Published: Feb. 4, 2021

The Boulder Faculty Assembly on Thursday, Feb. 4, discussed a statement by its executive committee that reiterates the authority of faculty to determine course content, teaching methodologies, and approval of faculty members hired to teach on campus––including visiting scholars.

The statement asserted that visiting professors, scholars-in-residence and others who are invited to teach on campus for limited periods “are given the privilege of teaching the curriculum, (but) are not currently subject to the same rigorous unit-level review that takes place when more permanent faculty are hired.”

The committee’s statement draws from a resolution the BFA approved unanimously in December 2019 titled “Resolution Regarding the Faculty Ownership of the Curriculum” or the “Ironclad Resolution,” which confirms provisions in regent law defining the faculty’s right to determine course content and classroom teaching methodologies.

“This Ironclad Resolution was offered as a bulwark against indiscriminate thinking on online instruction and passed unanimously,” said BFA Chair Bob Ferry. “It was about autonomous online courses not attached to faculty. This new one comes about as a reaction to the visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy in the Benson Center.”

John C. Eastman, a scholar of constitutional and religious freedom, has held the Benson Center’s visiting scholar position since February 2020. In recent weeks, he has been in the national spotlight, prompting faculty and community concerns about his controversial views on the voting process and outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“I want to remind the faculty that the faculty invited him to the campus. He was not invited by a set of administrators,” Ferry said. “I’m concerned about how that happened.”

Ferry said the BFA’s executive committee might move forward with a notice of motion to issue a more formal resolution in March, pending input from the Arts & Sciences Council, which another faculty member indicated is also examining how visiting faculty are hired.

“In the meantime, check your bylaws to see if you have a provision on who teaches courses,” Ferry advised the members in attendance.

When asked by a faculty member whether Eastman was hired based on his political ideology, Shilo Brooks, the associate faculty director of the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization, responded, “We cannot hire on the basis of political affiliation, and we do not do that.”

Brooks added that being a conservative “is not a requirement” for the center’s visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy.

During the discussion, several faculty members called for the statement to be revised to eliminate language that would exclude non-faculty members from serving in nonvoting roles on faculty search committees and to make it clear that only faculty would be allowed to vote on faculty hires.

Susan Nevelow Mart, professor and director of the law library, noted that students serve on search committees and that “I consider that a move forward and would hate to see it go away.”

According to the BFA’s 2019 resolution, “all courses must originate with the faculty in their respective academic units and must be taught by faculty who have been approved to teach each specific course by the academic unit that grants credit for the course.” It also specifies that faculty appointments must be approved “by a majority of the faculty in the unit or by a unit committee authorized for that purpose.”

In the statement discussed on Thursday, the BFA’s executive committee called on faculty to “observe their exclusive responsibility for the curriculum,” adding that it would pursue a review of campus entities hiring visiting faculty and the hiring processes that are in place.

“The BFA urges all BFA representatives to review their units’ bylaws to ensure that all teaching is done only by faculty who are approved by the collective faculty of that unit,” the committee said. “Given the unit faculty’s expertise in their disciplines and their knowledge of––and exclusive custodial responsibility for––the curriculum, the BFA affirms that non-faculty have no place on faculty search committees.”

The committee wrote, “If entities wish to bring to campus visiting scholars with public-facing, non-teaching responsibilities, they may involve non-faculty in the searches if they so choose.”

In other business, BFA members heard about:

  • New state regulations requiring the university to track courses with low-cost materials before students register for classes.
  • An update by Center for Teaching and Learning founding director, Professor Kirk Ambrose, about the progress the center has made over the past year and his recommendations for responding to the mental health and wellness needs of students and growing demands for anti-racism and social justice courses and workshops.
  • An update by Katherine Eggert, senior vice provost and assistant vice chancellor for academic planning and assessment, about the regents’ and CU System’s policies on instructor appointments, reappointments, non-renewals and titles.
  • An update from CU System Vice President Michael Lightner and CU Boulder Registrar Kristi Wold-McCormick on pass/fail changes.
  • And an update on the assembly’s spring elections.