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Column Initiated to Facilitate Communication

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 02 - September 5, 1996

This is the inaugural column of a series of Faculty Senate columns which will appear in Spectrum this year. When Spectrum was created in 1978, one of the major constituent groups it was created to serve was the faculty. Then, as now, the mission of the Faculty Senate has been to represent the interests and concerns of the faculty, and communicate them to the university community. The purpose of this column is to help fulfill the senate's commitment to communicate with faculty members and enable them to become fully involved in the educational mission of the university. It will appear frequently but irregularly, with the idea being that when we have something to say we will speak up, and when we don't, we won't.

While not a formal part of the governance structure, the Faculty Senate is intimately involved in decision-making. Our faculty appointees, many of them senators, comprise a significant part of the membership of the nine commissions and of University Council. The vice president of the senate serves as chair of the Commission on Faculty Affairs, while the president serves on the Advisory Council on Strategic Budgeting and Planning and as a non-voting representative to the Board of Visitors. Channels of communication between the senate and the administration are many, and include regular meetings between the officers and senior administrators and co-sponsorship with Staff Senate of open fora throughout the year.

We are equally concerned that communications between the senate and the faculty members we represent also be as good as possible, and this concern accounts for the creation of this column. Each college has at least two senators, whom members of the faculty should not hesitate to contact with any issue they believe will be of concern to the community. Notes to me at the address given below are always welcome. We hope that fairly soon we can establish our WWW home page as a general-purpose means for the community to achieve access not only to senate activities, rosters, and schedules, but to more general information about pending issues.

In its initial meeting of the year, the Faculty Senate discussed a variety of issues of importance to the university and chose three as points of emphasis for our efforts during the present year. A working group has been established to work on each of these matters. The goal of each group is not simply to study and discuss each issue but to identify and undertake specific actions addressing the respective matters of concern.

One group, headed by Tom Sherman of teaching and learning, will focus on public perceptions of the university and the means by which faculty members may help to increase public understanding of our needs and contributions. Working with university staff in the information and government-relations areas, we hope to help get the word out about what faculty members really do, why it matters, and why higher education deserves support.

A second group, chaired by senate Vice President Jim McKenna of CSES, will study performance review issues as they relate both to the faculty (and especially university-wide implementation of post-tenure review policies) and administrators. Some related aspects of faculty well-being may also be considered.

A final group, headed by Joel Nachlas of industrial and systems engineering, will consider issues of institutional definition especially as they relate to the relative emphasis on undergraduate instruction and other priorities.

Each member of the Faculty Senate welcomes the ideas and suggestions of our colleagues. I hope that faculty members will "watch this space" and feel very free to share their reactions to what they see here.

Paul Metz, Faculty Senate president

pmetz@vt.edu