Matthew Byers, senior editor
An amendment to the bylaws of Staff Forum was passed at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 24, which allows either two staff or two faculty members to serve as Co-Conveners. The Forum had reached a deadlock because their bylaws had previously stated that one staff and one faculty each need to serve as Co-Convener. Pete Turchi, the former director of the MFA program, had been elected at the end of the spring semester to serve as the faculty’s Co-Convener, but he left Warren Wilson over the summer, leaving the position vacant. No new faculty members stepped up to fill the void, and without two Co-Conveners, Staff Forum is unable to hear business.
An ineffectual or dissolved Staff Forum would have had serious ramifications for student participation in governance. Any proposal voted on by Student Caucus that affects the community at large must first be voted upon by Staff Forum before being sent to the president for approval. Sophomore Rachel Peacock, Caucus Co-Convener, said she is pleased that Staff Forum resolved the issue, but believes that questions about the structure of governance need to be asked.
“It’s really important for Caucus that Staff Forum functions,” Peacock said, “But to not recognize what caused this problem to begin with is a mistake.”
At the previous meeting of Staff Forum, on Sept. 10, an amendment to the bylaws was introduced which would have eliminated one of the Co-Convener positions and allowed either staff or faculty to serve as the single Convener. This proposal failed, with 24 voting in favor of the amendment, and 54 voting against.
Also at the Sept. 10 meeting, an anonymous note from the Staff Forum suggestion box was read that questioned faculty commitment to governance. The note asked whether a study could be conducted to determine whether faculty had larger workloads than staff. It went on to state that because faculty received higher raises, “faculty who do not want to participate in the life of the college beyond their classes, office hours and research,” ought to pool theirraises as compensation for those who are more engaged in the community.
At the Sept. 24, meeting, however, the tone was one of reconciliation between faculty and staff.
“We did not intend to be divisive. We did not wish to create an us vs. them situation,” Katie Green, staff Co-Convener, said at the beginning of the meeting.
Those who opposed changing the bylaws argued that the fact that no faculty member was willing to serve was indicative of a larger problem. Director of Student Services Jim Lauer addressed the Forum and spoke against the amendment. “The problem is the structure of governance,” he said. “We should not rush to a quick fix that will inevitably lead to greater problems very very soon.”
Several people made comments acknowledging that if a solution could not be found, Staff Forum would dissolve and shared governance as we know it would end. English Professor David Mycoff urged the Forum to pass the new amendment so that Staff Forum may continue meeting in order to address larger problems.
“It [the amendment] is like CPR. It’s something to keep a body alive,” he said. “We are absolutely obligated to search for long term solutions.”
The resolution to amend the bylaws passed with 27 votes against the amendment, and 67 votes in support.
After the amendment had been ratified, the floor was opened to nominations for the new Co-Convener, which could now be either staff or faculty. There was a tense pause as no staff immediately volunteered for the position. The room breathed a sigh of relief when Natasha Shipmen, a lab supervisor, was nominated and accepted. Before officially beginning her work as Co-Convener, however, she must be elected. A vote will be held at the next Staff Forum meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 8.