Report of Ad-Hoc Committee to Review Senate Committees

 

 

Members of Committee:            Katherine Tachau (Chairperson)

                                                Patrick Lloyd

                                                Sue Moorhead

                                                John Westefeld

 

 

This ad-hoc committee has met four times for the purpose of reviewing all Faculty Senate committees as well as the generic Senate committee structure.  The current senate committees are:  Budget/Planning, Committee on Committees, Elections, Faculty Welfare, Governmental Relations, Judicial Commission, Rules and Bylaws, and Selection of Central Academic Officials.  Our committee reviewed annual reports of these committees from the last five years, the charge of each committee, and Faculty Senate committee structures at a few other Universities.[1]  We have also consulted some recent Faculty Senate Presidents, and conducted an e-mail survey of members of the Senate committees and their chairs to gather their input vis-ŕ-vis the strengths of each committee as well as suggestions for improvement.  (A copy of the survey questions is appended.)

 

Below are our findings.  First we have listed some generic findings/suggestions that relate to all of the committees.  Second, we have included specific information for each committee.  Finally, we recommend the establishment of a new standing Committee on Awards and Recognition.

 

I.  General Findings:

 

Our committee does not believe that faculty committees are well advised to meet superfluously, but we do assume that the Senate’s committees exist for an important purpose – to make it possible for faculty to share governance effectively – and so believe that we need strong committees that function well, attract dependable colleagues of good judgment to serve, and allow their members to reach the end of their committee terms aware that they have made an effective, positive difference to the University and its faculty.  Participation on Senate and Charter Committees is often the means by which we discover our common concerns, gain good friends across the university, and recruit colleagues to university service whose energies supplement and will replace our own.  This Committee finds that, generally speaking, our committee system functions well.  In our view, most of the committees are contributory and well run.  We do, however, have a number of suggestions concerning the senate committees:

 

(1)     One of our central concerns is getting more faculty involved in the committee process and reinforcing faculty members’ work on committees.  To this end, we have revised the recruitment form to connect committee member interests more closely with committee member qualifications.  We also suggest that the Faculty President, Past-President, or President-Elect write a note of thanks to every committee member at the end of each year thanking them for their service, with a copy to the committee member’s department head and dean.  We believe that by formally acknowledging the value of our colleagues’ contributions we can encourage continued participation in governance and inform deans of the faculty member’s service. 

 

(2)     It appears to us that sometimes new committee members are assigned to committees with minimal orientation.  We therefore think it important that the Faculty Senate President continue the practice of orienting the chair of each committee at the beginning of his/her term as the Senate Bylaws require in Article III.8, and that each committee chair in turn orient the committee members according to the format that may best suit a particular committee.  This orientation should include a discussion of the committee’s charge, and might usefully include copies of the past year’s meeting minutes and annual report.

 

(3)     Each committee should maintain minutes of their meetings, and file an end of the year written report.  The General Charter for University Charter Committees (Operations Manual I.I.2.8.(6).i. requires that “Minutes from each [Charter] committee meeting are to be sent to all members of the committee . . . to the presidents of the three assemblies [including the Faculty Senate] . . . . At a minimum, the minutes should reflect any resolutions or other recommendations or motions of the committee and be fairly reflective of the committee’s discussion.”  While this requirement does not apply to Senate committees, for the purposes of “closing the circle” of information between the Council/Senate and its committees, we deem it a useful model to follow.  We therefore recommend that, when a Senate committee meets, minutes be recorded, sent to all the committee’s members and to the Faculty Senate President and to the chair of the Committee on Committees.  When confidential matters are at stake, such minutes need not be detailed, but should indicate who was present, and create a record from which future committees could reconstruct whether issues had come to the committee in the past.

 

(4)     There is great variability among the committees in terms of meeting frequency, the need for meetings, etc.  This may also vary by year.  In general, our suggestion is for the committees to meet often enough to accomplish what is needed, but not to meet for the sake of meeting, which apparently happens occasionally.

 

(5)     In general we believe there needs to be more interface between the committees and Faculty Council/Faculty Senate above and beyond written reports.  Again, this will vary a great deal according to the particular committee.  Our suggestion is for all committees to occasionally make a verbal report to the council/senate, again depending to some degree on how much business is being transacted by a committee at a given time.

 

(6)     The time at which the annual reports of committees’ activities are due to the Faculty Senate does not correspond to the academic calendar, and often falls before the committees’ annual activity has come to fruition; moreover, the timing of the report means that – so far as we could determine – the reports are not put to any use and do not routinely go to the incoming chair.  Because recommedations made in them are not implemented, many constructive, creative ideas that would make committees more effective are lost.  We therefore urge that these reports be solicited after the last Senate meeting of the year, be considered over the summer by the Faculty Senate Officers, and brought to the first Faculty Council meeting of the subsequent year, with a recommendation from the Faculty Senate Officers regarding the implementation of any proposals made in those reports.

