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
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
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
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.