UW News

October 11, 2001

Faculty Senate will conduct more of its business without using paper

By Lea B. Vaughn
Secretary of the Faculty

Most of the environments in which we, as faculty and staff, now work are “wired.” One of the last “hard copy” domains at the University has been faculty governance, and the maintenance of the University Handbook.

The Faculty Senate and the Secretary of the Faculty provide a number of governance and informational services to faculty and the larger University community. Among the most important are the handbook (including the Faculty Code), the Faculty Preference Survey (seeking volunteers for faculty councils and committees), the Guide to Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, balloting procedures for electing new senators as well as voting on Class A legislation, and the publication of Class C bulletins that include minutes of Faculty Senate meetings and a yearly report of councils. Currently, all Faculty Senate elections are conducted using a paper ballot, and faculty are informed about Faculty Senate initiatives and business in lengthy paper Class C bulletins.

The truth is that all of this has become very costly. One typical Class C bulletin mailing can cost $3,500 to $4,000. The figure is roughly the same for sending out paper ballots.

The reams of paper that are used cause the environmentalist in me embarrassment and chagrin. And, most damningly, anecdotal and survey data as well as experience suggests that many faculty do not read or use any of this paper flowing across their desks despite the importance of many Senate initiatives for their careers.

After a review of the cost of “hard copy” operation, both in terms of actual fiscal and staff cost, as well as the way in which this affects governance, the Faculty Senate, the Secretary of the Faculty, and the Office of University Committees will begin a transition to electronic forms of communication and governance.

Some of these changes have already taken place, more are being phased in, and a discrete few will require some changes in the Faculty Code and University Handbook. The purpose of this article is to alert the University community to these changes and to seek advice and comments about the planned changes.

The most obvious change is the status of the University Handbook. For the last two or three years, the only accurate and up-to-date copy of the handbook has been maintained on the Faculty Senate Web page. Thus, the delivery of the handbook, which is required in Section 21-71 of the Faculty Code, will be done only electronically.

The benefit to the entire community is that the handbook is now available at the “click” of a mouse to everyone, not just to those in the know about “reference stations.”

Additionally, the Faculty Senate maintains accurate copies of pending legislation at its Web page, and we plan to place regular notices in University Week announcing any changes to the handbook. When the Operations Manual becomes available electronically, much of the rationale behind the Reference Station system will vanish.

Another change that will be made this fall is that Class B and Class C bulletins will be sent electronically. As they become available, faculty will be sent an e-mail that, most likely, will give faculty the choice of opening the bulletin as an attachment or viewing the bulletin on the Faculty Senate Web pages.

This system of communicating with faculty will be supplemented by a new system of “list proc” or e-mail discussion group management that Brad Holt, Chair, Faculty Senate, has initiated this year. Each Faculty Senate group will have its own e-mail discussion list so that group representatives can communicate with senators in their group.

We plan to use e-mail judiciously so that messages don’t fall prey to the automatic “delete” response. Similarly, assuming that our database will accommodate it, the Faculty Preference Survey will be delivered and tabulated electronically this year.

Finally, the Faculty Senate Web page is becoming the best source of news and information about faculty policies and initiatives. Beginning this year, every faculty council and committee will have its own Web page accessed through the Faculty Senate page.

Another addition is that the latest publication of the Guide to Faculty Rights and Responsibilities is now available on the Faculty Senate Web pages. This guide describes faculty employment policies as well as having a comprehensive description of resources (with links) to aid in career development.

My plan is that this electronic guide will become a “one stop” source of information for faculty at all stages of their careers, but especially for junior faculty.

The thorniest remaining problem remains that of balloting, both for class A legislation that amends the Faculty Code, and for senators. When the faculty was last surveyed about electronic balloting, the response was generally negative because of the lack of security.

In the intervening time, however, security has improved and the Faculty Senate staff has had more experience with conducting confidential surveys. The UIF survey, which many faculty completed last academic year, was a real success for this type of approach.

But because of the wording of the code provisions regarding balloting, and because of the centrality of the vote to any governance system, I will be asking the Faculty Council on Faculty Affairs to develop legislation that would permit electronic balloting.

At the same time, because these procedures affect all members of the University community, especially staff who typically conduct unit elections, I am seeking comments about these plans. Please write me at secfac@u.washington.edu with your comments and ideas.

Senate to meet

The Faculty Senate will meet at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 in 301 Gowen. The major item on the agenda is legislation pertaining to distance learning. The legislation will standardize policies and procedures for offering distance learning courses and lessen the distinctions between these courses and courses offered in residence.

The proposal places authority for review of undergraduate residence requirement waivers and of undergraduate DL-degree proposals in the hands of the Faculty Senate.

Faculty are encouraged to read the legislation on the Web at http://www.washington.edu/faculty/facsen/memrec_bulletins.html.