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Faculty Facts

06 Dec Posted by in Academics, Business | Comments Off on Faculty Facts
Faculty Facts

One of the tantalizing aspects of fairly regular blogging involves the topics I’d like to write about but can’t, for the sake of prudence. In this holiday season, I don’t think I’m risking real imprudence, but I’ll get a bit closer to the line than I sometimes do.

The issue is Faculty Senates, particularly ours. Faculty Senates are vital. They shape or help shape policy in key areas. They express faculty concerns. They keep an eye on administrative behavior in ways that are at least largely salutary. So vive le Sénat!

My relations with our Faculty Senate are usually pretty good. Both the Senate and I have made some positive adjustments down the line. I suggested that the Senate needed a committee to facilitate discussion of major global initiatives, and we now have one. The Senate kindly suggested that I annually report on looming issues, and this process really helps me and, I think, facilitates communication. I respect our Senators and senatorial leadership. So: vive notre  Sénat!

Of course there are some tensions. I’m sure Senators poke fun at me behind my back, as I do with some of them. Many Senators have an understandable, basically healthy, desire to find things to criticize and to enjoy seeing administrators writhe a bit, and the process is not always pleasant. But again, the relationship is basically healthy and constructive, at least in my opinion.

But there is one senatorial behavior that puzzles me, though it probably seeps out from the responsibility for criticism. The Senate is recurrently capable of receiving factual misstatements with surprising lack of challenge or scrutiny, often despite considerable and public evidence to the contrary. A recent example was a claim (in the context of a desirable effort to learn more about enrollment issues and have some sense of how policies are shaped) that Mason’s enrollment growth has precluded improvements in student quality. That is demonstrably untrue. I don’t know why anyone would say this or at least why a group of research-savvy faculty would have it be conveyed under the Senate’s heading. A statement that we could/should have improved quality faster by restricting enrollment would be a legitimate subject for debate; I’m not at all saying that the topic is out of bounds. But the apparently ready acceptance of outright error is a bit troubling. And other examples dot the record of recent years.

Again, Senate and administration should poke at each other a bit, along with the normally more constructive interactions. I know that data gathering can inhibit passion. But once in a while a bit more balance might be useful. Vive un Sénat chercheur!