Elections in Arts

Robert Drummond (robertd@yorku.ca)
Wed, 31 Dec 1997 11:09:49 -0400


You will recall that Marla reminded us the nominations and elections for
Arts committees and Senate reps would come in the Spring, and we might
well want therefore to make some of our first recommendations as a
governance committee on the subject of nominations and elections. I
imagine we will find it easiest to proceed if we have a document to tear
apart, so I have prepared a very rough first draft of a section on
nominations and elections. Marla will have to tell me if I've got the
present practices wrong, and the rest of you will have to figure out if
I've got the recommendations all wromg -- too timid, too bold, too
wordy, etc. See you in January. Happy New Year! Regards, Bob

Nomination and Election of Faculty Members for Arts Committees and
Senate Seats

At the present time, the Nominating Committee of the Faculty
Council ordinarily meets in the early Spring and the early Fall to
develop a list of nominees for vacancies on Arts Council committees and
in Arts representation on Senate. The larger task is the Spring
exercise, since terms ordinarily coincide with the academic year,
ending June 30; persons elected in the Spring, replacing people whose
term is about to end, take office in the following September. A call
for volunteers is sent out to all eligible members of Council well
before the Nominating Committee meets in the Spring. Fewer vacancies
occur in the Fall and are usually the result of unforeseen
circumstances; persons elected in the Fall take office immediately upon
their election.

The Nominating Committee has generally accepted responsibility for
ensuring that a slate of nominees is presented to Council with contests
for each available vacancy, and with representation of all ranks,
including contract faculty, both sexes, and all disciplines. Knowing
the discipline, sex, and rank of those continuing on a committee, the
Nominating Committee seeks to present nominees who will diversify the
membership with regard to these variables. For example, where
continuing members are mainly in the humanities, the Nominating
Committee will seek to provide nominees for the vacant positions who
come from non-humanities disciplines, and vice versa. Much of the work
of the Nominating Committee consists in calling members of faculty and
encouraging them to stand for office. The collegial governnace of the
Faculty requires at a minimum that people be prepared to do the work
necessary to maintain Council, its committees, and its representation
on Senate; such willingness to serve has not always been evident. The
result is that the slate of nominations presented to Council does not
always satisfy the desiderata listed above -- i.e., contested elections
and wide representation. Since volunteers, declaring their interest in
particular committees, rarely distribute themselves evenly across the
available vacancies, the Nominating Committee sometimes seeks to
persuade volunteers to stand for a post different from that for which
they have declared an interest. Ordinarily such action will be taken
with a view to the representativeness of the slate as described above.

When nominations are presented to Council, further nominations
(including self-nominations) are accepted from the floor, provided the
nominator can provide assurance that the nominee has agreed to stand.
Such assurance can be in writing, or can be given orally by the nominee
if he/she is in attendance. When the slate of nominees is approved by
Council, an election is held.

In the past, the names entered on the ballot have been identified
only by rank and home department(s). In recent years, the large number
of retirements and new hires have created a situation in which many
members of the Arts faculty are not well known to one another.
Obviously efforts to make faculty memberw more familiar with their
colleagues in other units will assist collegiality, and it should be
one of the tasks of the Dean and the Faculty Council office to promote
such familiarity through the Arts Newsletter, faculty seminars, and
other opportunities for meeting. Some efforts have been made in that
respect, but they have not been all that successful yet. It has been
suggested that candidates for positions on Arts committees or Senate
representation be invited to prepare a brief biographical and/or policy
statement for circulation with the ballots. Such a practice is common
in some professional organizations and might be accomplished with
littel additional cost, especially if the statements were accessible
electronically (on an Arts website) rather than by widespread paper
circulation.

Ballots for elections in the Faculty of Arts are sent to
departments and Colleges where faculty members have their offices. The
ballots are sent to the Administrative Assistant of the department or
College, together with a list of those to whom the ballots are to be
distributed. Individuals complete their ballots, if they wish to vote,
and send them back to the Secretary of Council for counting. This
system replaced (for cost reasons) an earlier one in which ballots were
mailed individually to eligible voters. There has been some concern
expressed recently that the present system does not assure the security
of ballots. Unsealed ballots left in mailboxes are open to possible
removal and use by persons other than those to whom they have been
allocated. Since ballots are not numbered, it would in theory be
possible for someone to duplicate massive numbers of ballots and send
them all in, thereby assuring the election of a particular candidate.
The eagerness of persons to be elected to Faculty Committees or Senate
has not to date been so extreme that such tactics seem likely, but it
must be conceded that the above techniques could be employed to ensure
(or prevent) someone's election with little hope of detection in the
present circumstances. However in the absence of any evidence that
ballot-tampering has in fact occurred, the security issue must be
weighed against the probable cost of any more secure alternative.

What more secure alternatives exist? First, we could return to
the pre-existing system for ballot distribution, wherein ballots were
sent with individual address labels, as is done by Senate Secretariat
with the (much smaller number of) ballots for Senate Committees. There
would be added costs for labels and the time of someone to apply the
labels, and the desirability of ballot secrecy would suggest the need
for an extra sheet of paper (or an envelope) which would separate the
ballot from the label. With some 900 eligible voters, the added cost
is not negligible. A second possibility is to ask that ballots be held
by the Administrative Assistant to whom they have been sent and handed
out to the eligible voter in person, for completion and deposit in the
department or College office. In short, the Administrative Assistant
(or designate) would take on the role of returning officer. Given the
other responsibilities of department and College office staff, this
added task seems like a burden we could not easily place on them. A
third possibility is the establishment of a ballot box for some
reasonable period in a central location (or set of locations) staffed
by the Council Secretary's designate(s), as is commonly done for YFS
student elections and for YUFA contract ratification. Such an
alternative seems likely to cost more than simple mailing of addressed
ballots and is therefore not a preferred alternative. Of course none
of these alternatives solves the problem of unnumbered ballots and the
opportunity for duplication. A fourth possibility is the use of
computerized voting; if practicable, this alternative has the added
advantage of permitting people to vote from remote locations. The
challenge to practicality is to obtain or design software that would
permit the identification of eligible voters, assure their restriction
to one vote each, and preserve the secrecy of their choices. If such a
system were possible at reasonable cost, perhaps through a Faculty of
Arts website, it would solve many of the convenience, cost, and
security issues at one stroke. In that event, there would have to be a
back-up system for those few faculty members without computer access,
perhaps through a ballot box in the Dean's Office.

One of the real problems with elections in the Faculty however is
the embarrassingly low voting "turnout," in which ordinarily elections
for committees of a Council with some 900 members are decided by the
votes of fewer than 150 electors. This fact is a more serious
impediment to the democratic and collegial governance of the Faculty
than any insecurity of the ballots.

A final issue on which we have received some comment is the
question of whether ballot results should be made public in full, i.e.,
with the vote totals of the successful and unsuccessful candidates.
The argument against doing so in the past has been that it is difficult
enough to get people to stand for election to these offices, without
the added disincentive that they may be embarrassed by the low level of
vote support they receive. Since YUFA routinely announces the results
of its elections with full information on candidates' totals, there is
at least one precedent for contests in which the potential for
humiliation has not deterred participation. We suspect there are very
few members of faculty whose self-esteem turns on the level of their
vote in an election for Faculty office, and the more open and
democratic procedure would be to announce all vote totals (including
the overall turnout). We believe it is useful information for members
of Council to have and we therefore recommend that Council election
results be announced with the vote total for each candidate included.

-- 

Robert Drummond Associate Professor Political Science York University (416) 736-5265 fax: (416) 736-5686 email: robertd@yorku.ca