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Group revamps departments, addresses conflicts of commitment

Amanda Gray | Friday, December 10, 2010

The Faculty Senate worked on three major initiatives during the past calendar year, including the dissolving of one department and the creation of another, Senate Chair John Robinson said.

“We try to work with central administration on day-to-day issues,” he said.

Faculty Senate meets on the first Tuesday of every month, except for January. There are four committees — Academic Affairs, Administrative Affairs, Benefits and Student Affairs — which meet privately for a portion of every Senate meeting.

There are also two students, one undergraduate and one graduate, who attend and contribute to meetings, but don’t vote.

Faculty Senate worked closely with the administration on dissolving the Economics and Policy Studies department in March. The Department of Economics and Econometrics was then renamed the Department of Economics, Robinson said.

“The Senate worked with the administration on minimizing difficulties [of the transition],” Robinson said.

Around the same time, the Senate received a proposal to “split” the theoretical and practical aspects of the mathematics department. The Senate voted in March and created the Department of Applied Computational Mathematics and Statistics.

“A lot of people are happy with their new home,” Robinson said. “There are a lot of practical issues when creating a new department.”

Robinson, who became the chair July 1, came into office with one major problem waiting for him — the Conflict of Commitment Policy, which addresses situations when professor’s professional careers interfere with his or her responsibilities to the University, according to Robinson.

“For many faculty members, this isn’t really a problem,” he said. “For some, though, it’s very serious.”

Robinson said some problems have come up specifically at Innovation Park and in research done by science and engineering faculty, but these problems can be found in any college or department. He said the University has been working almost a year on the Conflict of Commitment Policy.

“The Senate appreciates that faculty owe their principal professional loyalty to the University,” the Senate stated in a response to the policy March 25. “Outside activities that compromise this loyalty are rare, but their potential harms to the University are significant enough to merit a uniform policy to address these conflicts.”

The Senate offered changes to the policy to make it easier to understand and make it “less objectionable” for the faculty, according to the response.

In addition to these three major undertakings, the Senate also worked on upcoming football schedules, Robinson said.

“The reason why the Faculty Senate is interested is we plan conferences around football game weekends,” Robinson said. “We were working with the Faculty [Board] on athletics and the Athletics Department.”

Robinson said the schedule for next year is set, which helps with potential planning of academic events.

The Senate has also been working with Associate Provost Dennis Jacobs on Course Instructor Feedback (CIF) problems, on both technical problems and increasing student participation.

“CIFs are really important. It’s really important for students to do this,” Robinson said. “You’d be surprised how serious departments take the feedback.”

He said it has taken five years to transition from the old paper feedback forms to the digital CIFs.

One of the biggest things the Benefits committee has worked on is fringe benefit, such as health care or stock options.