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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Sharing Good News with the BOV

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 14 - December 5, 1996

(Editor's note: Faculty Senate President Paul Metz spoke to the Board of Visitors in November regarding the concerns, vision, and accomplishments of the university's faculty.)

I want to focus on the Faculty Senate itself on this initial occasion. I realize the rector also indicated that "good news" could be a topic, and I briefly thought about a sort of sidebar in which I might talk about the latest faculty books, the collaborations we are undertaking with K-12, the constructive and productive way in which the new College of Human Resources and Education is blending together, or even our work in putting librarians inside the academic colleges. Instead, to maintain my focus, I will simply state what I believe, which is that to talk about the Faculty Senate is to share good news.

We've been in continuous business since 1969/70, when we were set up partly in response to an accreditation review which bemoaned the state of university governance at that time. Unlike at some other universities, we are not a formal part of the governance structure-this to give us independence and the chance to speak freely. However, Faculty Senate appointments determine a large fraction of membership on numerous committees and commissions, the senate president serves on several panels including the Advisory Council on Strategic Budget and Planning, and the officers meet regularly with the president and the provost. Organizational charts aside, we do feel listened to and included.

So, what do we do. We meet once a month, at night, but that's only a small part of it. In recent years we have instituted or re-instituted a number of what in another context I might call management initiatives to help focus our energies. We set a rough agenda for the year in our first meeting in August, and we divide our membership into focused working groups which typically meet twice a month.

Last year we had three working groups, all of which produced something tangible. I chaired a working group on post-tenure review which worked as an advisory or reactor panel to the Commission on Faculty Affairs, made sure that faculty concerns were well-addressed, and allayed the worries many faculty members had about what was going on. Our post-tenure-review policy is both better and better understood than it would have been without this group.

A second group looked into distance education and issued a report endorsing it as a strategic direction for the university, but pointing out a number of areas that would require careful study.

A third group studied the present governance structure. It started off with some very bold suggestions that were not well-received by the community in general, but ultimately that effort has led to some changes and will lead to some other modifications which will allow the University Council to communicate better internally and with the campus community.

This year we again have three working groups. One is a continuation of the post-tenure review group and will assist and comment on the writing of minimal standards and post-tenure-review implementation within each academic department. This group will also discuss and make recommendations on related issues, including the development of a continuum of sanctions so that we have some means between reprimand and dismissal to deal with faculty members when required, and the ways in which we review our administrators.

A second group is studying academic quality, including admissions standards. Our largest and busiest group is concerned with public perceptions and legislative support. It is pursuing a very active agenda which will include work with the media and visits with legislators to explain our mission, the work and contributions of our faculty, and our needs. Delegate Jim Shuler will be our guest at the Faculty Senate meeting in December. Ultimately we will be getting together with faculty members at other institutions to share our experiences and try to inspire them to make their own contributions to improved public and legislative understanding of higher education.

This year, as last, the Faculty Senate and the Staff Senate will be co-sponsoring open forums in which senior university officials have a chance to make a few remarks and then entertain questions from anyone in the university community. This year, as last, the senate is sponsoring breakfast meetings with the presidents of the college faculty associations. We use this means plus a lot of e-mail to try to communicate campus concerns so that the average very busy faculty member, and not just those of us who dress up a lot and hike over to Burruss Hall, knows what's up and has a chance to contribute.

Our list of concerns starts with the topics such as post-tenure implementation and public support that we have chosen for our working groups. It also includes responding to threats to tenure such as the recent ill-informed efforts by the regents of the University of Minnesota. It includes a deep concern about incidents of athletic violence. We strongly support the steps the president has taken and will support him again if stronger steps turn out to be necessary-whatever it takes, this can not go on. And, naturally, our concerns include financial support for higher education and faculty compensation, where we still have a great deal of ground to make up, and the tuition burden that recent changes have placed on our students.

Finally, we strongly believe in the university's outreach mission, but we have genuine concerns that having strengthened our emphasis on teaching, and now more recently strengthened our emphasis on outreach, all while living with fewer positions and resources in a downsized environment, something may have to give. We hope not, and if so, we hope it isn't research.