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October 29, 2009

Faculty Senate holds first meeting; chair sees crowded agenda for the year

The Faculty Senate will hold its first meeting of the academic year Thursday, Oct. 29.


“We have an incredibly active set of faculty councils,” Senate Chair Bruce Balick said. “Before the senate this year are about 50 different issues, many of which are handled by the councils. About one in 10 of those will result in actual legislation.”


Balick zeroed in on four issues that the senate leadership will be taking up:



  • Changes to the faculty salary policy
  • Restructuring of the senate
  • Close collaboration with teams working on the Activity Based Budget model and the 2Y2D project
  • Enhanced collaboration with schools, colleges and faculty councils


The faculty salary policy may need to be changed because of discrepancies between the Faculty Code, which calls for merit increases every year, and an executive order issued by the president suspending those increases for the duration of the 2009-2011 biennium because of the budget crisis.


“At first this looks like a minor bookkeeping issue, but it’s not,” Balick said. “Nobody wants to undermine the present salary policy; everybody’s happy with it. Still, we have to find a way out of this conflict. The feeling, especially from the regents, is that leaving it there may encourage lawsuits.”


A team consisting of representatives of the administration and the Faculty Senate will meet to discuss the matter this week and hopes to come up with a suitable policy that would ultimately replace the current one in the Faculty Code.


Restructuring the senate is driven by the need to streamline the governing body for better efficiency, Balick said. The present senate structure was designed for a time when the University was smaller.


“With one representative for every 15 faculty members, there were originally about 100 senators, which I’m told is about as big as a group can get and still be reasonably deliberative,” he said. “Now there are more than 300. Typical attendance is about 50 percent and that’s not healthy. Ironically, if all the senators came to meetings, we wouldn’t have enough seats in the room where we hold it.”


Details of a proposed structure are still being worked out, but basically the formula would be altered so that there would be at least one representative from each college, and within each college, one senator for every 40 faculty members. Balick said those working on the proposal are still trying to work out how to allocate other seats — such as those given to chairs of the faculty councils — but he hopes that a bill will come to the Senate floor in winter quarter.


“We feel that people would be more willing to serve if the senate were smaller and they had more influence with their vote,” he said.


The senate will also be involved this year with two initiatives that come from the president and the provost. The first is a budgeting model called Activity Based Budgeting, or ABB. This is a model that would govern the way money earmarked for instruction flows out to the schools and colleges from the Provost’s Office. At the University of Michigan, for example, where this model is in place, the ABB money flows on the basis of two metrics — the number of student credit hours taught in a college and the number of students who are enrolled in that college.


The advantages of such a model, Balick said, are that it’s transparent — everyone would know how instructional budget decisions are made — and it would ensure that funding would always follow the students. Furthermore, because in this model funding decisions are based on the activity level of the previous year, it would be possible to break down costs and discover how much it costs to educate a student in English versus one in, say, art. Costs can vary widely in different fields.


“So if the legislature puts an expectation on us to have more science and technology students, with the data we collect as part of ABB, we can go down there and say ‘Well, if you want more students in selected fields of study, here’s how much it costs us to educate them,’” Balick said. “We can’t do that now because we don’t know for sure.”


The UW is only just beginning its consideration of ABB, so no funding formula has been developed. The discussion is shared among a faculty-administration task force/steering committee and the Senate Committee on Planning & Budgeting, chaired by David Lovell. In the next few months smaller working groups will be established to look more carefully at implementation plans and impacts. Balick has written a primer on the ABB model for the faculty on his blog.


The other initiative that the senate will be involved with is dubbed 2Y2D (two years to two decades), and is intended to develop a sustainable academic business plan for the University for the next 20 years, with the aim of making headway in two years. As Provost Phyllis Wise put it, the initiative asks how the University envisions itself in 20 years and how it will get there in a financially sustainable way.


“We have normally learned to expect some degree of sympathy from the legislature with budgets that crawl up with inflation,” Balick said. “But the hit we took this last time, and the fact that the primary burden for funding the University is now tuition and not state support means we really have to think about who we serve and how we spend the money. As the provost and president have stated publicly, this requires a more understandable method for allocating funds and, as well, a corporate long-term, prioritized vision of the end goals.”

Balick served on the task force that kicked off the 2Y2D effort this summer. Panels are now being formed to expand the number of people who will work in six specific areas:


  • Discovery (Mary Lidstrom, lead)
  • Learning (Ana Mari Cauce and Ed Taylor, leads)
  • Engagement (Connie Kravas and Norm Arkans, leads)
  • Interdisciplinarity (Jerry Baldasty, lead)
  • Diversity (Sheila Edwards Lange, lead)
  • Technology (Linden Rhoads, Kelli Trosvig and Sara Gomez, leads)


The final leadership item on the senate’s agenda has to do with how to enhance communication between the senate and schools and colleges where the faculty deliver the University’s core missions of instruction, scholarship and academic service to the community.


“The question is, how does the senate determine how to represent the interests of 3,500 to 4,000 members of the faculty at the UW? The answer is, ‘With extreme difficulty,’” Balick said. “We feel the most direct route to useful sources of information is to go to the schools and colleges and speak with their college councils. These people know what’s going on within their college, so we want to develop much stronger lines of communication with them. But, these people are incredibly busy, so we’re trying to find a way to make this work efficiently.”


Before becoming senate chair, Balick served as a senator for about six years and was vice chair last year. He has been at the University since 1975.


“I never thought I would be in this role,” he said. “I see myself as a research person. I’ve had an active research career and when I leave this office I’m going to head right back there. But this University has provided me with an incredibly rewarding career and I believe a successful one. So there comes a time when you think, ‘What can I give back?’ That’s really the reason I agreed to stand for election.”


The Faculty Senate meets twice per quarter. Today’s meeting — and all senate meetings — are at 2:30 p.m. in 301 Gowen. They are always open. A complete schedule of senate meetings can be found here. Agendas are posted a week before each meeting.


“I plan to supplement the formal work of the senate with an active blog,” Balick added. (See link above).


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