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February 4, 2010

Plan to reduce size of Faculty Senate moves closer to passing

At their meeting last week, senators approved a plan to restructure the Faculty Senate, reducing it from 267 to 110 members. The proposal now goes to a second senate reading, then to a vote by the full faculty, probably around finals week.

Efforts to reduce the number of senators go back three years, when then-Secretary of the Faculty Gerry Philipsen (who had previously served a term as senate chair) introduced the idea. The proposal approved at the meeting was crafted by the Faculty Council on Faculty Affairs.

If the plan is approved, each elected senator will represent 40 faculty rather than 15, as is currently the case. The one-to-15 ratio was established in 1956, when there were about 1,000 faculty members at the UW. There are now more than 4,000.

“We have heard repeatedly that the senate is too large and no one voice has much influence,” Senate Chair Bruce Balick told members in introducing the topic. “The senate has grown over the years while the senate staff has shrunk by a factor of two-and-a-half.”

Rich Christie, the chair of the Faculty Council on Faculty Affairs, who explained the legislation, cited efficacy and efficiency as the two reasons for the change. He said the council hoped the smaller size would produce better debates of the issues and “good governance with less faculty time and office staff effort.”

The UW, Christie said, has the largest senate among its “strategic peer institutions” — 12 large public universities with an attached medical school. Even if the proposal is passed, the UW would only drop to number three on that list.

“The council wrestled with how to reconcile broad representation with proportionality,” Christie told senators. “There’s no way to reduce the size of the senate, retain the current departmental representation and have proportional representation.”

In the end the council decided that senate representation should be by college, campus or school, and that college councils would control nominations in order to assure the fairest unit representation. College councils have the most local knowledge, Christie said.

Under the current system, every qualified faculty member’s name appears on the ballot for Faculty Senate representative, producing a situation in which many people get a few votes and runoffs have to be held, in the end resulting in someone being elected who may not have agreed to serve.

“We hope that college council representatives will talk to people and find nominees who have an interest in serving,” Christie said.

The legislation also reduces the size of the Senate Executive Committee from the current 31 voting members to 17. New to the committee will be eight members elected from among senators. There will be three members elected from the chairs of faculty councils (all 14 council chairs currently serve). The University president, the senate chair and vice chair and the chair of the Senate Committee on Planning and Budgeting will continue to serve. The chairs of faculty organizations at UWB and UWT will continue to serve as ex officio members with votes.

The senate debated the proposal for more than an hour before passing it. Senators voiced concerns about the loss of representation, and some said they doubted that a smaller body would necessarily produce better discussions. Some questioned the choice of college councils to coordinate nominations.

At one point an amendment was proposed suggesting that faculty representation be one-to-30 rather than one-to-40, but the amendment was defeated.

Final passage was by an overwhelming majority, so that individual votes did not need to be counted.

The legislation will go back to the senate for a final vote on March 11. If it passes again, then Marcia Killien, secretary of the faculty, will send it to every voting member of the faculty for a final faculty vote. If the legislation is approved by the faculty, it then goes to the president for consideration and final approval.

“Bear in mind that in our system of shared governance, all senate legislation is advisory to the president,” Balick said.

If the legislation is approved by the end of the winter quarter then the new structure goes into effect for Faculty Senate elections in the spring. The first meeting of the downsized senate would be next fall.