A Boston Herald editorial this week claimed that faculty are merely whining about process. Process, however, just means following the rules -- in this case, a principle called "joint effort" -- formally adopted by the UMass Board of Trustees. We all depend on "process" for everything from ensuring fair treatment when we get a parking ticket to defending our fundamental freedoms like habeas corpus or freedom of speech. Replace "process" with, say, "freedom of speech" in the statement from the Herald and you get something like: "this reflexive whine-fest among some journalists is all about freedom of speech". Most journalists would argue that freedom of speech is a big deal. For faculty, the idea that the University is governed by the principle of joint effort is also a big deal.
The recent events highlight an important difference between academia and top-down models of governance, like business and our current national government. Business employees are not surprised if they are not consulted when there is a shakeup in management and might wonder why the faculty are upset. In our national government, it has become clear that the voices of the constituents mean little, when people like Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales hang onto their posts long after the public has made its opinion known. So the public may be excused if they fail to see what's happening at the University as anything out-of-the-ordinary.
Academia is intentionally organized differently than business and government. Scholarship, to be free to pursue the truth, needs to be protected from the vagaries of momentary economic or political influence. Professors pass through an arduous process to receive a doctorate and tenure. Academia does not generally offer competitive salaries as reward for this dedication, but instead provides academic freedom, tenure, and the right to joint effort in the governance of the institution.
In Massachusetts, the principle of joint effort is outlined in the Wellman Document, originally adopted by the Board of Trustees in 1973. The primary responsibility for "academic matters and faculty status" rests with the faculty. The Board of Trustees, "while retaining its ultimate legal authority in governing the University, recognizes that the faculty, the students, and other groups within the University have the right, the responsibility, and the privilege of advising on policies affecting the University. The Board will ensure these rights, responsibilities, and privileges through the various governing bodies