Senate gives faculty academic, curricular voice

By CiaraShook

Members of the faculty are currently working to form the first-ever faculty senate at Columbia to improve the curricula at the college.

According to a statement released last December by the Faculty Senate Inquiry Group, if formed, the faculty senate would primarily supervise all academic policy and curricular matters. The senate would also enforce what they believe are best practices of teaching and learning.

“About a year ago at our annual meeting, people came to me asking to investigate the possibility of establishing a faculty senate at Columbia,” said Tom Nawrocki, president of the Columbia College Faculty Organization. “This is an idea that’s been talked about for probably 10 years, but nobody ever really made a move to shepherd it through or do the work on it.”

In spring 2009, faculty members distributed a document to Columbia’s full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty to vote on whether or not they wanted a faculty senate. Sixty-nine percent of the faculty voted, and 81 percent of that group voted in favor of a faculty senate.

“A faculty senate is pretty common in many institutions,” said Jeff Schiff, associate English professor and the FSIG liaison to Columbia’s Board of Trustees. “Naturally, it seemed to be the next step for us at Columbia.”

Schiff said FSIG, a volunteer group which includes faculty members from across the college, encourages faculty members to get involved and make the senate more effective.

The FSIG has met every two weeks since the poll was conducted and has been studying faculty governance at other institutions, looking for ways Columbia could form the best model for the college.

The faculty senate will report to Provost Stephen Kapelke and exchange information with the College Council and the school curriculum committees on a regular basis to promote effective communication and collaboration.

“Many of the things that the faculty senate will be interested in, which are essentially curricular issues, are under the purview of the College Council,” Nawrocki said. “I’m sure that anybody who is for a faculty senate wants to take control of curricular issues that are being handled by College Council. I know there are people who believe College Council is just too large and ineffective and it should be abolished. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but there are some faculty who are strident about that. Faculty senate doesn’t want to tell [College Council] what to do, we’re looking for ideas and cooperation.”

Kevin Fuller, president of the College Council, said the most important thing is that College Council has an effective system of governance.

“One thing we definitely will not do is have parallel bodies doing the same work,” Fuller said. “College Council looks forward to a voice like the faculty senate that will be representative of the faculty interests. The College Council will do what it takes to work effectively with the senate.”

According to Nawrocki, a bylaws committee will comprise two representatives and one alternate from each of the three schools. This committee will research and draft documents for the bylaws that will eventually be set in place for the senate.

“We’re hoping that by next spring, we will have bylaws that we can present to the faculty, who will then vote on the bylaws and accept or reject them,” Nawrocki said.

The group plans to launch a Web site of the committee’s progress that will continually give information to what bylaws they are working on. Nawrocki is expecting the process to take at least one year.

“We want to be as transparent as possible in this process,” Nawrocki said. “We want to keep faculty informed and in touch with where we’re headed.”