UW News

October 25, 2007

Adding value: Chair wants Faculty Senate to tackle big issues

Dan Luchtel would like the Faculty Senate to be seen as a body that “adds value to our shared governance.” Luchtel, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences, is this year’s chair of the senate, which has its first meeting at 2:30 p.m. today in 301 Gowen.

According to Luchtel, the senate will have a lot of opportunities to add that shared value, because it has a lot of important issues to consider this year. First among his priorities is the restructuring of the faculty salary policy. The Board of Regents criticized the policy after Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Duane Storti won a lawsuit claiming the policy guaranteed all meritorious faculty a 2 percent salary increase every year — which the University had not provided. Last year’s senate chair, Gail Stygall, appointed a committee to look into the salary issue.

“We came close to passing legislation,” Luchtel said, “but the president raised some concerns at our second to last executive committee session in the spring and we decided to table the issue.”

As a result, Luchtel is reconstituting a special committee on salary issues to take up the matter. In addition to the 2 percent issue, the committee will look at other salary concerns, such as compression, inversion and unit adjustments.

“Personally, I’d like to see if it would be possible to have a ‘real’ 2 percent increase each year — that is, 2 percent above inflation,” Luchtel said. “If you work out the math, a person who has a 30-year career and gets a real 2 percent a year, that works out to doubling the salary over the course of the 30 years, which is a reasonable goal.”

Salary is not the only item on the Faculty Senate agenda. Luchtel also wants to push for improved child care at the University — ideally on campus, but if not, then more slots available elsewhere for faculty, staff and students.

Luchtel said students have taken the lead on the issue, but it is a faculty issue as well because the availability of child care is a factor in recruitment and retention. He said three of the faculty councils — student affairs, benefits and retirement and women in academia — worked on child care from one angle or another last year.

“I think the issue has some momentum,” Luchtel said. “I just want to keep it at the forefront so the provost knows the faculty are very interested in this.”

Another item on this year’s agenda is the faculty grievance procedure. Luchtel said there had been many complaints about the procedure, though he wasn’t sure exactly what the problem is. He said the Faculty Council on Faculty Affairs would be dealing with the issue, but because a faculty member filing a grievance begins the process with the secretary of the faculty, he has been consulting with Gerry Philipsen, who holds that position.

“It may be that we need to create a document on the Faculty Senate Web site that more clearly spells out not only what the procedure is, but some of the context for it,” Luchtel said. “We’d like people to understand the pros and cons of filing a grievance, to consider whether they really want to do that.”

Luchtel also hopes this will be the year that the Legislature passes a law mandating the appointment of a faculty member to the Board of Regents. A bill requiring faculty representation on all the state university boards was introduced in the Washington State Senate last year, sponsored by Senators Paull Shin, Tim Sheldon, Harriet Spanel and Jerome Delvin. It had a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee, but since it was late in the session and other parties expressed concerns, it was not brought to a vote.

Luchtel said there are legislators sympathetic to the cause, however, especially because there already is a student regent.

“The senate leadership strongly feels that faculty need a place at the table,” he said.

The senate does have a liaison on the Board of Regents — Sally Jewell — and Luchtel said it has been “terrific” working with her. But he said that as long as there is no faculty member on the board, the faculty will continue to feel that they are on the “outside” of University affairs.

And finally, Luchtel said he is concerned with the Faculty Senate’s process. “A senate should be a place for discussion and debate of the issues,” he said. “The way we do business tends to be giving report after report after report, which makes for a very one-way avenue of communication from the top down.”

The real business of the senate, Luchtel said, goes on in the 14 faculty councils, and he should know. He served two terms as a senator — in the 1980s and early ’90s — before volunteering for the Faculty Council on Faculty Affairs, which he subsequently chaired. During his term as chair, the Medicare billing scandal at the UW Medical Center broke, and he became deeply involved in analyzing the problems and writing up a fairly extensive report on what went wrong, how it went wrong and what needed to change. There was a huge difference, he said, between serving as a senator and serving on a council.

“It’s on the councils that you feel what you’re doing makes a difference.”

Luchtel would like to bring some of that feeling to the senate floor — perhaps by making the senate smaller and have it meet more often. He’s introduced that idea to the executive committee as a discussion item.

“The Faculty Senate is perceived by the average faculty member as a big waste of time — it doesn’t do anything,” Luchtel said. “And the view you sometimes get from the administration is that we’re just a bunch of amateurs. So we catch it from both ends.

“I’d like both faculty and administrators to view us as players on the field. I’d like them to see that we do make a difference, that we add value to the system.”