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A Publication of THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Faculty Council: General Faculty at Sept. 17 meeting rescind increased student role in hiring of tenure-track faculty at UT Austin
By John R. Durbin
A proposal for an increased student role in the hiring of tenure-track faculty was rescinded by the General Faculty at its annual meeting on Sept. 17.
The Faculty Council had approved the proposal in April. It was then brought to the General Faculty by protests from 86 members of the faculty, under the General Faculty's procedure for handling legislation affecting more than one school or college.
The proposal had been introduced in the Faculty Council by representatives of the student Cabinet of College Councils. Voting members of the Faculty Council include students as well as faculty.
Speaking in opposition to the proposal, Steven Weinberg (physics) said research is as important as teaching at The University of Texas at Austin. Weinberg said the role of research was not well understood either by most students or by many outside the university. He said research had to be the primary focus of faculty recruitment if UT Austin is to increase its stature among the country's great research universities.
A student role in faculty hiring would either lead to a conflict, which would harm recruitment, or there would be no conflict, in which case nothing would be accomplished by student involvement, Weinberg said. He said the student initiative was well intended, but the faculty should have the political courage to say no.
Tessie Moon (mechanical engineering) questioned whether students would understand all that is required of faculty. She was also concerned by indications from The Daily Texan that some students have racial or gender litmus tests for the kind of faculty to be hired; applying such tests is not the same as looking for quality, she said.
Cory Juhl (philosophy) said only faculty could judge research, and that research should not be undervalued. He said his own department values teaching very highly, and he questioned whether students could contribute to a better evaluation of teaching.
For UT Austin, it would be wrong to divorce teaching from research; our students should receive "cutting-edge knowledge" over the years, and the ability to deliver that cannot be measured by student reaction to a single lecture, Juhl said.
William Rossen (petroleum and geosystems engineering) said even the most flexible of the options in the proposal (student contact with candidates through an announced lecture or meeting) would require essentially a semi-public announcement of a candidate's interest in a position. Using his own experience as an example, he said this would mean some potential candidates would refuse to be considered.
Anna Maria Amenta (computer sciences) said her department had been trying to involve students in the process, but it had not been easy to get students to attend candidates' lectures. The department had developed other options, but none of them matched those offered by the proposal. She did not think it wise to provide students with information packets about candidates, as specified in the proposal.
J. Strother Moore (computer sciences) said his department scheduled time for students to meet with candidates, and the department listened to what students had to say. He said that, because of the changing population of Texas, it would be important for the university to listen to its constituents in the years ahead. However, he was opposed to opening up the discourse to people who are not familiar with the issues in judging faculty, no matter how strongly they might feel about factors other than teaching and research.
Speaking in favor of the proposal, John Walthall (student, 2000-2001 Cabinet of College Councils) said the requirements could be satisfied through any one of four options: lecture to students, interview with students, students as non-voting members on the hiring committee, or students as voting members on the hiring committee (see the proposal). He said the students' primary interest was the improvement of teaching.
Angela Solis (pharmacy) also supported the proposal. She praised the proposal's flexibility, adding that in her own college students had shown maturity in their selection of peers to serve on hiring committees.
Michael Starbird (mathematics) said remarks by President Larry R. Faulkner earlier in the meeting had shown that the university's future would be heavily influenced by people outside academia, such as legislators, regents and donors. He cautioned that failing to listen to students posed problems for the future. He did not believe that students should have a vote in the process, but he did believe they were the best source for knowing how students would react to a teacher.
Dana Cloud (communication studies) supported the proposal because it would promote goodwill, openness and the enhancement of a sense of community. She said students with thoughts of becoming academics could benefit from serving on the committees. She believed some of the objections could be met through minor revisions.
Kevin Robnett (student, Cabinet of College Councils) emphasized the flexibility of the proposal. He reiterated the importance of good teaching for students, and said student involvement in the hiring process would help generate students' interest in the university and in their work here.
The action of the Faculty Council was then rescinded by a voice vote.
Remarks by President Faulkner
Faulkner began his annual remarks to the faculty by commenting on events brought about by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
He said we had gone through a period of grieving and that it was time to collect ourselves and dedicate ourselves to the period ahead. "It is about declaring, each and every one of us, that the forces of darkness that brought us last Tuesday are not going to control our every living moment," Faulkner said. "We are going to control our future, and the way we do that is to get to our tasks."