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Faculty Senate struggles with issues of faculty representation, visibility

Senators also discussed expanding membership eligibility and increasing resources for the Student Disability Access Center

<p>Michael Kennedy, Faculty Senate chair and newly-elected faculty representative for the Board of Visitors, said the Senate falls short of its goal of representing all University faculty.</p>

Michael Kennedy, Faculty Senate chair and newly-elected faculty representative for the Board of Visitors, said the Senate falls short of its goal of representing all University faculty.

Members of the Faculty Senate, an administrative body designed to represent faculty, have expressed concerns that the Senate does not adequately represent all of the University’s faculty members. Another concern amongst representatives to the Faculty Senate is a lack of awareness about the Senate’s purpose and procedures. Senators are considering ways to increase the visibility of the Senate within the University community at large. 

Comprising full-time faculty representatives from each of the University’s schools, the Senate makes recommendations regarding the termination of degree programs, major modifications of existing degrees and other actions that affect at least two schools within the University. Changes made within a school, only affecting that school, do not require the input of the whole Senate. The Senate also advises the University President, Provost and the Board of Visitors on issues pertaining to faculty.

Michael Kennedy, Faculty Senate chair and the next Board of Visitors faculty representative, said the Senate falls short of representing the whole faculty, which is one of the organization’s tenets as outlined in the Faculty Senate constitution. In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Kennedy attributed this shortcoming to faculty being busy with other responsibilities that make it difficult for them to commit the time needed to serve as a Senator. 

“We strive to represent the whole faculty, but fall short,” Kennedy said. “The key issue for me is faculty as a group are extremely busy doing their research, teaching, service, and living their lives.”

Other senators agreed with this claim. Faculty Senate Chair-Elect James Lambert also discussed the time required to serve in the Senate, stating that as Senate chair he will still be expected to complete all of his work as a full-time faculty member.

“I’m not relieved of any duties [while serving as chair] ... I’m still a full-time professor,” Lambert said. “It’s not a full time job. I do it on the side, and I think that it’s important that I do. I don’t want to be different than other faculty.”

One suggestion for how to make the Faculty Senate more representative of the whole faculty came from Computer Science Prof. Aaron Bloomfield, who presented on the possibility of changing the Senate's bylaws to expand membership eligibility at their last meeting. While senators are currently required to be full-time faculty at the University, these changes would make part-time faculty eligible to serve in the Senate as well. 

The main dissent against this expansion of eligibility at the Senate’s March meeting was the concern that part-time faculty may not have the time needed to dedicate to the Senate. During this debate, Bloomfield brought up the hypothetical example of a senator who was reducing their hours to devote time to preparing for retirement. The retiring faculty member would be considered a part-time faculty member, which would make them ineligible to serve as a senator under the current by-laws.  

Jeri Seidman, member of the Faculty Senate, disagreed with Bloomfield at the Senate’s last meeting. He said that because part-time and full-time faculty have distinct roles at the University, making a separate body for part-time faculty could be a more beneficial solution, as it would be difficult to integrate both into one cohesive body.

“I think that [part-time faculty] have such different needs [from full-time faculty]” Seidman said. “I feel like there should almost be … a different body [of part-time faculty or] separate representation within the Faculty Senate.”

In addition to ensuring that all University faculty are represented in the Senate, Kennedy said that one of his long-term goals has been to elevate awareness of the Senate and its purpose within the University community, so that the work the Senate does can receive more recognition. 

Several other senators agreed that a lack of awareness, among the University community, regarding the Senate and its functions is an issue that needs to be tackled. Seidman said that many faculty do not know about the work the Senate does unless it directly affects them. Seidman noted that if more faculty knew about the Senate, more issues could be addressed because of the Senate’s direct contact with University administrators.

“Because the Senate chairs [and] the chair elect … meet with the president and the provost so regularly, when there are things that faculty broadly might be concerned about, Faculty Senate is able to understand and raise those [concerns to the University administration] more quickly,” Seidman said.

Beyond raising awareness for the Senate itself, Kennedy also said that one ongoing effort in the Senate has been securing more resources for University students with disabilities and the faculty members that teach them. According to Kennedy, the Senate has also been working to provide support to the Student Disability Access Center to help with scheduling and improve knowledge about appropriate accommodations. 

Kennedy said that an increased number of students have applied for disability accommodations since the COVID-19 pandemic, and this increased volume of requests has been difficult for faculty to handle. He added that students also often make last-minute requests for accommodations, further contributing to these logistical difficulties. 

“We have a lot of resources at the University already,” Kennedy said. “We have smart and talented people in this space. We're just not always well coordinated in our efforts.”

As the new Board of Visitors faculty representative, Kennedy said he hopes to present this issue of increasing SDAC resources to the Board in the next year.

Despite these challenges, Kennedy said that one role he feels the Senate is succeeding in presently is advising the President, the Provost and the Board. According to Kennedy, him, Lambert, and Tish Jennings, former Senate chair and Education professor, meet with the President and Provost regularly to discuss issues impacting the faculty and hear about upcoming initiatives. Provost Ian Baucom has also attended Senate meetings to give updates on initiatives, having recently spoken on the state of free speech at the University during the Senate’s March 26th meeting. 

“More can always be done in this space, but I feel the lines of communication are open between the Senate and University leadership, and they are receptive to our feedback,” Kennedy said. 


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