Welcome to our meeting, and to the work of the Faculty Senate for the Spring semester of 2008. I’d like to start by reporting to you on some things the Senate has been doing since our last meeting, and then giving you some idea of our objectives for the current semester.
The end of the fall semester saw a flurry of activity on the part of a small group of Senators who were serving on the Commission for the Future of the University. Much of this work revolved around the lead document of the Commission report, a piece called “Strategies for the Future of the University,” which is available as a PDF on the website of the Office of the Provost. I would like to encourage each and every one of you to read this document, and to encourage your colleagues to do the same. It outlines a broad vision for the University, one which the Provost has sketched for us in his public presentations here and elsewhere, and which has been shaped by the input of many constituencies, including the Senate. You’ll see there a commitment to build the sciences, to internationalize the University, and to further strengthen the student experience. You will also see clear recognition of the importance of meeting core needs, such as the hiring of additional faculty and the construction of new and improved spaces for teaching and research. You will also see how these plans are articulated as elements of a larger aspiration, to become the model of a university dedicated to the public good.
The work of the Commission was carried out in a very short timeframe, and will certainly show limitations stemming from the hurried pace at which it was carried out, but it also provides a model for the sort of transparency and inclusivity that the Senate has long advocated. Those of you who attended our October 3rd work session providing feedback to the Commission’s work will see quite clearly, upon comparing what was said at the session and what appears in the Commission reports, the many and significant ways in which the Commission documents incorporate the suggestions made by the Senate. I would like to thank the Commission Chairs, Tim Garson and Leonard Sandrige, for making this possible, and Justin Thompson for working so hard to make it a reality. Sadly, this sort of transparency and inclusivity has not always been characteristic of the way that major decisions have been made at our University. We can all think of examples of major innovations or developments that appeared as if from nowhere, with minimal faculty consultation, or even with none at all. It is my sincere hope that the work of the Commission signals a change in this aspect of our University culture, that future decisions regarding the shape and strategy of the institution will build upon its example.
Much of what the Senate will be doing in the spring semester can be understood as an attempt to advance the objectives outlined in the Commission documents, and to further develop a culture of open and inclusive consultation. But first, let me mention the progress we are making in some of our meat and potatoes business. The Research and Scholarship Committee, chaired by Amy Bouton, is in the process of reviewing the applications for Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards. The committee has received eighty applications: the winners will be announced on Monday, February 11th. Meanwhile, the Dissertation-Year Fellowship Committee, chaired by Stephen Macko, will begin review of the applications next week. We presently have (only!) five fellowships, and are waiting to hear about funding for two more. I’d like to remind all Senators that the deadline for applications is February 1, 2008, this Friday. The request for nominations has been posted in the Cavalier Daily, and e-mailed to various schools, departments and individuals, and is on the Faculty Senate Web Site. Decisions regarding the awards will be made by March 3, 2008, with presentation of the awards on March 21, 2008. And the Policy Committee, chaired by Teresa Culver, has been actively participating in the review of new, revised or migrated policies at a rate of three or four per month. My thanks to all involved for their work on these important ongoing projects. My thanks go also to the Senators who participated in the work of the ad hoc Working Group on Promotion and Tenure chaired by Alfred Weaver. Last semester, Gertrude Fraser and Milton Adams of the Provost’s Office asked the Senate for feedback on a series of recommendations for the reform of policies governing tenure and promotion at the University. Alf’s Working Group produced a report that was reviewed by the Executive Committee. That report has since been submitted to Gertrude and Milton, and is available for you to read on the Senate’s website. As you will see, it endorses clarity of expectations and transparency of process in promotion and tenure proceedings, but expresses mixed opinions about other proposed reforms. It is only a preliminary reaction, however, to work that is still ongoing in the Provost’s Office, and that will eventually involve much more broad-based consultation. Lastly, I would like to heartily thank the members of the Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Welfare Committee, chaired by Jennifer Harvey, who are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of their work on the faculty survey. Their report should be available to the public near the end of February. There will be a presentation of their findings at either the March or the April Senate meeting.