 

(7)     At present, the Senate bylaws require that its records be preserved and, at unspecified times, be “retired to the University Archives.”  While we think this an excellent practice, it renders older records somewhat more complicated for committee chairs to consult than those readily available in the Senate office.  We urge that the Senate Office acquire a document scanner that will allow the routine scanning of documents that the Senate preserves.  This should allow space in the office to continue to be conserved by transferring records to the archives regularly while also making it feasible to search archived records more easily in the Senate office.

 

 

II.  Suggestions for Specific Committees:

 

(1)    Elections Committee:  Make sure this committee is oriented, and that it meets early enough in the year to successfully transact its business.

 

(2)    Judiciary Commission:  This committee deals with crucial and sensitive issues.  Make sure members are oriented and make sure there is an up-to-date list of volunteers for this committee, since many volunteers are needed.  From recent annual reports, it appears that the Commission maintains (in addition to its other records) a grievance database.  We recommend this be continued and updated as appropriate.

 

(3)    Faculty Welfare Committee:  Another pivotal committee, this one potentially is a catch-all for many issues.  We propose renaming this the “Committee on Faculty Policies and Well-Being” to better reflect its charge.  We believe this charge also needs to state more clearly that this is the appropriate venue to which the faculty expect administrators to bring projects and policies (either “pilot” or permanent) affecting faculty pay, benefits, or conditions of work before such projects and policies can be enacted.  Such proposals would include, for example, creating “research track” faculty, salary bonus plans for bringing in research funds, and changing the ratio of clinical to tenure-track faculty in a College.  As these policies may originate in one College, but have the potential to affect others, the entire university faculty have a stake in there being a Senate committee that considers and make recommendations to the Council and Senate as to whether and/or how such proposals/policies should be adopted or be amended before they are implemented.  It is appropriate, we think, for this committee’s evaluation of any such proposals, to include as it thinks necessary a study of the underlying assumptions, known costs, anticipated benefits and, if available, experience elsewhere of the plan or similar plans.  We believe that undertaking such an assessment falls clearly within the current committee’s charge as currently stated, but that the proposed name change will help its membership appreciate that this is within their compass.  

In some years, this committee has not only responded to issues sent to it by the Council, Senate, or Administration, but, on its own initiative, has also taken up other policies or issues that can affect faculty well-being.  We believe that this committee should be encouraged to continue to do so, and to monitor the effects of such policies.  To carry out its mission successfully, this committee needs good, broad representation across the faculty. We recommend that the committee be expanded from the current seven to nine members, with no more than three from any given college, and we recommend a two year term for the chair.

 

(4)    Committee on Committees:

This committee recommends to the Council, and then to the Senate, faculty members to fill openings on Senate and Charter committees as well as the Faculty Judicial Commission.  In recent memory, this committee has not met until the Spring, when it proceeded to select faculty for Senate Committees and to recommend faculty to the incoming Senate President for him/her to propose to the University President for service on Charter Committees.  Generally, interim appointments to fill vacancies have been decided through e-mail communication.  In practice, this means that the expertise of the membership of this committee is not drawn upon effectively, and the President-Elect must find and recruit people to fill replacements.  Some means must be found to share the work of this committee more easily and thereby enable it to build strong committees.  We suggest expanding the membership on this committee for broader representation/more input.  We also suggest that the committee meet in mid-September to get organized and to fill vacancies known at that time; meet again in January to fill any new vacancies, canvass the Committee’s membership for names of qualified colleagues to recruit for committees, and to approve any changes to the recruitment form to be sent out; and then meet a third time at the end of the Spring as it has customarily done.  This committee needs also to monitor the work of all other committees, both to staff them well and to give the Faculty Council a further means by which feedback from committees occurs in a timely way.

Finally, we recommend that the Senate Office maintain a current, accurate database of persons who have volunteered for each committee over the last five years (showing whether the person was appointed to a committee and, if so, to which one) for this Committee to draw upon in seeking volunteers to fill interim vacancies.

 

(5)    Governmental RelationsThis committee appears to us to be a strong one.  It has been especially pivotal recently due to the continuing budget crunch.  We believe that this committee is sufficiently crucial to informing the Senate of ongoing issues with the State Legislature and other governmental forces that it needs to report frequently to senate orally.

 

(6)    Faculty-Staff Budget:  Until 2002, this committee was the Faculty Budget Committee.  Following the Carlson Budget Task Force Report, this committee was combined with the Staff Council Budget committee, initially on an experimental basis (2002-03) and, in accordance with the approval of the Staff Council and Faculty Senate in Feb. 2003, on a long-term basis (with a revue of effectiveness after three years).  This change is not yet reflected in the University Operations manual, and we recommend that the necessary changes be made to it to reflect the new committee structure.

