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Faculty Senate Past President's Report

By David A. de Wolf, 1993-94 Faculty Senate president

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 07 - October 6, 1994

Today, I stand before you in the traditional role of immediate past president of the senate: namely to talk briefly to you before vanishing into the anonymity of being one of 1,600 teaching faculty members again. My predecessors have each chosen their own style of handling this role. My immediate predecessor Leon Geyer, handed out what he informally dubbed as a "sermon," and he made so many good points that there is nothing left for me to do along that line. Others have spoken of their agenda, and of whatever other policies they had set out to influence.

I shall do something slightly different. I want to report to you what events seem noteworthy to me in the last year. Let me start out by saying that I did not enter into the presidency of the senate with an agenda. In fact, like so many of those who came before me, I stepped into the position of vice president of the senate two years ago only with an acute realization that the presidency would follow it within a year. I felt I first needed to learn what it was all about and that motive held all thoughts of an agenda at bay for a long time. By the time I had become familiar with the duties and protocol of being a senate officer, whatever passes for an agenda had become self-evident. By the time I had ascended to (or inherited?) the senate presidency, the budget crisis and the criticism of universities in general and of the professorate in particular in 1992-93 made it clear that 1993-94 would have to be dedicated largely to fighting those criticisms and combating the effects of budget reductions in a way that would strengthen the university's position in Virginia and--not under much lower priority--in the nation.

As many of you know, the most effective results--at least in my opinion--came about by organization of a focus on those problems. That idea was not original with me: Leon Geyer had already started on that path with an open forum in early 1993 (or late 1992) and with numerous senate, cabinet, and senate-officer/administration discussions. In retrospect, I think two of the more effective things I may have done with respect to this issue consisted of (i) writing and having published several newspaper commentaries (including a rebuttal of the fall 1993 attack by Associated Press on some of our best professors), and (ii) the suggestion of creating faculty councils at the college level to help the deans deal with impending further budget reductions. Such councils provide the dean with faculty expertise (in my opinion, the best available in our society!) and give faculty members the important sense that they are sharing in the burden of dealing with their fate. Shared governance, in short, even at the local college level. A number of such councils have been adopted to date and the idea has taken root. On the other hand, the establishment of a Faculty Senate committee to gather information on the attacks and to publicize our own accomplishments has met, I believe, with only limited success so far. There is a need for more active participation by senators and other faculty members but the demands of profession, family, and other matters, always seem to leave too little time for this.

The year's events were not molded only by these matters. In September 1993 we were suddenly confronted with the serious illness and impending resignation of President James D. McComas. Only two or three weeks earlier, President McComas convened the faculty to report on the attacks upon the university, and to state that he would lead us in that fight against the attacks. His resignation and death only months afterwards emphasized how suddenly and how seriously he would have to deflect his intention to lead the fight. It is with gratitude for his willingness and with deep admiration for his courage that we shall remember him in this context.

In August 1993, I gave a week of my time to the Faculty Rewards Project with about 10 other faculty members. The ensuing re-evaluation of what is expected of faculty members, with a renewed emphasis on university matters other than research, is occupying many of us up to this very day. My own role included efforts to make sure the proverbial baby (read: university) is not thrown out with the bath water (read: research). I believe the resulting document is much more carefully crafted than many of you may realize and it is something that the faculty must be willing to adopt in this or some other form in order to succeed.

Sometime in mid-October, I also spoke at the Drillfield, as part of an SGA organized event, to a large body of students on the need to organize cogently against the criticisms of the university coming from outside. You can be sure the form in which this was given was quite different from the cheer-leader style in which two out-of-town students delivered their message. I can only hope my message got across anyway.

