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November 6, 2000

University governance groups play
crucial role in policy review, creation

By Michael Terrazas

Everyone knows who actually runs Emory University—the administration, meaning the president, the provost, the deans and executive vice presidents, and other senior administrators from the various schools. These people make decisions, which are then approved by the Board of Trustees (BOT).

But along the way to making those decisions, President Bill Chace, Provost Rebecca Chopp and their administration colleagues often consult a bewildering array of campus groups for input, in hopes of making a choice that is both wise and well-received. Specifically, six governance groups span the entire University and represent very broad constituencies, and each of these groups plays an invaluable role in advising those charged with charting Emory’s path.

Written into the official University bylaws is a call for a University Senate, a broad-ranging body that incorporates everyone in the Emory community: students, faculty, staff and administrators. Closely linked to the Senate—indeed, they share the same officers is the Faculty Council, which deals mainly with academic affairs and matters of concern to Emory faculty. The staff counterpart is Employee Council, which addresses matters of concern for all University employees.

There are also three President’s Commissions, which address the concerns of three underrepresented constituencies: women (PCSW), minorities (PCSM) and lesbian/gay/
bisexual/transgendered persons (LGBT commission), established in 1976, 1979 and 1995, respectively.

All of these groups play an advisory role to the administration. As explained in the adjacent box, each has a set of officers, various terms of office, an electoral or appointment process and a certain set of responsibilities. And even though the term “advisory group” carries a lukewarm connotation for some, these groups actually turn their work into results.

“The President’s Commissions have been very helpful to me, and without drawing an invidious contrast, I have told the [PCSW] that the work they’ve done has been terrific,” said Chace.

“As provost, I work primarily with Faculty Council,” Chopp said. “[It] has been extremely helpful to me in numerous ways. I take ideas of projects or potential policies to the council to get their opinions early in the process. I listen very seriously to what the Faculty Council identifies as important issues for the campus.”

Indeed, in the case of University Senate, it has the authority to step beyond its “advisory” role; its bylaws state that Senate resolutions “shall be deemed final unless and until” the trustees fail to take action. If the University president does not concur with a resolution and chooses not to forward it to the BOT, the Senate has the power, by a two-thirds “super-majority” vote, to override the president’s “veto” and carry its resolutions directly to the appropriate BOT committee.

This has never happened, according to University Secretary Gary Hauk. “In fact, it’s only a fairly recent amendment to the Senate bylaws,” he said. But it does lend a certain gravitas to the Senate that would be absent from a strictly advisory group.

But the University Senate influences campus life in many other ways. Through its standing committees, as well as various ad hoc committees, it participates in University governance through less-visible, but just as relevant, channels. Its honorary degrees committee solicits, filters, researches, puts up for a vote and then submits to the BOT nominees for the handful of honorary degrees given at each Commencement. The fringe benefits committee is very active in exploring options for employee benefits packages.

Perhaps the three most visible Senate committees are the Campus Development Committee (CDC), the Traffic/Parking Committee and the Committee on the Environment. All three are related and share liaison members with the others. They have worked themselves into an instrumental role in reviewing plans for campus development and evaluating their various ramifications.

During the intense campus discussion in the spring of 1999 over the shuttle road skirting Lullwater from the new University Apartments parking deck, these committees played a central role in the discussion.

“When I first took over as chair, we wouldn’t see a project until it was too late to do too much about it,” said Ray DuVarney, in his fifth year as CDC chair. “One of the things Facilities Management did in response to our urgings, and the urgings of the Committee on the Environment, was [acknowledge that] if these committees are really going to play a role, they’ve got to see the projects sooner. And that’s been a major change—we now see a project four or five times [through the course of its development].”

Still, despite the influence the Senate and the other groups enjoy, they sometimes struggle to fill all their member vacancies. Many people on campus know very little about them, and other than a monthly writeup in Emory Report, their activities sometimes go unnoticed. Some of this is attributable to their being strictly voluntary groups, but many are hopeful that the community will take a more active role in its own governance.

“Any time we deal with volunteers, I feel uncomfortable saying we should have done more,” said Senate President and Faculty Council Chair Claire Sterk. “We need to work on a better mechanism to make sure we follow up on activities that get started. By the time a person has really figured out what to do, it’s time for the next person to step in.

“One of the reasons the committees have been so successful is the chairs have committed themselves to staying and working with them. I would be very happy if people could think about this more like a spiderweb, where everything is connected, as opposed to having all these different groups that don’t talk to each other.”


Back to Emory Report Nov. 6, 2000