Sept. 6, 2007 — Ricardo Padrón, associate professor of Spanish, chairs the Faculty Senate this year. He recently sat down with the U.Va. Media Relations Office to talk about his role and his agenda for the year.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish as the Faculty Senate chairman?
A. I hope to build on my predecessors' work forging a strong voice for faculty concerns, involving constructive engagement with the administration and openness to the concerns of the entire faculty. A central issue will be the work of the Commission on the Future of the University. Many senators are members of both the commission and the Senate’s Planning & Development Committee. The Senate will work closely with the commission to ensure its planning objectives address faculty concerns, many of which revolve around funding core needs, including hiring new faculty and funding graduate study.
Q. The University's leadership is going through a period of extensive change. How much of a role will the faculty, and the Senate, play in shaping this change?
A. Faculty will play a significant role, primarily as members of search committees to fill vacant deanships. The Senate needs to be involved without impinging on the prerogatives of the individual schools hiring deans.
Q. What would you like to do for graduate students during your time at the helm of the Senate?
A. The problems facing grad study cannot be remedied without funding. I will continue to advocate funding for our dissertation-year fellowships, and would like to see it figure prominently in the development plan that emerges from the Commission on the Future of the University. I hope that this would be part of a larger program to fund other aspects of graduate study, such as stipends during non-dissertation years and reduced teaching loads.
Q. How can the Faculty Senate encourage diversity and ensure the highest quality hires?
A. The Faculty Senate is committed to the diversification of the faculty, in terms of gender as well as race and ethnicity. We need to better appreciate the demonstrated link between diversity and excellence. The Senate will continue to support the work of Bill Harvey, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, and Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for faculty advancement, in educating the faculty about this.
Q. You have advised faculty members to "take advantage of the change" coming to the University. How?
A. Periods of change should represent opportunities for self-assessment and reflection. When we replace faculty or administrators, or hire for new positions, we cannot simply reproduce what we have always been. We have to have a strategic vision for the future, one that accommodates change where change is necessary or advantageous.
Q. You have called for faculty members to be more collaborative. How?
A. The Senate cuts horizontally across disciplines, bringing together faculty senators from all the schools and various departments. It provides a forum for sharing expertise and for articulating a vision not rooted in any single school or discipline. But the departments and schools themselves need to create a culture of intellectual collaboration, along with structures to support it. The Senate can assist in the design and approval of cross-disciplinary programs.
Q. During the Faculty Senate's March planning meeting, senators expressed concern over a variety of issues. What do you see the Senate doing in the next several years to address these concerns?
A. This depends on what the University does. The University needs to develop a more robust and consistent planning process to take the place of the ad hoc efforts such as the Virginia 2020 Commissions and the Commission on the Future of the University. If the University takes this step, then it will be the job of the Senate to engage with whatever structure is created. Until it does so, however, it will be the job of the Senate to assure that a faculty voice is included in any ongoing planning and development efforts.
Q. You have called for more communication within the University. What steps need to be taken?
A. This is an ongoing problem rooted in our decentralized structure. We could make use of online tools to encourage communication and collaboration among the different units and individual faculty members. I have begun talking with administrators about developing online tools for this.
Q. What three things could the University do to make U.Va. an ideal place for faculty?
A. Personally, I believe those three things are: one, fund graduate study to make it competitive with peer institutions; two, increase support for research, particularly in the sciences; and three, improve benefits to make us more competitive in hiring and retaining top faculty. We are finalizing our survey of faculty satisfaction, and the list that emerges from that may be different [from mine]. That list will guide the Faculty Senate.
Q. Faculty's traditional missions are teaching, research and service. Does the University strike the correct balance in those areas?
A. U.Va. does a fairly good job in this regard. It is a strong research university that values education, particularly undergraduate education, and that does not neglect its obligations to the public at large. Where it fails to strike a balance is in the relative value given to undergraduate vs. graduate (not professional) education. The University does very well by its undergrads, but not by its graduate students. Redressing this imbalance is crucial to enhancing its research profile.
The next Faculty Senate meeting will be held in the Rotunda Dome Room from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 25. For more information, visit www.virginia.edu/facultysenate/.