College Senate becoming irrelevant?

The Geneseo College Senate, the governing body that comprises administration, faculty and students, is struggling to fill positions as members have seen its role diminish in recent years, senators have said.

At the most recent College Senate meeting on Feb. 19, Nominations Committee chair and history professor William Gohlman announced that with the semester mid-point quickly approaching, no nominations have been received for the critical positions of Senate vice chair or treasurer.

Only one nomination has been received for senate secretary, and no nominations were presented for new members of the Professional Leave Review Committee or the General Education Committee.

Although the Senate does not have legislative power, it offers recommendations to the president.

Gohlman, currently serving his third year as committee chair, said that the committee has not been able to get a healthy crop of nominees for several years, and said that elections used to be hotly contested.

He said part of the problem is that faculty workload has increased in recent years, meaning that many senators, particularly those trying to get tenure, simply do not have time to devote to the positions, which generally have two-year terms.

"We're getting much better students, and so we have to work harder," he said.

Gohlman also suggested that many feel that a shift toward administration-created task forces has diminished the relevance of the College Senate.

"There's been some sense that the Senate doesn't have a role to play in the college anymore…it isn't asked to act upon much of anything," Gohlman noted.

Current Vice Chair Dennis Showers agreed that many senators, "don't see it as a tool for serious discussion of serious issues."

He described the Senate as "moribund," noting that today it mostly discusses curriculum.

"If we treat our nominations policy more seriously," Showers said, "that's going to help revitalize the Senate."

Senate Chair William Granger said he is working with Showers to reinvigorate the Senate to better serve the campus.

They have already implemented structural changes that, "create a more balanced workload among the different Senate offices," he said, and plan to revisit the Senate mission and try to determine if and how the college's need for the Senate has evolved since its inception.

Granger noted that other SUNY campuses have reported similar difficulties in raising interest among faculty senators.

President Christopher Dahl argued that the reasons for the lack of nominations are complex and numerous. He pointed out that the administration's task forces are not new and that the groups have traditionally been constituted in direct consultation with the College Senate.

Dahl said that part of the problem is that higher-education faculty across the country are now not only performing the traditional duties of teaching and researching but also spending much more time mentoring and advising students.

He said that faculty is traditionally evaluated based on teaching and research, but the service components of being a professor often go unrewarded.

Dahl also suggested that the alleged apathy could simply be cyclical, comparing the Senate to the Student Association, which has seen varying levels of interest throughout its history.

Gohlman agreed that the current faculty is generally content with the administration and the direction of the college and thus is not as compelled to lead in the Senate. He recalled tense Senate meetings of years past and said that today there is much less controversy.

Although faculty senators are not compensated directly for their service, Dahl emphasized, "Senate service is significant."

Senators also are able to voice their concerns directly to the president and provost rather than at a departmental level.

"We are a microcosm of the larger society," English professor Maria Lima said.

She described the Senate as, "the only place where we can voice our wishes and our discontent."

Lima also pointed out that "there has been more interest on the part of students to become senators, than faculty."

The Senate will next convene on March 11. Although there is no specific plan in place for a worst-case scenario where positions remain unfilled, Gohlman believes all positions will receive at least one nominee by the end of the semester.