Advise and Consent

Fostering Frank and Healthy Communication
The past and future of the University Senate

William T. Branch Jr., Carter Smith Sr. Professor of Medicine and President, University Senate


Advise and Consent:
Taking faculty governance seriously

"Part of what makes universities special is the idea that decisions are made collectively by a group of scholars. It's an important goal that needs to be sustained."
Robert Schapiro, Associate Professor of Law

"I think there are limits to faculty governance; it stops short of management."
Micheal Giles, Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science

Standing governance bodies at Emory

Citizenship or Sandbox Politics?
Two models of faculty governance

Crossing the Great Divide
Enhancing faculty-trustee communication
Karen Stolley, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese

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As president of the University Senate, I have thought considerably about its past and future role in university life. Clearly, the senate was set up as a means for the university community to have input into policy. But the senate’s involvement in university policy has ebbed and flowed over the years. Likewise, so has the degree to which individual senate members have believed they represented constituents with strong opinions.

Often, these swings of the pendulum seem to depend on whether
the university is prosperous and whether the schools are meeting
or exceeding their initiatives for advancement. During prosperous times, which one might argue existed until recently, the senate
has served mainly as a discussion forum for various policies the administration brings forward, most of which are not highly controversial. In times of fiscal belt-tightening, however, such as in the past year when the fringe benefit policy was altered, the senate tends to deal with controversial issues and become more assertive.

At times like these, tough questions emerge: Are University Senate members in touch with and representing their constituents? Is the senate fulfilling its role proactively? As faculty, students, and staff become actively engaged in policy matters, there is a call for the senate to have a higher profile and be willing to make recommendations on matters of importance to the university’s future. As president of the senate, I hope to cultivate greater communication among the various leadership groups within the university and to ensure that the senate truly represents its constituency. Below, I offer an overview of how the senate functions and how we might address these goals.

The University Senate is Emory’s most broadly representative governance body, where faculty and staff interact with administration over policy matters. Membership includes tenured and non-tenured elected faculty from all schools, Employee Council members, and student representatives. Ex-officio members represent the administration, including the university president, provost and vice presidents, deans of the schools, and appointed members such as alumni and Carter Center representatives.

The University Senate is an important forum for providing feedback to the administration. The senate also has proactive powers that allow it to take initiative in policy matters. It is empowered to consider and make recommendations concerning all matters of general interest, as distinguished from those affecting a single school; to review all changes in existing policies or new policies on matters of general university interest; and to consider and make recommendations on any matters referred by the university president or the Board of Trustees. The senate also recommends candidates for honorary degrees. The senate acts on proposals or may postpone action while holding an inquiry to gather information.

The senate’s standing committees include Fringe Benefits, Environ-mental Policy, Campus Development, Honorary Degrees, Campus Life, Athletic Policy, Library Policy, Safety and Security, and Parking and Transportation. These committees report to the senate annually. The senate and the university president jointly define the senate’s jurisdiction, and if there is disagreement over a senate action, the matter may be referred to the Board of Trustees. With the concurrence of the university president, senate decisions are deemed final, unless and until the board takes final action.

Last year’s senate president, Professor of Law Frank Vandall, established ad hoc committees to look into and make recommendations regarding tenure and university budget. The issue of changes in fringe benefits was fully debated on several occasions and led to a unanimous senate vote to accept recommendations made by the Fringe Benefit Committee, chaired by Associate Professor of Medicine Sidney Stein, as well as a majority vote in support of the resolution against changing fringe benefits originating from the Executive Committee of Emory College.
These actions were forwarded to the Board of Trustees, who took them into account in making their decisions regarding fringe benefit policy.

As president, one of my goals, working with other faculty leadership groups and the senate membership, is to increase dialogue among faculty leaders, administrators, and trustees. In addition, we need to clarify the relationship between the University Senate, which deals with issues of general interest to the university, and the faculty governing bodies of the schools—especially Emory College, where the Executive Committee engages in issues pertaining to the college. Our goal will be to have the governing bodies from the schools work closely with the general governing body, the University Senate, to fully consider the interests of the faculty and the university.

Finally, there is the need to ensure that the senate truly represents its constituents. This is an important goal that can be addressed through publicizing the names of senate representatives, seeking concerned, articulate faculty members to run for senate elections, and publicizing the elections. In short, we want a senate that represents its constituents forcefully by engaging in a healthy and frank debate among its members and with university administration. This process should lead to a stronger Emory community and a sense of empowerment for its faculty, staff and students.