 

III.  Formation of a New Committee on Awards and Recognition:

 

One function of the Faculty Senate that could be made significantly more efficient by a standing committee that does not yet exist leads us to propose the creation of a permanent Committee on Awards and Recognition,”[2] as at least some Faculty Senates elsewhere have done.  Each Spring, the Provost’s office, with the help of the Faculty Senate Officers, constitutes an ad-hoc committee(s) to select recipients of the Regents Awards for Faculty Excellence; at about the same moment, the Faculty Senate creates an ad-hoc committee to solicit nominations for its own Brody awards.  Staffing these committees on short notice poses considerable challenges.  These ad-hoc committees play no role in the solicitation of nominations for these awards.  This may be a reasonable separation of processes, but the lack of continuity from year to year does mean that structural problems in the nomination processes for these awards can be identified but not remedied.  Our committee is also concerned that there is a scramble each year to find nominees for the Senate’s own awards and, to some degree, for the Regents’ Awards as well.  We believe that all of these could be addressed by having a standing Senate Committee charged with staffing awards committees and recruiting nominations.  In staffing awards committees, we think this committee should include one or more of its members, in part to provide the Honors and Awards Committee itself with timely notice of problems or successful strategies.  In the case of the Regents Awards, we recommend that this new Committee work with the Provost’s Office and the Deans of the Colleges to establish a process (entirely distinct from selecting recipients of Awards) by which the Committee may routinely assist in the identification of nominees, with special attention to women and other members of under-represented groups.  (We make this recommendation because previous ad-hoc Regents Awards Committees have identified a persistent, disturbing under-representation of such nominees which is evidently due at least in part to the current nomination process.)  In proposing this committee, therefore, we are responding to the distress of faculty who have served on awards committees who have found themselves without the means to improve a process that seemed to them to undercut our efforts to value the contributions of and retain excellent colleagues whom we have expended faculty time and energy to recruit and who, by their presence, make our faculty more diverse.

We recommend that this Committee be composed of seven members, with no more than three representing the Sciences. 

 

IV.  Summary:

 

            The committee believes that the task that we have undertaken has been valuable, allowing us to examine both the general issues surrounding Senate committees and concerns related to specific committees.  We urge the Senate to undertake such a review every five years, as specified in our bylaws, and that this review be carried out in a similar fashion, by an ad-hoc committee. 

            The recommendations made above that require a change in the Senate Bylaws are:

 

·         That, when a Senate committee meets, minutes be recorded, sent to all the committee’s members and to the Faculty Senate President and to the chair of the Committee on Committees.

·         That Senate Committee reports be solicited after the last Senate meeting of the year, be considered over the summer by the Faculty Senate Officers, and be brought to the first Faculty Council meeting of the subsequent year, with a recommendation from the Faculty Senate Officers regarding the implementation of any proposals made in those reports.

·         That the Faculty Welfare Committee be renamed the “Committee on Faculty Policies and Well-Being” to better reflect its charge.

·         That the charge of the “Committee on Faculty Policies and Well-Being” state clearly that this is the appropriate venue to which the faculty expect administrators to bring projects and policies (either “pilot” or permanent) affecting faculty pay, benefits, or conditions of work before such projects and policies can be enacted.

·         That the Senate create and charge a permanent Senate Committee on Awards and Recognition.”


 

Appendix A

 

Dear Faculty Senate Committee Member,

We are an ad hoc committee charged with determining the effectiveness of  Faculty Senate Committees and recommending which committees should continue as constituted, be eliminated, or be modified in some way.  Your unique experience and insight as a current Faculty Senate committee member would be of critical value for us, and we hope, therefore, that you would be willing to complete the brief questionnaire below by replying to this email (to Julie Thatcher) and answering the questions directly in the text of your email response.

Your time is precious, and we ask you to devote just a few minutes to our survey.  Your input is essential in creating optimal recommendations.  Please respond by Friday, November 21.

We are grateful for your committee service and for your assistance to us in our review.

The Faculty Senate Committee to Review Committees
     Katherine Tachau, History, Chair
     Patrick Lloyd, Family Dentistry
     Sue Moorhead, Nursing
     John Westefeld, Psychological & Quantitative Foundations

**************

QUESTIONNAIRE:  

1.  Please indicate the committee(s) on which you currently serve and your length of service.

2.  What is the term of membership for committee members?

3.  Describe the orientation you received when you first began serving.

4.  In your understanding, what is the purpose of the committee?

5.  Describe the positive aspects of the committee and its work.

6.  What could be improved?

7.  Do you feel this committee should be continued as is, eliminated, or modified in some way?  If so, how?

8.  Would you like to share any other information for which we have not asked?

 


 

[1] University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Chicago, Columbia University, University of Illinois-Urbana Champagne, Indiana University-Bloomington, Kent State, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Ohio State University.

[2] Article II.1.A. of the Faculty Senate Constitution states that “The Senate may discuss and take a position on any subject of University concern” and II.7. authorises the Senate to “establish such other general or special committees as its business may require.”