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Presidential Updates

Welcome!

All updates were written by Elisabeth Schussler and reflect her perceptions and reflections as current Faculty Senate President. The newest information is at the bottom, so scroll!

 

Many faculty in academia view shared governance with suspicion or cynicism. This page is to assure you that shared governance still exists at UT!; many faculty are working hard and using their expertise to inform the direction of the University. I will start with some philosophical reflections, and will add monthly updates to this page about topics Faculty Senate has been engaged with and opportunities for faculty engagement (you can scroll down to the most recent information as it is added).

Philosophical musings on shared governance

At UTK, the Board of Trustees, Administration, Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Undergraduate Students all have roles in advancing the mission of the University. Each brings their perspective and voice to inform institutional programs, policies, and practices.

Faculty Senate is the representational body for faculty. In our meetings, we dialogue directly with the Chancellor and Provost to exchange ideas and concerns specific to faculty and institutional welfare. We also have committees that work to identify topics of concern, advance understanding, and propose changes to how the institution functions.

We often think about shared governance victories as big, splashy policy changes or resolutions affirming a core principle, and, yeah, those are awesome. But shared governance is also about the small, everyday wins where we talk with others who aren’t faculty, share our perspectives with each other, and then adjust our programs and policies because of those conversations.

Shared governance took a hit during COVID because it requires community dialogue to function. Faculty Senate is focusing this year on ways we can re-build a community so that faculty feel they belong, feel their voices are heard, feel their needs are met, and feel happy to work at UT. When the Chancellor and Provost hold their office hours, we encourage everyone to attend and share your ideas. E-mail them when you have concerns (chancellor@utk.edu; provost@utk.edu). Unless they hear from faculty, decisions will not include our perspective.

 

July 2022

The Faculty Senate Leadership Team (President Schussler, President-Elect Roessner, and Past President Ownley) worked with Faculty Senate Officers Spirko, Gimmel, Bernard, and Administrative Assistant Loretta Link through the summer to populate the committees, set priorities for 22-23, and begin planning for the Faculty Senate retreats on August 19 and 29.

The Leadership Team meets monthly with Chancellor Plowman and Provost Zomchick, and we talked extensively in the July meeting about the need to work together to define shared governance at UTK and build community. This meeting led to our plans to focus part of the August 19 retreat and all of the August 29 retreat on shared governance discussions.

The Leadership Team and Officers recognize the need to re-vamp communication with faculty and will be presenting a new communication plan for discussion at the August 19 retreat.

Recent news:

  • Diane Kelly told us that the Provost’s office is finalizing work on guidance for 9-month appointments in light of the addition of the January term. We await this announcement.
  • We have been told to expect news about the institutional bullying policy this fall.
  • We are encouraging the Provost to provide faculty with information about the institutional COVID policies so we know how to populate our syllabi. Our current understanding is that, institutionally, COVID is not being treated any differently than any other illness, so the same policies that were extended for an illness pre-pandemic would work for this fall. There will not be a COVID support form this year, but students will be able to submit an illness form and get guidance from a support team (this is voluntary). They are working on a dashboard for instructors based on this information. We will know more after our August meeting with the Chancellor and Provost. If you have questions you want us to ask them, please e-mail senate@utk.edu.

Issues we have our eyes on for this year:

  • Potential re-structuring of the College of Arts and Sciences. Obviously this impacts a large group of faculty who only learned about these plans as the semester was ending in April. The Chancellor and Provost have been meeting with Arts and Sciences departments through the summer and our understanding is that options will be presented mid-fall. We have been very concerned about this very short time frame for a significant structural change, with most of the feedback period encompassing a time when faculty are not obligated to be working. We may be sending a faculty survey about this topic to collect campus-wide faculty perspective on this potential change. In the meantime, we will continue to push for more robust processes for faculty feedback. If you have ideas, please contact us.
  • Mental health on campus broadly
  • Space on campus for faculty displaced by the new Haslam Business Building
  • Budget model – transparency of process
  • Inflation, workload, salary
  • Policies and practices to better support Non-tenure Track Faculty

 

UPDATE on potential re-structuring of the College of Arts and Sciences

Chancellor Plowman and Provost Zomchick will be releasing their ideas for how the College could be re-structured around the end of August or beginning of September. An announcement of the structure will be made sometime in mid to late October. That means that there is about a month and a half for faculty to engage in the feedback process. Processes for this will include a Chancellor Town Hall slated for Sept. 7, Faculty Senate meeting on September 19, Provost and Chancellor Office Hours, Academic Department Visits, and Web feedback.

We urge all faculty to express their opinions about this re-structuring. It is a potentially significant change for many faculty and will have cascading impacts on many units.

Faculty Senate is considering a survey of faculty on this issue and a special “caffeine and community” faculty discussion. Stay tuned for more information.

 

UPDATE on Covid-19 policies for the fall

Institutional guidance for this Fall is for faculty to treat COVID-19 as any other illness that may disrupt a student’s ability to attend class or complete work. There are no expectations of special accommodations beyond what a faculty member would give to any student illness. Your syllabus should guide your policies; the Provost’s Office has provided guidance on statements you can include in your syllabus on the campus syllabus page: https://teaching.utk.edu/the-syllabus/

The Student Health Center provides guidance on COVID and other illnesses (including monkeypox). There is no COVID support form this year, but there is a general Illness support form students should fill out to receive guidance from community health staff. From this website students can also link to specific guidance and support for COVID. https://studenthealth.utk.edu/CommunityHealth/

 

Nominate someone for an Honorary Degree from UT! Nominations due Sunday, August 21. https://chancellor.utk.edu/honorary-degrees/

 

August 2022

The Senate Leadership spent much of August preparing for our two retreats.

