PULLMAN, Wash. – The Faculty Senate has agreed to appoint a committee to investigate the possibility that meeting minutes from 2004 were altered at some point after they were entered into the official proceedings of the senate and bound in the so-called “red book.” Those minutes have been cited as the basis for changes in the Faculty Senate bylaws guiding leadership succession, and the authenticity of those bylaws also is being questioned.
During Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting in FSHN T-101, senators debated membership of the committee for more than an hour before agreeing by voice vote to create a special committee comprised of both Faculty Senate leadership and several senators who have openly contended that the minutes were tampered with.
Jon Mallat was the only senator who questioned the need for such a committee. Speaking for his constituents in biological sciences, he said, “To us, these allegations, though real and sincerely felt, are not serious enough to warrant further action.” Even if true, he said, they are not impeachable offenses.
“We should just forget this all and move on to more important things in the Faculty Senate,” he said.
Other senators disagreed.
“We need to know if there was a breach,” said Robert Greenberg. If there was, he said, controls need to be put in place so it doesn’t happen again.
Faculty Chair David Turnbull said Sen. William Fassett already had submitted a proposal to the faculty affairs committee to address the issue of safeguarding the integrity of official Faculty Senate records, and that proposal would be followed up on.
Fassett, Gary Collins, David Brown and Christopher Lupke have been most vocal with concerns that the minutes and bylaws were changed improperly. In September, they reviewed the official record of minutes and sent an email to fellow senators listing reasons why they believed both the bound version of the minutes and the online version of the senate bylaws had been tampered with.
Brown said he believes the investigation must go forward because, if the allegations are true, it is a serious offense.
After a multitude of amendments and amendments to the amendments, a majority of senators agreed that the special committee would include the chairs of faculty affairs, academic affairs, graduate studies, budget, and research and arts. In addition, faculty senators Brown, Collins, Lupke and Fassett would also be invited to join the committee.
The committee is charged with conducting “an investigation of the possible irregularities regarding the recording of Senate minutes and bylaws to determine whether any Senate action is warranted” and delivering their report on or by Jan. 26.
Speaking via videostream from Spokane, Fassett said he would provide testimony as a fact witness if called, but would decline to be on the committee because he had already “drawn conclusions of his own.” He argued that anyone who had already been involved in the controversy should step aside to ensure an objective investigation.
Brown said that although he does believe the minutes were tampered with, he is open to the possibility that there are other explanations for the discrepancies he found. Also, he said, he has not formed any conclusions about who might have tampered with the records or why.
The April 1, 2004 minutes at issue concern a change in the Faculty Senate Constitution. According to the meeting minutes, from the early 1990s on the senate had elected both a chair and vice chair, but the vice chair always moved into the chair position uncontested. The executive committee and the steering committee looked at that unofficial policy, decided it served the university well and recommended that the position of “vice chair” be changed to “chair elect.”
The other change reflected in the meeting minutes is an addition that states: “If the Chair-Elect prefers to remain as Chair-Elect, then the Past Chair shall serve a second term as Chair.”
The change in the succession became relevant in August when presumptive chair Cathy Claussen resigned to become a university ombudsman. chair-elect Turnbull said he wasn’t prepared to become chair and asked that past chair Max Kirk stay on in that position, which he agreed to do. But, when senators began raising questions about the legitimacy of the bylaws, Kirk stepped down and Turnbull agreed to take over.