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FACULTY SENATE: Thorough, thoughtful agenda suggests future success

Mary Kate Malone | Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Notre Dame Faculty Senate has engaged in thorough discussion on a wide variety of issues this semester, creating a lofty and lengthy agenda that, if acted upon in the spring semester, could reap serious benefits for professors and students alike.

Rising health care costs, academic freedom issues and high University officers’ election procedures have fueled intense debate at this fall’s Faculty Senate meetings.

Chaired by Seth Brown, the Senate has established three key areas to explore in the second semester: academic freedom, procedures for electing high University officers and salary and benefits.

“At this point we have simply identified these as areas of concern,” Brown said. “In the next semester, I hope that the Senate will conclude whether real problems exist, and how we ought to deal with them.”

Discussion on the issues has been thorough and professors have added solid feedback at their meetings. Still, the problems that have been raised could prove difficult to concretely identify and even more challenging to solve.

The Senate is buoyed by competent faculty members who feed thoughtful discourse at their monthly meetings. But the hectic nature of a professor’s duties at Notre Dame has kept members from stepping forward and seriously tackling the issues they have readily discussed in their meetings. Discussion must lead to action – and action will only be taken by faculty who have the time and willingness to do so.

The Senate has made a concerted effort to invite visitors to its meetings – including University Provost Thomas Burish and Human Resouces director Denise Murphy. These efforts are a step in the right direction, but the Senate needs to integrate itself further with the rest of the University in order to respond to its needs adequately.

Members of the Student Affairs committee, a subgroup within the Faculty Senate, decided early in the year that they wanted to address the use of the word “sucks” at Notre Dame basketball games, and specifically target the Leprechaun Legion for encouraging the diction. But without inviting students to their meetings, the committee will be unable to fairly and fully respond to the problem.

The Senate has kept an eye on various ad-hoc groups that have been working on year-old issues like teaching evaluation procedures for promotion and tenure at the University. It has also been exploring an initiative to provide students with teacher evaluations when choosing courses. The Senate expects reports back from these committees during the spring semester.

When Burish visited the Faculty Senate at its second meeting in October, members were not afraid to voice complaints, as they questioned the eager Provost about budgetary problems, the need for a more interdisciplinary academic approach and the University’s commitment to undergraduate education. Members have discussed academic freedom at Notre Dame – whether or not it exists and how it might be improved.

Murphy’s visit to the Faculty Senate meeting prompted probing questions from faculty that felt health care costs were stripping University employees of their due pay.

The Faculty Senate is heavy on discussion but light on follow-through. Since it only meets once a month and is composed of often overworked faculty members, it is not fair to expect swift action from the body. Its discussions have added spark to issues like faculty benefits and academic freedom and for that it should be commended.