Our August 19 retreat on zoom presented details about our leadership team foci for this year (Community and Communication) as well as information on how to be a faculty senator, communication strategies, parliamentary procedure, and shared governance. We asked participants to engage in discussions in small groups to share ideas and take a survey on our focal topics for the year.

At our second retreat, we reported on the results from the first retreat and invited administrators and student leaders to join us in small group discussions about shared governance.

The 2022 retreat results indicated that Senators want us to focus on 6 main topics this year: budget model transparency, pay and inflation, diversity efforts, CAS restructuring, divisive concepts, and non-tenure track issues.

The shared goverance discussion indicated that participants wanted to talk more across the academic hierarchy about a shared mission to help focus our efforts, build understanding of our unique perspectives, help faculty engage in shared governance more, and clarify institutional processes and how data and feedback are used on campus.

Besides the retreats, we have been working to advocate for faculty voice in the conversations about CAS restructuring, offering suggestions to the Chancellor and Provost to modify the proposed timeline, meet with all the departments in CAS before announcing suggested changes, explain more about why this is needed, and deploy a survey to gather faculty perspectives.

To inform our own advocacy, we are gathering CAS faculty feedback via a survey about the restructuring plans.

As we look forward to September, we know our committees are off to a running start, and we look forward to our first Executive Council meeting September 12, featuring more time for discussion of critical issues.

Our first Faculty Senate meeting is Monday, September 19, 3:30 pm, on zoom. All are welcome. See the tab on the website with the agenda.

CAS Reorganization survey results

 

 

September 2022

On September 19, the Chancellor and Provost announced several restructuring changes, including the creation of three new Colleges and a new Divisional structure for the College of Arts and Sciences. So instead of providing feedback on potential structures this fall, we are now shifting gears to providing feedback on the enactment of these potential changes. Note that the creation of the new Colleges still has to be approved by the Board of Trustees, and the Divisional Dean structure is a two-year pilot.

Creating successful new units relies on the input of faculty across the institution and we urge all faculty to participate in opportunities to meet with the Chancellor and Provost (Office hours, coffee and conversations, structured feedback session) and contribute their thoughts, ideas, etc. The starting point of all shared governance is voice, so make sure yours is heard.

Beyond restructuring, we are working with Undergraduate Council to make our curriculum approval processes more robust and participatory, remembering that curriculum is one of the few places where faculty direct institutional priorities. Our power in curricular decisions is critically important, yet this can be forgotten as we engage in the multiple other priorities in our professional lives. At a time when the new budget model incentivizes units to retain students in their own College’s courses, we need to be aware of how these shifts impact other units on campus, and have processes in place to engage in conversation about the needs of units and students. Curriculum and instruction are the soul of the educational mission of institutions, and as such they demand our attention, our voice, and our engagement.

 

October 2022

Four months into my term, I find myself reflecting often on bigger issues that underlie the smaller, numerous issues we hear about from faculty. My personal working model is that there are 4 big issues causing strain across UT:

  1. Barriers to effective campus communication – leading to a perception of a lack of transparency. Sub-issue: the lack of communication between faculty and support units leading to misunderstanding and confusion about -literally- how things work at UT
  2. Increases in student numbers not mirrored by increased number of faculty and campus space (classroom, office, etc); adding new buildings to increase capacity without space to house displaced faculty
  3. Overload of new online forms and processes overwhelming the time (and sanity) of faculty and office staff; lack of coordination and consideration about the multiplicative effects of these changes
  4. The pace of campus change announcements (re-structuring, potential ASU partnership, grant submission deadlines, etc); exacerbated by lack of communication and lack of time (see above) to understand and process change

Working on addressing these issues is critical to faculty well-being, but also daunting in scope and scale. As we talk with the Chancellor and Provost about them, we recognize that solutions are not easy and we all need to work together to find solutions as we can.

One initiative we have started is to gather faculty perceptions about process barriers to identify and hopefully make changes. Look for a feedback form soon from your caucus chair.

Other quick hits for the month:

1. We are working with TLI on ways to promote and develop teaching excellence. We hope to report more about that in the coming months.

2. We have ordered more “Vol Means All” pins to distribute!

3. RJ Hinde, soon to be Interim Executive Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has messaged CAS faculty about process and timeline for creating new subdivisions within the College.

4. Marianne Wannamaker, John Scheb, and Bill Lyons will visit Faculty Senate in November to tell us more about the Institute for American Civics and the two new courses they have created.

5. We have an extensive set of Handbook changes regarding NTT faculty on the docket for our November meeting. We cannot thank the NTT Issues committee, Vice Provost Kelly, and the OGC enough for their work on these potential changes.

6. Our budget and planning committee is continuing conversations about how to engage faculty more with the BAM.

7. Our diversity and inclusion committee is talking with administrators about how we promote and communicate DEI efforts on campus.

 

Happy Halloween weekend, everyone.

 

 

Did you know that you can give to the Faculty Senate Shared Governance Fund through UT? This is a gift fund used to support activities related to shared governance. Visit http://giving.utk.edu/facultysenate