Mention of the survey report brings me back to my larger theme. The survey data decisively confirms something that many of us suspected was true: the members of the General Faculty are dissatisfied with the lack of transparency in the governance of the university, particularly as it affects them. In fact, while it is impossible on the basis of the survey data to identify a single issue that stands out decisively among the many concerns expressed by the tenure-track faculty, this issue emerges as a clear priority for the General Faculty. This issue will now be addressed, ambitiously so. The Provost has asked the Senate to conduct a review of the policies governing the General Faculty, and to make suggestions about ways in which it should be changed. The Executive Council, in turn, has voted to go ahead with this project. The Senate will appoint a committee to carry out this review, and will invite the General Faculty Council to name members. It will also coordinate its work with the Provost’s Office and in Human Resources, units that have already embarked on their own reviews of General Faculty policy. By shifting the center of gravity of this work to the Senate, we hope to enhance the voice of the faculty in the process. That process will not simply take up once again the matter of faculty titles: it will review all aspects of policy affecting the General Faculty, including such issues as Expectation of Continuing Employment, reassignment, and participation in departmental, school, and university governance. The goal will not necessarily be to make all General Faculty jobs alike, nor will it be – and I emphasize this – to systematically deprive the General Faculty of prerogatives or opportunities. Rather, the goal will be clarify the rights and roles of General Faculty in the different capacities in which they serve at the University. Too often, the treatment of General Faculty is left to the culture of individual units, producing dramatic inconsistencies in the ways that members of the General Faculty are treated from one department to another. Too often, the quality of their work environment is left to the cultural norms of those units, when it should be a matter of policy. The Senate’s Task Force on General Faculty policy will aim to rationalize these and other matters in ways that are good for the University, and good for the members of the General Faculty that serve it.
Finally, I return to echoes of last semester. The Planning and Development Committee is pursuing its ongoing engagement with the University’s larger strategy and objectives through a variety of projects. One of these is an event we have been calling the “Conversation on the Sciences.” This event will provide a forum for faculty in the STEM disciplines to discuss the state of scientific and technical work at the University, and to share ideas for its future development. It responds to a cry from various Senators for public engagement with the report of the Washington Advisory Committee, and is meant to provide a venue in which STEM faculty can begin to articulate a shared vision, in consultation with the appropriate deans and, eventually, the new Vice-President for Research. The event is being organized by a group of scientists drawn from the various schools. Stay tuned for details about date and format. Yet another group will be convened to deliberate upon the matter of Sustainability studies at the University. At our last meeting, we had some discussion about a potential School for the Environment, and heard the President talk about at as a novel sort of interdisciplinary unit bringing the sciences together with law, public policy, and other disciplines. The Senate Task Force for UVa Sustainability Studies will be charged with deliberating what form a major new initiative for the interdisciplinary study of issues related to the environment could and should take. Its purpose will be to consolidate and assess existing arguments, and carry forward the conversation about Sustainability studies at UVA in ways that will allow the broader faculty to remain informed and become engaged. It is my hope that the work of this Task Force will eventually involve a public meeting of some sort, at which members of our community will be able to debate the merits of various possibilities. This Task Force has yet to be appointed, and I invite members of the University community who consider themselves to be stakeholders in its work to identify themselves to the Senate as soon as possible. Should the Task Force decide that some sort of degree-granting entity is appropriate for U.Va., it will be asked to meet with the Academic Affairs Committee, which is in the process of developing a template for what is required of proposals for new schools, and of defining a process by which these proposals will be vetted. Although the details have yet to be finalized, I expect that process to include safeguards meant to ensure transparency and inclusive consultation in the process of bringing such proposals forward.
Today, however, we will be focused on other matters. After hearing from the reports of the President and Provost, we will hear from Craig Littlepage, the Director of Athletics, who will provide us with his annual report to the Senate. After some brief announcements from our Committee Chairs, we will then be hearing from the University’s Director of Emergency Preparedness, Marge Sidebottom. Our Committee Chairs have kindly foregone their usual opportunity to report on committee work in order to make time for conversation with Ms. Sidebottom, who will engage us on the crucial issue of the faculty’s role in responding to various sorts of emergency situations. I look forward to the dialogue with all four of our presenters today.