76% of faculty favor revising College Senate

Faculty voted 76 percent in favor of "forming a committee to propose a faculty governance body" in an online poll conducted April 2 to 15.

Dennis Showers, chair of the College Senate, said that based on the results of the survey, he will begin the process of forming a committee to create a proposal for a new governance body. The new organization would not replace the College Senate, but would spur a restructuring of the existing Senate to accommodate a caucus exclusive to faculty.

Decades ago, the College Senate consisted only of faculty, but was restructured in the early 1970s to include student representation. Presently, the Senate includes voting representatives from senior faculty, junior faculty, students, administration and professional staff, though nonvoting members of the college community can attend. The Senate has no administrative authority but issues recommendations to President Christopher Dahl.

"I think this is a good thing to explore," said psychology professor Jim Allen, who is currently a faculty senator. "It is my impression that faculty interests and student interests sometimes diverge, so I think this is an idea worth examining. Of course, I don't want to overstate the divergence between faculty and students - we all have the best for Geneseo as our first interest - but I'm definitely in favor of exploring this as a possible option, which is really where we are now."

The mandate of the survey was to explore the possibility of creating a faculty caucus, not to actually implement any changes immediately. "Eventually, there has to be a very specific proposal that the faculty as a whole can vote 'yes' or 'no' on," Showers said.

"The Senate as it exists right now is not an ideal functioning body," said Amy Sheldon, geological sciences professor and a faculty senator. "I think it's very healthy to critically evaluate things like this now and then." She did express concern over the difficulty of filling seats in a new faculty governance body since the Senate has had difficulty filling positions as it is.

"I think [creating such a caucus] could be a positive development," said philosophy professor Larry Blackman. He said that the current Senate serves as "a rubber stamp for the administration" and no longer drives policy changes as it did years ago.

"If we were to go ahead with this, the College Senate would be restructured in terms of responsibilities and numbers," Showers said. "The way it is now, there is no room for a faculty-only body to take on responsibilities." He said that the idea is not to have closed-door faculty meetings but rather to "better serve the college."

Supporters of the idea say that separating responsibilities will result in a more efficient governance system. "I've heard people talk a lot about efficiency," said Brian Morgan, education professor and secretary of the Senate. "I don't know if more efficient is necessary better though … democracy isn't efficient." He added that the existing structure gives everyone a voice, which he considers a positive element.

"I've been here long enough so that I've seen it both ways [faculty-only and mixed], and I don't see that much of a difference," said Richard Young, geological sciences professor.

Student Association Vice President Nick Kaasik, a member of the College Senate Executive Committee, said he was disappointed that initial meetings set up for faculty to discuss the proposal were closed to students. "[Any change in governance] needs to be a transparent process" which students have the opportunity to be a part of, he said.

"I find the creation of a faculty caucus unnecessary," said sophomore Tyler Ocon, a student senator. "The faculty already has disproportionate representation compared to the student body and the student caucus. If the faculty seek their own caucus within the Senate, it's high time the student caucus brings in larger numbers to accurately reflect the numbers of the student body."

Some professional staff members were concerned about the implications of a faculty-only forum.

"As much as [faculty] like to talk about a democratic process, it doesn't exist as far as staff is concerned," said Edward Beary, instructional support specialist for the biology department. "There's more than enough educated people [at Geneseo] without Ph. Ds who know what they're doing." Beary said that staff are underrepresented on the College Senate already and that department representatives do not always accurately represent the support staff of their department.

"I could see how a faculty-only branch would be better focused on faculty-only issues," said Rick Coloccia, network manager for Computing & Information Technology and a non-faculty member of the Senate. He said that some topics of discussion, such as those pertaining specifically to curriculum matters, are not relevant to staff.

"Senate is a means for me to hear about things that are going on around campus … I do appreciate the opportunity to share my opinion when the opportunity arises," Coloccia said, noting that as a 1997 alumnus he, at times, brings a different perspective to an issue than faculty members from other universities.

"It's the responsibility of everyone on Senate to think of how the Senate can best support the academic mission of the College … I don't think of [a faculty caucus] as minimizing my role," he said.

Kirk Anne, assistant director of systems and networking, said that there are channels through which staff may have concerns addressed besides the Senate. "Most of [CIT's] policies are discussed at the Cabinet level," Anne said. The Cabinet meets biweekly and is comprised of the president and the five vice presidents. Concerns are typically brought to the appropriate vice president through a division of the staff.