April 3, 2007 -- Faculty Senate members added their voices to the discussions about the future of the University on March 27.
About 30 senators, divided into several discussion groups, used a work session to develop lists of concerns and proposals to influence the deliberations on the Commission on the Future of the University, which President John T. Casteen III announced at the January Board of Visitors meeting, and the vice president and provost search process, slated to conclude in May.
Among senators’ concerns were the relations between faculty and donors; graduate student participation in the money-raising process; the faculty’s role in developing and reviewing proposals for new schools and programs; need for a tenure plan for the hundreds of new teachers to be hired over the next 10 years; how to work around the physical and financial boundaries separating faculty members and programs; and getting greater clarity on the senate’s role in advising the administration.
These concerns will help determine the focus of the senate’s committee on planning and development and its faculty, retention and welfare committee. Many of the senators who attended the session are also on subcommittees of the Commission on the Future of the University and will be able to introduce some of these ideas there.
Senators also mulled over enlarging and enhancing the role of the vice president and provost. Gene D. Block, the current vice president and provost, who will become chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles this summer, said that there are many facets to his job, some of which should be reassessed and possibly shed. Senators discussed whether an enhanced provost, possibly an “executive vice president,” should be more heavily engaged in fundraising. Some argued that the provost should be more involved in academic matters, while others thought a provost influencing fund-raising decisions and donor relations would present the academic viewpoint.
Senate Chairman Kenneth A. Schwartz called the provost a “vital point of contact” for faculty leaders.
“I don’t want [the provost] on the road five days a week,” one faculty member said.
Senate Chairman-elect Ricardo Padron, an associate professor in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, said having a new provost may be an opportunity to reshuffle relationships, and a time to set more guidelines on the senate’s role.
“If the senate is going to have an impact, there needs to be more clarity about when it is consulted,” he said.
One group, looking at the core needs of the faculty, was concerned that donors to the University are attracted by “new ideas,” not the “bread-and-butter,” day-to-day work of the faculty.
“We have to figure out how to package that to appeal to donors,” said senator Deborah Johnson, chair of the Department of Science, Technology and Society, a spokeswoman for her group.
Senator Teresa Culver’s group also called for programs to be evaluated on how they fit future needs. “Is this something that will carry us forward,” asked Culver, an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering,. “If not, then we need to rethink it.”
Tenure plans need to be worked out for the hundreds of new hires the University will see in the next 10 years, said Janet Herman, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, speaking for the same group, which suggested fund raising for chaired positions at the assistant professor and associate professor levels. There was also discussion of raising money for faculty salaries and professional development.
Planning and Development Committee Chairman Marcia D. Childress, speaking for the group that examined faculty/donor interaction, said the faculty feels disconnected from donors, though with the University being decentralized, there are different perceptions at different schools. Faculty want to be more involved in developing ideas, determining needs and identifying donors, said Childress, an associate professor of medical education. Undergraduates and graduate students should also be involved in making presentations to donors, to educate contributors to the role of graduate students and the mentoring they provide.
Childress’ group also suggested taking advantage of the University’s “sense of place” to provide stimulating intellectual programs for alumni and donors, to give them a better opportunity to connect with the University and its community.
Senator Elizabeth Powell, an associate professor in the Darden Graduate School of Business, who represented her table, which discussed senate engagement with new initiatives, said that the senate should help develop proposals, instead of reacting to them, and think through all the implications. For proposals such as creating new schools, the senate should review the criteria as it now reviews a new degree program. She said there was also some concern on where the Faculty Senate would get involved in a “big idea,” such as a new school.
Some senators want more communication within the University community, complaining about programs initiated without consulting all the people affected.
After the meeting, Schwartz said the information would be passed on to both the Commission on the Future of the University, which has been charged with examining the University’s position among schools around the country now and over the next 10 years, and the senate’s own planning and development committee.
Schwartz opened the meeting telling the senators that the University was in a time of great change, with the commission on the University’s future, the hiring of a new vice president and provost and a new dean for the College of Arts & Sciences. He said many members of the senate were involved in the process, at the request of the senate’s executive committee.
“Many are willing to engage,” Schwartz said. “When faculty realize their voices have meaning, they get involved.”
The senators also discussed recommendations from the academic affairs committee on possible faculty title changes to differentiate tenure track faculty from non-tenure track. The committee’s report is currently being revised and will be presented to the senate at a later time.
The next Faculty Senate meeting is on May 2 at 3 p.m. in the Commonwealth Room at Newcomb Hall.
There is more information on the Faculty Senate at http://www.virginia.edu/facultysenate/