UW News

October 23, 2008

New Faculty Senate Chair David Lovell sees busy year ahead

Washington state Speaker of the House Frank Chopp will be in attendance at the first Faculty Senate meeting of the academic year today. He’s expected to discuss the upcoming session of the Legislature and to hear the concerns of UW faculty.

It’s a fitting opening for the senate’s new chair, David Lovell, who served as faculty legislative representative before becoming vice chair last year.

“He’s the second most important official in the state, and we’re interested in hearing his view of what’s going to be happening in the session,” Lovell said of Chopp. “I think it will be an important educational occasion — for us and for the speaker.”

Lovell is the first senate chair to come from the ranks of non-tenure-track research faculty, who were only granted the right to vote and be members of the senate in 2001. A research associate professor in Psychosocial & Community Health (part of the School of Nursing), he began as a senator in 2001 before serving as a member of the Senate Executive Committee.

He says the Faculty Senate has an ambitious agenda for the year. At the top of that agenda is the new College of the Environment. Over the course of the year, decisions will be made as to which units and individuals will be part of the new college.

“The senate’s Committee on Planning and Budgeting is officially involved in the procedure for doing that,” Lovell said. “It’s called the Reorganization, Consolidation and Elimination of Programs procedure, or RCEP.”

Although final decisions will rest with the provost, Lovell said the senate’s role in RCEP helps ensure that the faculty’s values and interests are taken into account. He expects the topic will be on the senate’s agenda throughout the academic year and perhaps beyond.

Coincidentally, the senate will also be considering some changes in RCEP itself, changes that would extend deadlines and remove procedural obstacles, clarify the role of the external review committee that evaluates programs involved in the process and most importantly, remove the confidentiality requirement from the deliberations of the review committee.

“The last change is intended to increase the transparency of the review process,” Lovell said.

Other items on the senate agenda include legislation to improve the conciliation process and a proposal to change the structure of the senate.

“There are many of us who believe that mediation and conciliation have not been used to the extent they should be to avoid adjudication and formal grievance procedures when faculty members are involved in disputes,” Lovell said.

The legislation would increase the number of conciliation officers from six to 12, change the rules to encourage greater use of conciliation, clarify the relationship of the Ombudsman’s Office to the conciliation and mediation process and bring those processes into conformance with state law.

Conciliation officers, Lovell explained, are faculty members who are appointed by the secretary of the faculty to serve as mediators in faculty disputes. Some have been formally trained as mediators and others are simply people whose judgment is respected.

The proposal to change the structure of the senate was developed last year, with several preliminary discussions in the senate. This year it will be shepherded by the Faculty Council on Faculty Affairs. Basically, it calls for a smaller senate with a different method of election. The current senate membership stands at around 200, Lovell said — a number he considers unwieldy. Current rules call for one senator for every 15 faculty members, a higher ratio than at other schools.

The proposal calls for one senator per department. Small departments could choose to collaborate and elect one senator, and very large departments could have more than one senator. The senators would be elected by the departments rather than in elections run by the Faculty Senate, as they are now. And, the chairs of college councils would also be senators. The result would be about 150 members.

“The critical issue is not the number, but ensuring that the people in the senate are people who really want to be there,” Lovell said. “Requiring departments to appoint more people than really want to be there is a recipe for an ineffective governing body.”

Even if nothing else comes up, the senate will be quite busy dealing with these matters, he said. However, he’s sure that other things will arise as the year unfolds.

Lovell says his interest in bodies like the senate dates back to his undergraduate years at Carleton College, when he served in the student senate. But his path to academia has been anything but straightforward. He earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching at a college, but when that job ended after three years, he got involved in prison work, teaching at McNeil Island and working with a community group on prison policy.

Then, after a stint working in a treatment program for prisoners in New York State, he took up his most unusual job, as “philosopher in residence” for the Department of Correction in Connecticut. The system was in a quandary over what its mission really was, Lovell explained, and got a one-year grant to hire a philosopher to help them think it through.

“I was briefly famous,” he said with a smile. “I was interviewed by Diane Sawyer, I had full-page articles in the Boston Globe, coverage in The New York Times and so on.”

He continued his prison work after returning to the Northwest, picking up a master’s in social work from the UW along the way. Then, in the mid-90s, there was a consortium of UW departments that had a contract to work with the Department of Corrections on programs and policies on mentally ill offenders. Lovell applied to work with them and was hired. The contract was managed by David Allen, then the chair of Psychosocial and Community Health, which is how Lovell ended up in the School of Nursing.

Since then his research has been mainly under contract with state agencies, but he also teaches. In fact, one course he regularly teaches, Philosophical Basis for Nursing Inquiry, harks back to his original field of philosophy.

As does, in a way, his position as chair of the senate.

“I am, under the Faculty Code, entitled to speak for the faculty, which I do with some humility and trepidation because the faculty is such a diverse group with so many different interests,” Lovell said. “One of the most important things the Faculty Senate chair does is to represent the interests and values of the faculty to the administration.”