The mission of the Faculty Senate is, according to its constitution, “to provide a forum in which the elected representatives of the faculty may, without restraint, freely express their thoughts on issues of specific and general concern to the members of the academic community.” To that end, it meets nine times an academic year and has subcommittees to investigate and answer charges — directions to look further into areas of interest.
These subcommittees are meant to address everything from student affairs to “academic computing.” Over the summer, the Steering Committee condenses charges based on feedback from faculty and senators from the previous year. At the beginning of the school year, Senate members vote on which charges to accept and delegate to subcommittees. Each subcommittee already has a standing charge which essentially summarizes its purpose. For example, the Library Committee is supposed to “concern itself with all phases of the University Libraries.”
The standing charge for the Financial Review Committee allows it access to confidential information. Because of the charge, administration has a duty to explain their financial decisions to the Senate every year. Senators can then affirm to faculty that they think the university is being managed properly. Dr. Bradley Brummel, psychology professor and president of Faculty Senate, said that Senate recently changed its bylaws to add another member to this committee for added expertise in financial matters.
The Faculty Affairs committee is charged with monitoring the implementation of the “Faculty Senate Strategic Plan for Faculty Development.” Dr. Brummel explained that the plan involves providing faculty with more resources for development and higher pay, among other things. He said Senate has kept this as a charge to highlight the fact that faculty feel they aren’t supported as much as they should be in terms of money for development, salaries and benefits.
The Senate, after all, is meant to make recommendations. Its constitution gives it the power to do so, but not the power to fund anything. There are University committees that report to Senate, but the Senate committees conduct investigations regarding Senate’s charges specifically. After a year, the investigation can come with a recommendation, at which point the senate can vote to make the recommendation stronger by creating a resolution — what Dr. Brummel says is “a stronger voice saying faculty really wants something.”
Ultimately, decision-making falls to administrators and the Board of Trustees. If they ignore Faculty Senate, that could lead to stronger statements from faculty. But Dr. Brummel clarified that there has not been a contentious relationship between Senate and administration. Lately, the most far-reaching issues senators have voted on include establishing a position for Vice President of Diversity and continuing to grade without incorporating a “plus-minus” system.
Rather than try to do the administration’s job, Dr. Brummel said, senators just want to “have [their] voices heard.”
Precisely because there are so many different voices, he said it can be challenging to effectively convey the a cohesive faculty perspective. Yet he enjoys that the position gives him a better understanding of how the university works. Part of the idea behind senate, he thinks, is educating the faculty; when they receive certain charges, they have to talk to administration to “figure out what we’re doing and is what we’re doing state of the art.”
At first he didn’t know what Faculty Senate was or how it worked, but after participating in it, he thinks another part of Senate’s value is facilitating discussions across colleges. He said senators can learn about how other colleges do things and understand why perspectives are different. As president, he has been surprised with how often he talks with Dr. Clancy because of the recent university president transition.
Previously, Dr. Brummel had been vice president and a member of the Steering Committee. Recommendations for vice president and president go through this committee, and both positions rotate between all five colleges (including Law).
Right now, there are 35 elected members of the senate and eight administrators. Elections are every April. Faculty members eligible for nomination are full-time resident faculty members who have completed at least a year of the job before beginning their terms. Senators meet once a month.