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Faculty Senate okays additional action on faculty perceptions, legislative action

By John Ashby

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 18 - January 30, 1997

Draft plans to improve public perceptions of faculty members and to influence the legislative process were presented and approved for further discussion and action at the January meeting of the Faculty Senate.

Tom Sherman, who is heading the senate work group which is looking at these issues, covered the major points for the senators and asked for a sense of the senate on the recommendations. "The Senate Perceptions Work Group has identified two initiatives for action on behalf of the faculty at the university," Sherman said. He then highlighted the two proposals, which had been provided electronically to senators, and which are excerpted below. The proposals have not been formally submitted as a resolution of the senate, and are subject to revision.

One goal of the public perception workgroup of the Virginia Tech Faculty Senate is to develop an ongoing communications program to improve the image of faculty members among the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. To accomplish this goal, the work group proposes the following objective:

To increase by X percent the level of knowledge held by citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia in calendar year XXXX concerning the responsibilities of the faculty for teaching, research and service and how each of these activities provides measurable benefits to the commonwealth and to society.

To achieve this objective, we propose the following communication strategies:

1. The Faculty Senate will create a standing Faculty Senate Committee for Public Outreach and will petition the Office of University Relations to assign a public-information officer to assist the senate in implementing various components of the Public Image Proposal.

2. To ascertain the image of the Virginia Tech faculty among citizens within the commonwealth, the Faculty Senate will conduct a review of all relevant attitude and public-opinion research compiled by the university or other sources. The Faculty Senate will also investigate the possibility of having questions about the faculty included in the annual Virginia Quality of Life survey conducted by the University's Center for Survey Research.

3. The Faculty Senate will review all university publications, radio and television public-service announcements and advertisements, and other media to make certain that faculty contributions to both the university and the commonwealth are represented. The review will be conducted on an annual basis.

4. The Faculty Senate will work with the Office of University Relations to develop a brochure and two-page fact sheet that covey information supporting a common theme; e.g., "Virginia Tech Faculty: Creating Knowledge That Works." The brochure will put a "face" on faculty activities by combining information on teaching, research, and service with photographs and quotes from "real" faculty members who do "real" things both inside and outside the classroom. The fact sheet will highlight measures of faculty productivity; e.g., average faculty work week; students taught; research productivity; job created; graduates employed; etc. Audiences: The brochure will be written for public consumption. Target audiences will include in-state alumni and parents of existing and potential students. The fact sheet will be targeted at audiences who need to obtain information quickly; e.g., state legislators, business leaders, etc.

5. The Faculty Senate will develop a Faculty Speakers Bureau composed of faculty members who will speak before audiences on the topic of how the Virginia Tech faculty benefits the commonwealth. The availability of speakers will be advertised by letter to alumni chapters, chambers of commerce, business and civic organizations, and other organizations that may be interested in hearing from faculty. Recruitment of speakers, scheduling of speaking assignments, and development of a standard speech will be coordinated by the senate's public information officer. Audiences: Alumni, business groups, civic organizations. Implementation date:

6. The Faculty Senate will work with the Office of University Relations to develop an ongoing media-relations program to interest news media in faculty-oriented feature stories that put the emphasis not only on the product of faculty activities but also the process that produces those activities. The goal is the publication of one news feature a month in a major daily newspaper or on a local television station within the commonwealth. These stories will focus on faculty success stories in the areas of teaching, research, and service, and will also contain information about the process of conducting research, teaching, and performing service; e.g., hours spent by faculty members outside the classroom to prepare for teaching, grants generated to support work, role of students in producing research product, etc. Audiences: General public.

7. The Faculty Senate will work with the Office of University Relations to co-sponsor a media-relations workshop or workshops for faculty members. These workshops will be designed to educate faculty members concerning how best to present positive information to the news media in a manner that will support faculty goals for public outreach.

In discussion of the proposed actions, senators noted that information officers in the colleges routinely solicit information on faculty achievements for transmission to various news media. There was a question regarding the wisdom of spending time on an annual review of university publications as suggested in point 3 of the proposal.

Sherman also presented an overview of the legislative action proposal the workgroup has developed. The proposal, as shared by e-mail and discussed in the senate meeting is presented below.

Representation in the Legislative Process GOAL: To more effectively present and represent faculty interests in all aspects of the legislative process so as to have a positive impact on those legislative items that relate to faculty, student and university well-being.

SITUATION: The legislative process has become increasingly complex involving greater specialization among legislators and the development of elaborate committee and sub-committee structures to process and modify legislation that has been introduced into the legislature.

Most of the bills that impact upon higher education in Virginia are processed through four committees in the General Assembly--Senate Finance Committee (17), Senate Education and Health Committee (14), House Appropriations Committee (22) and House Education Committee (22). Once a bill has been referred to committee it is sent to sub-committee for review and mark-up. It is within the sub-committee processes that legislative staff and legislative liaison specialists interact with members of the sub-committee to shape the content of legislation. Once a sub-committee finishes its work and reports to the full committee there is most often very little change in the proposed bills. The vast majority of the bills reported out from committee are adopted with little or no change on the chamber floor. Thus, it is extremely important to be aware of all legislation before those subcommittees that draft legislation relating to higher education.

Our faculty and faculties from throughout higher education in the commonwealth must monitor all legislation before subcommittees to evaluate such proposed legislation for potential impact upon on our collective well-being. Further, faculty members need to be present or represented at each meeting of those sub-committees and committees where and when legislation relating to higher education is discussed. Faculty members or a hired legislative liaison specialist must be present in Richmond during most weeks that the General Assembly is in session. OBJECTIVE I: Develop a better understanding of the legislative process and the importance/ opportunities for faculty involvement in the process.

Strategy 1: Meet with members of the General Assembly to solicit their ideas and advice on ways to be represented in the legislative process.

Actions: Meetings with Senator Marye, and Delegates Shuler and Jackson. Additional meetings contemplated.

Strategy 2: Meet with organizational representatives and individuals who are actively involved in legislative liaison activities.

Actions: Meeting with the Executive Staff and chief lobbyist for the Virginia Education Association (VEA). Other meetings are contemplated.

OBJECTIVE II: Involve faculty members from other universities and colleges in the commonwealth in developing plans for and implementing a legislative liaison function for faculty from higher education in Virginia.

Strategy I: Organize and hold a conference for faculty senate members from Virginia to learn more about the legislative liaison role and develop action plans for organizing and representing faculty interest before the General Assembly.


1. The Faculty Senate endorse the efforts of the work group to increase the presence of the faculty in the legislative process and request that the work of the committee continue into next year.

2. The Faculty Senate endorse the organization of a conference on effective lobbying to be held in Roanoke in spring 1997 and hosted by the Faculty Senate of Virginia Tech.

3. The Faculty Senate endorse the efforts of the work group to meet with members of the General Assembly and support the continuation of that process throughout the remaining months of the calendar year.

4. The Faculty Senate endorse the efforts of the work group to meet with experienced lobbyists to develop a plan to represent faculty interest before the General Assembly and support the continuation of those efforts during the remaining months of the calendar year.

In discussion of the legislative-action proposal, senators wanted assurance that a union was not being suggested. When asked who would pay for a professional representative for faculty members, Sherman said, "Get out your checkbook." He said he hoped that faculty members state-wide would be willing to support the effort after considering how they felt about faculty salaries and budget cuts in higher education recently.