Senate focus may shift
By Matt Kelly
Thirty-six members of the Faculty Senate debated the body’s future, looking at what it has done over the past 10 years and where it should focus its efforts over the next five to seven years. The senate also used the occasion of its annual retreat on Jan. 27 to examine how it interacts with the administration.
Several senators argued that the body should change its focus, which in recent years has been directed mostly at graduate student and undergraduate issues, and instead advocate for faculty concerns. These include recruitment and retention, work-life issues and supporting research and intellectual life at the University.
During the four-hour retreat, faculty members broke into discussion groups facilitated by John Pickering and Tyler St. Clair of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Much of the discussion dealt with quality-of-life issues such as increased salaries, housing support, family leave and tuition benefits for faculty children, many of which faculty members said are offered at other universities. Senate Chairman Houston G. Wood said he had already talked with Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget, about the tuition benefits issue. He said the issue has not been rejected.
A group discussing work-life concerns said faculty need more support staff, up-to-date technology, more workspace and streamlined procedures.
“We have a critical space problem,” one senator said. “People retreat to their homes to do their work, and we get isolated.”
The research group said the senate should help in promoting individual research, increasing travel budgets, streamlining polices and procedures for sponsored research and advising the provost on research issues.
While there were questions about altering the senate itself — such as extending the term of the chairmanship, revamping the committee system and changing how the senators gather feedback from and disseminate information to their constituents — others feared that restructuring the body would bog down the senators and divert them from the quality-of-life issues.
The senate has been selecting an annual theme, but some members said that the group’s focus changes each year and some goals are too broad to be handled in a single year.
Two previous chairmen, Marcia Day Childress and Rebecca D. Kneedler, outlined some of the senate’s accomplishments in the past 10 years. These included postponing fraternity and sorority rush; creating undergraduate research awards; helping to form the Undergraduate Research Network and the Center for Undergraduate Excellence to promote undergraduate research; and establishing a dissertation-year fellowship for graduate students. Some senators cited the senate’s position statement on the University charter initiative as the type of work on which the senate should be focused.
“The Faculty Senate is one of the few threads linking all 10 schools at the University,” Childress said.
Wood said the senate’s executive committee would sort through the information from the retreat and try to have some of the suggestions implemented by the end of his term in June. There are two senate meetings scheduled for the spring, and Wood is considering adding a third to go over issues from the retreat.
“I was very impressed and pleased” with how the retreat turned out, said Wood, who had set the afternoon’s agenda. “The senators are very much involved and have put energy into this project. They want to change the senate. This is what I wanted. I think all organizations need periodic change.”