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Burish all ears while faculty voices concerns

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, October 6, 2005

As part of his ongoing efforts to get to know the Notre Dame faculty, University provost Thomas Burish started building a relationship with Faculty Senate at the group’s Wednesday night meeting.

Burish, who came to the meeting to learn about Faculty Senate and seek its input on issues he previously identified as important, said he wanted to establish long-term communication with the group.

“So [tonight] I would like mostly to listen,” Burish said.

He took notes before responding to comments or concerns about the direction of the University and advice on how he should proceed in his duties as Notre Dame’s new provost.

Topics that generated the most discussion were department funding, interdisciplinary work and graduate research.

“One thing we’ve stayed away from is anything having to do with budgets,” Faculty Senate chair Seth Brown said. “The faculty [members] have little say in budget issues.”

Burish acknowledged budget difficulties as a universal problem faced by all universities.

“I know the University’s gone through some hard times,” Burish said. “And I know you can’t do more with less.”

Burish said in addition to meeting with faculty “at breakneck speed,” he is working with University President Father John Jenkins and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves on budget plans.

“Both are very committed to academic priorities,” he said.

A common faculty complaint voiced at the meeting was that not enough structure is established to promote interdisciplinary work at Notre Dame, an issue Burish raised during his Sept. 12 address to faculty.

‘The question is aimed at saying interdisciplinary or disciplinary work [is better],” Burish said. “Both should flourish when it’s appropriate for them to flourish.”

Faculty Senate member Cynthia Mahmood said structural barriers were halting the Peace Studies department’s progress. This problem, Faculty Senate member Gail Bederman said, is partly a result of the University traditional lack of “infrastructure,”

“Notre Dame has a tradition of putting money into buildings, roads – things that look good to trustees,” Bederman said.

Student Affairs committee chair Philippe Collon said he felt Notre Dame’s colleges and departments were at times too disconnected.

“I feel that at Notre Dame, sometimes we know less than we should about what is happening in other departments,” Collon said.

Interdisciplinary work, Collon said, “would help us grow and develop something.”

Faculty Senate also approached the conflict between emphasizing undergraduate teaching and promoting graduate programs.

“We want to become a great research university in a different way than a Purdue or an MIT,” Brown said.

Brown proposed two “win-win situations,” promoting undergraduate research and finding “quality graduate students” to teach large classes. This way, Brown said, the focus is on both undergraduate and graduate students.

Other concerns focused on the difficulty in attracting graduate students to Notre Dame programs. Discussion also centered on Faculty Senate’s role compared to other campus faculty committees and how this role could be generative, rather than responsive.

“My understanding of the [Faculty] Senate is that unlike almost any other entity of the University, it is as independent of the administration as it can be and still fall under the Articles of Union,” Faculty Senate member John Robinson said. “Its strength is its independence. Its weakness is its independence.”

Brown recalled the “not very specific” jurisdiction outlined in “the charge” to the Faculty Senate in the University’s Academic Articles.

The Faculty Senate is broken down into four committees – Benefits, Academic Affairs, Administrative Affairs and Student Affairs, Brown said. Items are added to Faculty Senate’s agenda as they come to the attention of members.

The visit to the Faculty Senate was just one of Burish’s recent meetings with faculty. He said he was in the middle of trips to various departments and was starting a lunch series to discuss whatever faculty members desired.

“I truly believe the University’s quality is determined more by the faculty than anything else,” Burish said. “So really, it begins with the faculty.”