Friday, November 05, 2010

It's just service, dude

 This story in the Chronicle just cracked me up.

Apparently, the faculty at University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC) is so reluctant to serve that they have created a computer-based system relying on faculty to "opt out" of serving on the senate. As anyone who has ever seen an "opt out" system in place (think about parent notification for sex ed), it works because it relies on people forgetting to follow up. Is that how you want to pick your representatives? The woman who forgot to check her email, or the guy who couldn't get the computer system to work? Because the latter is how the members of UMKC picked the Chair of their Faculty Senate--an assistant professor, no less. He is a smart man, so he immediately resigned his new post and the Vice-Chair took over.

Okay, I know I am an academic nerd, but does no one else want to serve on faculty senate? I have served as a faculty representative at three different universities, and I think it is not a bad avenue for service. I learned about how the university functions. I met interesting, smart people from across the university. I helped shape university policies.Yes, some of it is mundane and breaks into wordsmithing that makes me want to kill someone, but that only happens once in a while. Senate gets you out of your office, out of your department, and engaged in the larger university. What university service could be better than that?

I am once again reminded of how few faculty members understand the importance of their role in shared governance. If we (and staff and students) don't take a role in determining the policies and practices that shape our lives as employees and the education of our students, we leave it in the hands of upper administrators and members of advisory boards who have their own pressures and agendas and have limited insight into the lived experiences of faculty, staff, and students on campus. Shared governance only works if everyone shows up--willingly, not by accident.


Bardiac said...

I served a term in our senate, and totally agree with you that it's important work and that it helps you get to know people outside your department.

But, if I had to listen to yet another dramatic reading of the assessment guy's assessment documents, or sit through another administrator's BS about how we have to support the community by helping build the sports facility for his favorite sport, I would be increasingly unhappy.

Here, at least, we need to cut some of the BS and have more actual governance work through the senate.

Shane in Utah said...

I'm currently on my faculty senate, and it's as useless a waste of my time as I could have ever concocted. We have no power! Our role is purely "advisory," and we exist to rubber-stamp things the administration intends to do anyway. And we don't even get to rewrite the code that makes the faculty senate such a useless appendage in the first place. So yes, I intend to spend the rest of my career avoiding faculty senate "service," which is in no way related to "governance" that I can see...

Progressive Scholar said...

Nothing can really excuse this guy's behavior but I can give you good reasons why he may have quit. The faculty at UMKC are stretched thinner than thin with everything they are expected to do. The university has not given staff/faculty a pay increase (which includes cost of living increase!) in the last four years. Faculty are expected to accomplish more and more while getting paid less and less. The university is experiencing a horrendous budget crunch with increased student enrollment and decreased faculty hiring, forcing some faculty to take on unusually high amounts of course loads while still being required to sit in on numerous committee meetings and attend to all their other professional and personal responsibilities. Again, no excuses, but I can understand why he couldn't handle the extra responsibility. I'd rather have him step down than to keep the position and do nothing!