UW News

October 18, 2018

New Faculty Chair George Sandison outlines his priorities

UW News

George Sandison didn’t set out to be an academic. The incoming chair of the University of Washington Faculty Senate grew up in a large Catholic family in Liverpool, England. His father and brother were tradespeople; his mother worked as a cleaner at a local hospital.

But Sandison “found the right spot” in education and became the first in his family to go to college, at the University of Manchester. That’s where a lifelong love of physics blossomed. Today, Sandison is a vice chair of the Radiation Oncology Department in the UW School of Medicine and leads the Division of Medical Physics.

Dr. George Sandison

Dr. George SandisonUniversity of Washington

Since arriving at the university in 2008, Sandison has become increasingly interested and involved in shared governance. He’ll chair his first senate meeting tonight.

Sandison sat down with UW News for a broad-ranging conversation about his priorities and views before his upcoming one-year term as chair of the Faculty Senate.

What are the most important issues facing the Faculty Senate this year?

The senate and its leadership will deal with many important issues this year, as it does every year, but we set out six issues as priorities. I will mention just a few.

Faculty compensation is always a priority at the beginning of a state legislative budget biennium. The real issue is to convince legislators to fully support UW as the flagship higher education institution for the state. The Legislature hasn’t given UW the support it needs to meet its faculty and staff compensation bills. The last biennium, the Legislature approved a pay increase for UW faculty but state funding and tuition dollars were not enough to implement the approved increase. Approving a pay increase and actually providing all the funds necessary to deliver an increase are two different things. It was a shock to be faced with this issue the last biennium. Hard lobbying in the second half of the biennium convinced legislators of the fairness to correct the funding gap but it was only a one time measure. We will be working diligently to ensure this situation is not repeated. Legislators must hear a consistent message from faculty, staff and administration about the support our university requires.

Improving the faculty diversity profile is another priority. As a university, we have made good progress over the past few years on improving student diversity, equity and inclusion. This has been a major initiative of President Cauce. However, faculty feel they have not made an equivalent improvement with their own diversity profile. We will be looking to implement strategies to accomplish rapid change in this respect. It would be a great stimulus to that effort if the remaining years of the Be Boundless campaign could, in part, assist in promoting increased faculty diversity.

Another issue is ensuring that outstanding new faculty are not lost to UW due to the high cost of living in the Seattle region. Affordability of housing in this region is an increasing obstacle to recruitment.  I’m looking forward to working with President Cauce and Provost Richards on new initiatives to assist faculty with housing. This is something we need to push hard.

I’ll end my answer with one of the priorities we have addressed for some years now. That is improvement to conditions of employment for lecturing faculty. Positive change and progress have been made. We had success last year with changes to the Faculty Code and we hope to make more changes this year.

What’s been your experience with the new Provost?

Provost Mark Richards is a remarkably talented man with whom I enjoy working. He is a big-picture thinker but also very practical. He has a clear priority for fiscal stability and desire for raising UW to the next level of academic excellence. He is a geophysicist, and as a physicist myself, I appreciate how logically he thinks. One of the many things I like is his commitment to shared governance with faculty. Although it works a bit differently at the UW, he has had previous positive experience with shared governance at Berkeley and is encouraging of the Faculty Senate to be a greater driver of initiatives for the University. I believe that together our new Provost and Faculty Senate — with the support of President Cauce — will make a terrific team. This is what shared governance is all about. We must work together in harmony. My experience with Mark and Ana Mari so far is that achieving harmony is not difficult at all.

In her Spring address, President Cauce called on the faculty to be engaged with the community. What are your views on community engagement?

In reality, as university faculty, we are already highly engaged with the greater community. Half the faculty serve in the School of Medicine. How much closer to the community can you get than to directly provide outstanding health service? Other faculty in social work, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy and law, all the professional schools, reach out to the community. In fact I cannot think of a single department that is not engaged with our greater community. Just think, education, music, athletics, all the sciences and engineering, everyone reaches out.

I feel it is more to the point that university faculty are not recognized for their community service by the average citizen, or other faculty themselves when it comes to promotion and tenure evaluation criteria. If community service and engagement by faculty were better recognized, more faculty would engage in it as a component of their job. What President Cauce may be encouraging us to do is to formally recognize faculty who are already doing this work.

It is clear to me that involvement of faculty in communities needs to be advertised in a way that brings home, to citizens and legislators, the great benefits the University and its faculty provide to the citizens of this state. Most citizens are ignorant of the contributions faculty make to their state because people don’t even know if an individual faculty member goes and does a bit of research that ends up serving the community. Much of it is hidden from the public view.

Having said that, the ability to raise $5 billion so far for the university’s Be Boundless campaign tells me that many people recognize our university’s importance. The many citizens of Washington who donate know the valuable asset it is. Maybe the legislature should more strongly reflect that support.

Please describe your views on higher education.

I know that some regard the word “transformative” as hackneyed, but higher education is transformative and life-changing. I am an example beneficiary of higher education. Greater understanding of the world and humanity, rewarding careers and success in many fields requires higher education.

I think on the national level, higher education is being scapegoated for political purposes. The attitude that it’s not valuable to have a higher education or that it’s outrageously expensive is nonsense. One of the most important ways to transform society is to democratize the educational process. Democracy is strengthened by an educated population who discriminate truth from non-truth using critical thinking.