Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Faculty Senate Primary Elections

We are having primary elections for Faculty Senate today across campus. With the raging debates about the future directions of UWO all over campus, there will surely be a high turnout and tightly contested results. . . .

Wait--I must have been dreaming. Does anybody actually care who serves on the faculty senate? Does anyone even know WHO is in the senate. I browsed the faculty senate web-page, and found that it has not been updated for 3 years. It does give you a sense of its irrellevancy, when there is not even an easily accessible public record of their activities.

It would have been nice to look back and see the resolutions that approved the retake policy, but I suppose I would have to schlep over to Dempsey to find them.

Perhaps if the faculty senate got active and assertively defended the quality of education here on campus, we could be better off.


lammers said...

Our department's senator sends us all a nice summary after each meeting. Very helpful.

tony palmeri said...

When I was chair of the Department of Communication I had a "Faculty and Academic Staff Senate Update" placed on every department meeting agenda. That worked well, and current Chair Kay Neal has continued to do the same thing. --Tony

Lake Winneblogo said...

It is good to hear that there are some departments that are keeping the rest of the faculty abreast of developments in the Senate. Unfortunately, that is not true in mine.

Are there examples of the faculty senate making big differences in policy here on campus? I would be interested in hearing stories--especially since Tony was a past president!

tony palmeri said...

Lake Winneblogo,

In my opinion the Senate has made a big difference on some personnel rules. Three examples that come immediately to mind are the linking of tenure with promotion to associate professor, reducing the number of renewal decisions a probationary faculty member must face before coming up for tenure (it used to be that a probationary faculty member came up for renewal every year, creating a situation where one often spent more time trying to make it look like they were producing something worthwhile than actually doing so), and creating a salary equity policy that is still inadequate but much better than it was years ago. Professor Simmons I am sure can name many other personnel issues that have been reformed positively as a result of the Senate's actions. (As a general rule administrators take the credit for anything positive that happens, and so it becomes reasonable for people to conclude that the Senate was either a barrier or rubber stamp.).

As regards the educational mission of the campus, the Senate there is hampered by the fact that a University is a "loosely coupled" organization in which we want to maximize departmental autonomy. Most education reforms on our campus originate from individual departments or colleges, and in my experience the Senate is rarely a barrier to such reforms. Thus the "big differences" as regards education are generally differences initiated by departments (as when the English department proposed the Theme Based Inquiry Courses and Math proposed the Problem Based equivalents).

But the departmental autonomy has a down side: every time a Senator suggests a major change in academic policy there is an immediate outburst from affected departments and/or Deans and thus change is usually stifled. The best example I can think of involves reforming our academic calender to include a finals week. Most people on our campus would agree that whatever the benefits the 14 week semester/3 week interim calender has, it is not the most educational (I don't think I've given a comprehenive final exam in 15 years). Yet to even introduce the topic of reform of the calender produces virulent reactions from departments that have become accustomed to it, and so the discussion dies almost before it even starts. The same is true of topics like general education reform and restructuring of the academic colleges.

The major problem with the Faculty Senate, in my opinion, has to do with problems inherent in the shared governance model itself. On paper, "shared governance" looks great: an almost utopian model of administration, faculty, academic staff, and students working together to create an institution that values learning and creates policies that help enhance the possibilities of it. But in actual practice, only the administrators have the time and the resources to govern. The Senate does not even have a budget to pay someone to update its freakin' Web site! I'm not trying to make excuses for the Faculty Senate, but as a practical matter it is difficult for a group of people that are teaching and researching full-time to assert themselves politically, especially when they have literally zero staff outside a program assistant to do the research, organization, etc. necessary to govern effectively.

Faculty on campuses with collective bargaining units tend to have more effective and visible influence on campus policies, largely because in such units everything affecting the educational mission is subject to contract negotiations. Someday UW faculty and academic staff will wake up and realize that unionization is the only way to ensure workplace conditions conducing to teaching and professional excellence. You should consider coming to Reeve Union 220 on Friday at 3 p.m. to meet Kevin Kniffin of AFT/Wisconsin. He'll talk about what is happening in Madison as regards collective bargaining and the System's proposed dismissal rules (our attendance at such meeting is never large so if you do come you run the risk of revealing the identity of the Blogo!).