One of the tasks of senate president is to represent the interests of faculty members with the Board of Visitors. I made much work of cultivating a relationship with our BOV members I attended perhaps seven or eight BOV meetings fully in 1993-94. The importance of that bond came to the fore when first an acting and then a fully appointed president of the university needed to be named by the BOV after the announced resignation of President McComas. Some of you may know that I was contacted by many faculty members with suggestions pro and con for certain candidates for that position. I asked for time to convey those sentiments at the Oct. 1, 1993 BOV executive session, and I was given that time. I am told that what I said was heard by the BOV. At later dates I emphasized to the vice rector of the BOV the feeling of the faculty that the selection process of a permanent president should not be rushed. The BOV felt differently, and perhaps my private feelings also were not in conflict with what they wanted, but all this was an example of the importance of representing faculty interests at the highest level.

A routine task of senate officers is to meet regularly with the president and the provost. We did so, and I can only emphasize that presidents McComas and Torgersen, and Provost Carlisle, always gave generously of their time, dealt most courteously with, and never neglected any of the issues we brought up. The concept of shared governance is also shared by them. I leave with admiration for much they have done. At other levels of university administration, it is not always easy for those involved to delay decisions they feel justified to make in order to seek the counsel of affected faculty members. For that reason, we do need to continue to be vigilant about shared governance. I urge all of you to keep your senate officers informed so that they can represent you properly in mutual talks with our administrative officers. I should not forget to mention several meetings with CBO Minnis Ridenour, who never neglected to tell us all he knew of budget and other business affairs affecting the faculty and university. We developed the utmost respect for his efforts on behalf of the university, and I know he is also most interested in the success of shared governance.

Other tasks involving chiefly the senate president were representational duties at Alumni Board meetings, at the university's Budget and Planning Advisory Council gatherings biweekly, at Ut Prosim gatherings. The items discussed were not always those I would have given highest priority to, but I was always very touched by the dedication of the non-university individuals and alumni who make time and money available to help us. I cultivated as many contacts among them as I could; they are a non-negligible source of help and information to us. One area I thoroughly neglected, though, was attendance at football games, even at the invitation of the university's president, and even at the risk of neglecting opportunities to mingle and negotiate with the powers that be. I could not bear to tarnish a long-lasting record of zero attendance. My successors will do better, I'm sure.

Yet another sensitive task lies in mediating when conflicts arise between faculty members and administrators. While several bodies deal with such issues--Reconciliation Committee, Faculty Review Committee, and Ethics Committee come to mind--the first contact of faculty members in need of aid by these committees is often through the senate president, who then is put in the position of being in the front lines between the crossfire of two warring sides. I had to maintain a tactful neutrality in dealing with such issues, since running for cover is out of the question. I can only hope that those who were not pleased by my decisions will remember that the senate president is bound by strict guidelines of Faculty Handbook and Senate Constitution. Mentioning those reminds me of the never-ending task of keeping commissions and committees fully staffed by senate representative. Most of you probably have little idea of how much time and effort go into such mundane matters.

A most useful innovation, the germ of which also was planted by my predecessor, Leon Geyer, was the assignment of clerical help to the senate officers in 1993-94. In December 1993, Jenifer Kittle became the first in what I hope will be a never-ending line of able secretaries, and she lightened the load of distributing (electronic and other) minutes and of convening members of committees to meetings.

My work was not greatly aided by three successive house moves between July 1993 and June 1994. I also was not allowed to forget that I was still a faculty member with teaching, research, and administrative duties in department and elsewhere.

I leave the senate after six years with two years as senate vice-president and then presiding officer, with good feelings about having served. It was a truly most interesting experience that I am grateful for having had. I can only hope that I have left things in a little better shape than when I started...or that at least things are not in worse shape. If that is the case, then that is so in no small measure to you, Larry, (Shumsky) and you, Bob, (Sumichrast) who served with me so ably. Your constant counsel and involvement, as well as that of senate cabinet, made it possible for me to serve the faculty as I ideally would have wanted to, but could not have solely by myself! I am very pleased to leave the senate in the able and competent hands of Larry Shumsky and I hope you will be as grateful for his willingness to serve you. He, Don Creamer, and David Beagle will be yet another excellent team. I come to an end with a mixture of happiness and sadness: happiness at a job reasonably well done, but sadness at leaving this body of so many friends who are willing to take upon themselves the extra burden of representing faculty interests. I greet you with a hearty ave atque vale!