Casper said. But in the last academic year that number grew to 10.
"While some might view this as a small number, it nevertheless provides reason to worry," he said.
Dealing with the grievances and discipline cases, especially under current procedures, takes time and money. Casper noted that a recent study showed that legal defense costs for private colleges and universities nationwide had risen 250 percent in only five years, from an average of $70,000 per claim in 1992 to $175,000 last year.
"If depositions in a single case can consume 10 percent of a university president's official working hours during an entire quarter and the president I'm referring to is myself and if dedicated university deans, faculty and staff must accept being personally attacked by a plaintiff's lawyer for days on end, the effect on the individuals and the institution is debilitating, indeed," Casper said.
While acknowledging there was little Stanford could do about the increasingly "excessive and overreaching legal system," Casper, himself a lawyer, said university procedures add to the problem by being too cumbersome and leaving grievants, respondents and the university in limbo for too long. "My point does not pertain to rights, or asserting rights, but to the manner in which we adjudicate them within the university," he said.
Under current procedures, grievances are initially reviewed by the dean, and a faculty or senior staff member is often asked to undertake an independent fact-finding review. That review is followed by the preparation of a report, which can take another 60 days. The report then goes to the dean for a decision. If the dean denies the grievance, there are additional levels of appeal, including the provost and in many instances the president.
"At each of these stages, an independent reviewer again might be appointed, and often might start an investigation all over again," Casper said.
"Our estimate is that the handling of a grievance that is complex and appealed through the various levels will take from 350 to more than 500 hours of faculty and staff time. Further, a lawsuit often is brought in such cases, adding from 50 to several hundred hours of attorney time per side and, in one or two of the more extreme cases, actually as much as 9,000 hours. Attorneys are not free, and I would remind you that every dollar spent defending the university against lawsuits is taken away from much more productive academic uses," he added.
Casper suggested that "a greatly simplified university process would continue to assure the full protection of academic freedom and due process, without the current substantial costs to the faculty members who are at the center of the decision-making process."
Like faculty grievances, faculty discipline cases also consume a great deal of time, Casper said. Under current procedures, after an investigation is launched a dean brings to the president allegations of wrongdoing. It is the president who charges a faculty member. The president and the faculty member charged may then engage in a type of plea bargaining. If no agreement is reached, the case goes to the Advisory Board and then back to the president.
"I cannot even begin to suggest to you how time consuming all of this is," Casper said.
"Starting, properly, with a presumption of innocence, the president is in a difficult position: He or she -- I am using this form of reference to make clear that I am not concerned about my personal lot but about the institution -- must develop an independent sense of what happened at the school level and is, of course, given conflicting versions. If the president were a judge, this kind of adjudication would be his or her job. The president's job, however, is to lead a rather complex educational institution with, this year, an annual budget of $2.25 billion (including hospitals and clinics). If the president carves out the time needed to perform the judicial assignment conscientiously, it is at great expense to nearly every other duty to the university, and its faculty, students and staff. Conversely, if the president does not set almost everything else aside, charges of foot-dragging can come from accuser and accused alike."
Casper said perhaps the power to charge faculty under the disciplinary rules should be transferred to deans of the various schools and new approaches to the fact-finding process should be considered.
Casper used his address to name the members of the task force: Provost Condoleezza Rice; the current chair of the Advisory Board, Professor Robert Simoni of biological sciences; the three most recent Advisory Board chairs, Professors James Sheehan of history, Bradley Efron of statistics and Frances Conley of neurosurgery; and Professor Michael Bratman of philosophy as a faculty member at large. Casper also will sit on the panel.
Any proposed changes to current rules would require approval of the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees.
Casper's appointment of a task force comes on the heels of the drawn-out discipline case against Dr. Adolph Pfefferbaum, who was charged with neglect of duty after leaving a post at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Medical Center. On the recommendation of the Advisory Board, Casper suspended Pfefferbaum for three years and fined him $20,000. Pfefferbaum has sued in an attempt to overturn the decision.