November 18, 2013

Faculty Senate chair Jack Lee charts course for year

News and Information

Faculty & Staff Insider asked this year’s Faculty Senate chair, Jack Lee, professor of mathematics, to discuss some of the the issues it is likely to tackle in the coming year.

What do you think are the most important issues facing the Faculty Senate this year? Relatedly, what accomplishments would you like to see from the Senate that would make this a “good year” for you?

My top five priorities for this year are fixing the faculty salary policy; creating a more equitable, stable, and rewarding career track for lecturers; rationalizing and updating the university’s intellectual property policy; planning long-term strategy for online education; and updating the university’s policy on academic freedom.  Of those, probably the two most urgent are the salary policy and lecturers; if we can make good progress on fixing those two problems, it will unquestionably have been a good year.

An unresolved issue from last year’s senate is a revision to the Faculty Code regarding academic freedom. What are the key changes in the code and how might they affect the working life of faculty members now or in the future?

The Code revisions have been drafted, and were approved by the Senate and by the president – you can see the latest version in the agenda for the 11/18 SEC meeting.  Assuming they are approved in the SEC, in their second Senate vote on December 4, and by the president in their final form, they will become part of the code in December.

Jack LeeAmazingly, the current section of the Faculty Code titled “Academic Freedom and Responsibility,” enacted in 1956 and unchanged since then, says a lot about responsibility but almost nothing about academic freedom. This new statement, worked out in a careful collaborative process between faculty and administrators, fixes that.  It now states clearly that faculty members have the “freedom to discuss all relevant matters in their teaching, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to shared governance and the general welfare of the University.”

We don’t perceive any threat to academic freedom in the foreseeable future, but the statement will be there in the code if future generations of faculty ever need it.

Salary compression is a difficult problem to solve, given tight budgets in the state and at the university. You’ve been at the UW since 1987.  Are there any policies, proposed or adopted over that 26-year span that impressed you as making a real difference in compression? Or are there items currently under discussion that give you hope for the future?

The single most important change in salary policy since I arrived was the adoption of the 2000 faculty salary policy, which provided for  7.5% promotion raises, regular equal-percentage salary increases (generally 2%) for all meritorious faculty members, and, when available, additional salary increases that could be allocated differentially based on merit.  These innovations (especially the promotion raises) ensured that at least some effort would be made to provide a reasonable career salary trajectory for long-serving faculty members.  In the mid-2000s, the administration made a concerted effort to inject more funds into faculty salaries in an attempt to close the huge gap between UW faculty salaries and those of peers, but that progress was quickly erased by the 2008-2013 salary freeze.

Jack LeeA joint faculty/administration committee appointed by President Young (of which Bob Stacey and I are co-chairs) has been working for the past year and a half on a proposal for a radically new faculty salary policy, based on a system of “tier promotions” within each rank that would come with fixed percentage raises. We will be rolling out the proposal over the next couple of months. Our initial conversations with faculty members and deans suggest that most will see this as a strong way to motivate and reward excellence on the faculty, while providing a reliable path to career salary advancement based on merit.

Does the Senate have representation from contingent faculty? Do Senators see them as competition or colleagues, or maybe both? Are we likely to see any policy recommendation from faculty councils on this issue?

The Senate represents all voting faculty members, which includes most contingent faculty. The nonvoting exceptions are clinical faculty, affiliate faculty, and part-time lecturers.

Since I’ve been here, there has been a slow but steady push to integrate contingent faculty members more and more into the fabric of the UW faculty.  Full-time lecturers have been voting members of the faculty (and thus have had representation on the Faculty Senate) as long as I can remember, and research faculty were given the vote in 2002.  There have been various attempts to extend voting rights to part-time lecturers, but these have been defeated.

I think it’s fair to say that tenure-track faculty members generally see most contingent faculty members very much as colleagues. But there has been some hesitation about integrating part-time lecturers to the same extent, perhaps because there are so many different ways that departments use part-time lecturers, some of which are only peripherally connected to the intellectual lives of their departments

As I mentioned above, a priority this year is to work on establishing more professional working conditions for lecturers.

We are seeing an incremental growth in online degree offerings. How would you like to see the Senate engaged in this from a policy perspective?

Recently, at the urging of Faculty Senate leaders, Provost Cauce appointed a task force led by Jim Gregory (past chair of the Senate and current chair of the Senate Committee on Planning and Budgeting) and Betsy Wilson (Dean of University Libraries and Vice Provost for Digital Initiatives) to study and make recommendations about the role of online education at UW. It’s my hope that this task force can think strategically about how online education can and should figure into the UW mission in the next five to ten years, and make recommendations about how best to use this new technology to expand educational opportunities without compromising quality.

How did you become interested in shared governance? Do you view this as part of your “job” as a faculty member?

I served a few terms on the Senate before I ever got into a leadership role.  I guess I do think that level of service is part of my job. During one of those terms, I became involved in one of the committees assigned to draft code changes implementing the 2000 faculty salary policy. That’s the first time I started getting a glimpse of the workings of shared governance. But I never considered getting involved on this level until some friends urged me to consider allowing myself to be nominated for Senate vice chair.   My answer was easy and immediate: no! But when they came back again and tried to convince me, I started thinking about the people I’d be working with most closely: the 2012–2013 chair Jim Gregory and Provost Ana Mari Cauce, both of whom I knew and liked very much; our new President Mike Young, who showed signs of taking shared governance very seriously; and Secretary of the Faculty Marcia Killien and Faculty Legislative Representative Jim Fridley, both of whom I had seen in action and had enormous respect for. I decided that this would be as good a time as any to do my part in trying to make shared governance work well, so (as I sometimes say, in a moment of temporary insanity), I agreed to let myself be nominated. And here I am.