Emory Report
November 28, 2005
Volume 58, Number 12


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November 28, 2005
Faculty, trustees find common ground on BOT committees

By hal jacobs

Before 2003, Emory’s faculty and trustees found few opportunities to sit down at the same table and shape the University’s future. They may have met and talked informally, and trustees sometimes invited faculty to share insight at board committee meetings (other than Academic Affairs, of which the University Senate president and president-elect are members). But melding faculty and trustee viewpoints was more the exception than the rule.

Two years ago, the rules changed. Thanks to efforts by William Branch, Carter Smith Sr. Professor of Medicine and the 2002 University Senate president, and Board of Trustees (BOT) chair Ben Johnson, Emory began an experiment in shared governance that is earning rave reviews from those involved.

“We’ve gone from feeling disempowered to a university that is out front in empowering its faculty as stakeholders,” said Branch, a “faculty counselor” on the Real Estate, Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Now professors have a place on most major board committees. As counselors, they participate fully in committee deliberations, and though they are nonvoting members, the counselors generally agree that a voice is more important than a vote because almost all decisions are reached by consensus.

Branch said the experience has given him new insight into the trustees’ dedication and willingness to work for Emory—and their awareness of faculty-related issues.

“Members seem aware of the faculty viewpoint, about the importance of keeping green space and woodlands, for example,” Branch said. “Of course, it helps to have someone on the committee to remind them.”

Sharon Strocchia, associate professor of history and another University Senate past president (whose term on the Academic Affairs Committee expired in May), said her experience reaffirmed her conviction that it is essential to bring faculty perspectives to bear on board deliberations.

“Faculty are obviously crucial stakeholders in this enterprise,” she said. “It’s incumbent upon us to educate the trustees about faculty priorities; we also have to be willing to partner with them in finding solutions. The key is open communication. [Adding faculty counselors] helped create the sense that faculty and trustees were involved in a common project, despite our differing roles.”

Kathy Parker, professor of nursing, described her nearly three years on the Woodruff Health Sciences Committee as “invigorating.”

“I’m excited about being part of a larger organization,” she said. “And I’m intrigued by how the place runs. I’ve learned a lot more about how and why decisions are made, and what kind of thought process goes into some very important decisions that affect a lot of people.”

Marshall Duke, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology, said it took about a year on the Finance Committee for him to gain a sense of what it was about and how it works. The light bulb came on for him during a discussion about renovations to the food court; he brought up a concern about the campus needing more performing arts spaces. “Suddenly, bang, it was there,” he said, and he realized that a small tweak at this level of decision making can have tremendous implications.

Duke believes he can make an added contribution by talking about what’s meaningful at different points in a faculty member’s career—for instance, the importance of retiree security, or how senior faculty can value time as much as money.

Finance chair John Morgan said Duke’s advice has provided the trustees “with a point of view previously not available, but now invaluable.”

“I can understand why the deliberations of the other board committees have also benefited,” Morgan said.

Laura Hardman, chair of the Campus Life Committee, also welcomed the contributions of faculty representatives, citing the example of Carol Hogue, professor of epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health, who suggested two years ago that the committee invite Campus Life Senior Vice President John Ford’s Faculty Advisory Committee to its annual spring meeting. Students also participate actively in the Campus Life Committee meetings.

“Faculty/student interaction is a key aspect of the Campus Master Plan for community life at Emory,” said Hardman. “As trustees consider development of new residence facilities and programming, career and health services, athletic and multi-cultural activities, dining and gathering spaces, other community building and community service opportunities, it is indeed essential to have the benefit of faculty counsel.”

Given the success of this approach, the Faculty Council recently forwarded to the Board of Trustees a process for the selection of future faculty counselors. James Ferman, chair of the Trustee Committee on Governance, Trusteeship and Nominations, found the selection plan thoughtful and consistent with the aims of the committee, which will support the proposed process.

Rosemary Magee, who began her duties as vice president and secretary of the University last winter after years of working closely with Emory College faculty, said she is struck by the commonalities between trustees and faculty.

“In both groups, you have serious people who are dedicated to the long-term interests of the University,” said Magee. “Now there is a structure to allow for consultation and collaboration. In this important way, Emory is ahead of its peers in our shared commitment to governance.”