Change in university bylaws sparks faculty backlash


Jess Kishbaugh

Members of the faculty want meaningful conversation with the Board of Trustees.

The board made a change to the Washing-ton and Lee bylaws that stripped faculty of their influence in issues dealing with student discipline. This decision has prompted several faculty members to speak out about feeling overlooked.

The change happened during a closed session at the board’s meeting on Feb. 5 and 6 without consulting the nine faculty representatives to the board, who are intended to be relied upon as advisors. The representatives were present during the open session the morning of Feb. 5.

The specific change was the removal of the faculty’s responsibility for “the discipline and government of the students and all student organizations” from chapter four, paragraph three of the University Bylaws. This means the faculty no longer have any say in student discipline matters that fall outside of honor violations, such as greek life infractions.

Toni Locy, journalism professor and faculty representative to the board, resigned in protest to the board’s secrecy and lack of communication via email Feb. 10.

“We were there. We were there that morning,” Locy said. “And they still did not tell us what they were about to discuss. They did not ask us, you know, what we thought.”

Her resignation may have helped encourage five other faculty representatives to write a letter to the Board of Trustees and Rector Mike McAlevey on Feb. 12. In this letter, the representatives demanded that two faculty members be added as voting members of the board. They closed their letter by issuing an ultimatum: if they didn’t hear back by Feb. 19, all five would step down.

Following the Feb. 12 letter to the board, the Faculty Affairs Committee met and began collecting signatures on a letter of support for the Feb. 12 letter. This effort was paused Feb. 16 in a letter of postponement when McAlevey reached out to the five representatives and offered to meet.

Drew Hess, business professor and a faculty representative to the board, said there were no new developments after the meeting be-tween the faculty representatives and McAlevey and other members of the board.

“We decided we could continue conversation between the two groups in the weeks ahead,” Hess said

Locy said she believes that even if the faculty members were allowed a voice in the is-sue, it’s possible that they would have agreed with the change. But they were most upset that they weren’t consulted, she said

“The debate over whether faculty should possess oversight over discipline of students and student organizations is contentious.” Locy said in her letter of resignation. “Some faculty don’t want the responsibility.”

But Locy said she wants the responsibility and a say in student discipline for issues like drunk driving, hazing and sexual assault. 

She said in her resignation letter that the bylaw change might be in retaliation for the faculty choosing to postpone greek recruitment or the faculty voting 188-51 to remove Robert E. Lee’s name from Washington and Lee University this past summer.

“This round of board meetings made it clear to me that several trustees are livid with faculty over our resolution last summer for Robert E. Lee to be dropped from the university’s name,” Locy wrote. “Those trustees appear to have gotten back at faculty with the rewrite of the bylaws.”

However, on the “FAQs Regarding University Bylaws” webpage, the Board of Trustees said the opposite.

Absolutely not. The change was not made in response to pressure from students or parents, or to the faculty resolution,” the website said.

Still, Locy said her resignation was a long time coming. Since becoming a faculty representative to the board last summer, she said she witnessed pushback from board members against hiring people of color to the faculty on several occasions. She also said that as a representative she felt more like a stenographer than part of the conversation, despite being told that she would have a voice.

“It was as if I hadn’t even spoken in some cases.” Locy said. “It has evolved into a situation where the faculty representatives have been treated as if they’re sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving. You know, to be seen, not heard.”

The meeting between McAlevey and the five representatives is set to occur sometime in the next few weeks. Locy said she hopes that positive change will emerge.

“This is about, do faculty have a part to play in shared governance in this University? And right now it doesn’t look like we do,” Locy said.