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Group Working to Improve the Way Faculty Members Are Perceived

By Tom Sherman

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 13 - November 21, 1996

The Faculty Senate has established three working groups this year. One of these, the Public Perceptions group, is working to influence the way faculty members are viewed by the general public and by legislators and policy makers. Currently we are exploring two separate initiatives to plan specific actions for later this academic year. We will be pleased to receive any ideas or comments.

Relative to the perceptions of the general public, we are identifying ways to get more information to the public on the work faculty members do and the contributions we make. This will begin by identifying key indicators of our successes and developing them into stories that can be placed in public media. In addition, we expect that faculty members throughout the university will have to become more involved in telling our story. This will require that faculty members work closely with college and university information officers and take the initiative to suggest and pursue positive stories about our work and our contributions.

Finally, we have created several draft versions of a "Faculty Pledge" as a means to express our commitments to teaching, scholarship, and service. This pledge may be an effective device to convey to enrolled, and prospective, students and their parents our dedication to provide an excellent education. We believe such a pledge may have broader positive fallout, also. Contact your senator to get a draft copy of the pledge.

We have also begun to develop a strategy to work with legislators and other decision-makers. One idea we are pursuing is to generate fact sheets for legislators that tell what we do and what we accomplish. We would develop these as "talking papers" to leave with legislators who could then refer to them to justify allocating resources. It is likely that we will have to become more active in the political arena than we have been to stop resources being shifted away from higher education. We have met with some state legislators and have meetings scheduled with others to begin this process. Delegate Jim Shuler will be our guest at the December Faculty Senate meeting. We are also exploring the benefits and liabilities of a professional lobbyist to represent either the interests of higher education faculty members in Virginia or the interests of the Virginia Tech faculty alone. We have initiated some exploratory contacts with local legislators and with the AAUP to gather information on lobbying activities.

Our goal this semester is to plan an action agenda for next semester and beyond. There will be keen competition for state resources as costs rise and revenues stay steady or decline. To ensure that we can continue to provide the services we do as teachers, scholars, and providers of service, it will be essential for all of us to be more actively involved in communicating the importance and value of what we do. For more information or to make suggestions, visit your college's faculty senator or contact me at 1-5598, (tsherman@vt.edu) or Paul Metz at 1-5663, (pmetz@vt.edu).