February 20, 2012


Chair Elect Alba Ortiz (special education) reported on a two-day meeting of the Texas Council of Faculty Senates (TCFS), which is comprised of representatives from thirty-three institutions across the state. First, there was a presentation by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) regarding revisions to the core curriculum, which is to be implemented in Fall 2014. Chair Elect Ortiz indicated that complete information about the new core curriculum is posted on the THECB website, and she recommended that Dean Paul Woodruff (undergraduate studies) be invited to a future Council meeting to report on the implications for our UT Austin core curriculum. Second, Dr. Susan Albertine, Vice President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities presented an overview of the association’s Liberal Education in America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative. LEAP is a collaborative between the business community and educators with the objective of increasing the likelihood that graduates will be prepared for a global economy. Chair Elect Ortiz said she thought LEAP’s essential learning outcomes look very much like the new core objectives proposed by the THECB.

At the meeting, each campus prepares a round-up report of what has been occurring on its campus. One of the themes this year dealt with procedures for faculty involvement in evaluation of administrators because the results of those evaluations were generally not shared with the faculty. One of the institutions actually posted the results on their senate website, and the deans got a bit irritated so the results had to be removed. Other recurring themes were post-tenure review, smoking bans on campuses, and the increased call for distance education and how to respond to those demands.

Two other problem areas surfaced, not only in the campus reports but also in the report of a survey conducted by the executive committee of the TCFS:  online student surveys and shared faculty governance. First, there were issues raised about low response rates to online surveys, which ranged from 15% to 60%, and the likelihood that negative rather than positive evaluations were more likely to be made online by students. There was discussion about the impact these evaluations could have on promotion and tenure decisions, as well as what institutions were doing to increase the response rates, such as raffling off iPods, laptops, and free parking permits. Second, there were concerns expressed across many of the institutions about the limited faculty role in decision-making and the budgeting process. The TCFS survey indicated faculty members are simply informed of what the budget is going to be without any substantive input on many of the campuses. There were also concerns expressed about the curriculum because faculty have very limited roles in determining the changes to the curriculum on a large number of the campuses. As a result of the discussion, the TCFS passed a resolution reaffirming that the curriculum is the responsibility of the faculty, and that changes to the curriculum should be faculty-driven.

There was considerable discussion about what gets in the way of shared governance. Two of the most frequently mentioned issues were (1) poor understanding of what shared governance is and what the appropriate role for faculty involvement and decision-making is and (2) poor or inadequate communication between the faculty and the administration. The communication seems to be fairly good across campuses at the level of the president and the provost, but it really breaks down at the level of the colleges. As a result, another discussion topic was the need to spend more attention making sure the colleges have a defined shared governance role for the faculty. Even though we have worked on this issue here at UT Austin and the units have posted their governance structures on their websites, Chair Elect Ortiz said monitoring how that actually plays out would be interesting. She said the most disturbing aspect about the discussions at the TCFS meeting was the extent to which faculty on many campuses feel there isn’t respect for the faculty voice, particularly at the level of decision-making.

Chair Elect Ortiz said the joint meeting agenda at Texas A&M is posted on the Faculty Council website, and eighteen people from our campus have indicated they plan to attend. She extended an invitation for others to join the group going to College Station and said she thought the meeting would be an enjoyable one.  Chair Friedman thanked Chair Elect Ortiz for her report.

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