A special meeting of the Faculty Legislature had all the features of American democracy: multiple opinions, heated debate and a low voter turnout.
The meeting was called to consider the legislature’s possible adoption of the recent Nobel Laureate resolution against a pre-emptive war on Iraq. A vote could not be conducted, however, because only 19 of the 57 legislature members were present, falling just short of the 20 required for quorum. The meeting was conducted in an unofficial town hall forum.
Claudia Chapman, director of the Academic Senate, blamed the low turnout on the busy schedules of faculty members. She said a vote was conducted to determine when the most people would be available for the special meeting, and the vote was evenly divided.
Other members were not so forgiving to the absent legislators.
“I’m very disappointed with the legislature for not showing up,” Academic Senate Chair Walter Yuen said.
Hunter Lenihan, a legislature member from the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, said he came to the meeting expecting a vote to be held.
“I thought this issue was of enough importance that people would put aside their daily business to be here,” he said.
Chapman said this was the first time a Faculty Legislature had not mustered enough of a turnout to conduct an official meeting, but she also said that they barely met quorum at the last meeting.
After the shift to town hall format, the debate centered on a resolution proposing that the Faculty Legislature be prohibited from passing public policy positions on behalf of the entire faculty.
The resolution’s author, Leda Cosmides, argued that any such statement by the legislature would be wrong and ineffective.
“It’s not right for some members of the faculty to speak for others,” she said. “And when we conduct these pathetic little votes, people know that’s a small group speaking for others.”
Cosmides said that a mass petition signed by all faculty members would be more effective.
Many other faculty members in the room clearly disagreed with Cosmides, judging both by the number of speakers who stood to oppose her and by the amount of applause they received.
“Collective judgments mean more than individual judgements,” Chuck Bazerman, chair of the Education Dept., said.
One faculty member agreed, saying, “We must not remain silent when there is something to oppose.”
Richard Flacks, professor of sociology, said Cosmides’ resolution would “tie the hands of this body.”
The debate got intense at times, as speakers were repeatedly interrupted, and one-on-one arguments broke out throughout the room.
A handful of students attended the meeting, and a few stood to speak.
“I’m here to assure you that what you’re talking about is very important to the student body,” senior English major Lance Cleeland said. Cleeland added that he thought it was the duty of the faculty to take a stand and encouraged teachers to use a minute or two of class time to keep students aware of the importance of the issue.
The meeting ended with discussion about how to gauge the will of the entire faculty, with online and mail-in balloting suggested as solutions. Faculty Legislature Parliamentarian Eric Smith said another meeting would have to be held before any such balloting could be made official.