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June 5, 2008

Faculty Senate chair looks back

What a year! It went by in a flash, with some goals accomplished and others not. Looking back, it seems unrealistic to expect that a Senate chair can have much impact during a short one-year term. Still, I found that being chair of the Faculty Senate was an interesting and satisfying experience and well worth the effort.

Achievements of the senate included passage of Class A legislation that defined procedures for removal of Faculty Senate officers and the secretary of the faculty, Class B legislation that defined undergraduate cross-campus enrollment policy as well as several Class C resolutions. Bills were introduced during the state legislative session in both houses to include a faculty member on the Board of Regents. Unfortunately, these did not make it out of committee. The Faculty Senate also supported legislation to improve child care facilities. This passed in both houses but was vetoed by the governor.

Other achievements included conducting the first election of the secretary of the faculty instead of this position being a presidential appointment; a resolution to install seat belts in University-operated vans that was supported by the president and approved by the University Transportation Committee; and the preparation of two documents that are now online on the senate Web site that describe resources and procedures available to faculty when they need to resolve a work-related dispute.

The senate began work on three complicated issues that will continue next year: 1) revision of the RCEP process (Reorganization, Consolidation & Elimination of Programs); 2) restructuring of the senate and Senate Executive Committee for them to be more effective as deliberative bodies; and 3) possible formation of a College of the Environment.

I would like to thank the president and provost for recognizing the importance of shared governance as we established a good working relationship. A pleasant surprise was working with and reporting to the Board of Regents. While the administration, the Board of Regents and the faculty each have their own agenda, a common goal is that all are working for the common good and welfare of the University. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the job was the people I worked with on a day-to-day basis in the senate office. They were wonderful colleagues who saved me from many mistakes, although I still found a way to make too many.

Important lessons learned included the realization that the best of intentions will not prevent misunderstandings. The key to minimizing such misunderstandings is to communicate, communicate, communicate — and communicate down (to the senators and faculty) as well as up (to the president and provost). I could have done better at both, but particularly the former. A second lesson was to ask questions of those who know (I didn’t ask enough). Third, there is just not enough time to do everything (although I felt badly about not getting to some things). Fourth, some problems just don’t seem solvable to everyone’s satisfaction, given the diverse and conflicting interests of members of our University community. This is complicated by the fact that people often assume the worst when they hear about something. Finally, while it is good to have an agenda, it has to be kept short, as unexpected events will distract a senate chair from pursuing a planned agenda.

And so it goes — the work of the Faculty Senate. In any one particular year, advances seem relatively small. But over the years, despite the cynicism of some faculty, the record shows that the work of the senate has resulted in significant improvements in the lot of the faculty and has more clearly defined the enduring core values of the University of Washington.