Faculty forum drives discussion

The first-ever meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences drew roughly 100 professors Wednesday afternoon to discuss the forum’s activities.

The new FAS meetings, to be held at least twice a semester, were launched largely to address questions over what roles professors should have in the governance of the University — an issue that professors began to raise at faculty meetings last spring in response to concerns over the University’s alleged increasingly top-down approach to decision-making. Faculty at Wednesday’s FAS meeting — chaired by Donald Engelman ’67, director of the faculty division of biological sciences — focused on setting rules for the forum and also discussed two agenda items planned in advance: the ongoing academic review of the FAS and faculty input in the presidential search process. Engelman said he felt the meeting was a success because it allowed professors to speak freely on agenda items.

“The spirit was welcoming,” Engelman said. “The most noteworthy thing is that it was a very lively discussion with lots of people with lots to say, but all in a collegial spirit — it was a good move toward the objective, which is to allow more free-flowing discussions.”

English professor Ruth Yeazell ’71 led discussion on the Presidential Search Committee at the meeting, speaking about her role as a faculty counselor to the presedential search committee. She said it is “still too tentative” to make any motions or settle any decisions, she said.

Engelman said Economics professor Steven Berry led discussion of this year’s academic review of the FAS — the first to be held in two decades — which is intended to evaluate the allocation of faculty positions across departments and review the overall structure of the FAS. Some professors at the meeting who are concerned about possible reductions in the size of the faculty suggested that the committee consider alternatives to the conventional department structure, Engelman said. He declined to provide details on the specifics points of discussion, as the professors have not yet decided whether to publicly release minutes from the FAS meetings.

Engelman said faculty members were appreciative of the opportunity to voice their opinions in an environment that invited back-and-forth discussion and open exchanges, since most faculty meetings are scheduled with structured agendas that leave little room for debate. In addition, the meeting tried to “steer clear of the parliamentary hassle,” Engelman said.

Engelman called the forum “an informal discussion” and a “mechanism for a larger discussion” without strict agenda items. He added that he was “quite pleased” with the discussions.

Provost Peter Salovey announced the new forums in a memo to tenured and tenure-track FAS professors early last month. Professors Michael Della Rocca, Linda Peterson ’75 and Frank Snowden were appointed to a committee to determine the preliminary rules for the forums, though Engelman said the rules may be changed in the future.

According to the currently proposed rules, only full-time ladder faculty members of the FAS may attend the meetings — meaning a total of 682 professors were eligible to attend the first forum. The rules recommend that all of the forums be chaired by rotation of FAS divisional directors in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering, social sciences and humanities.

Though the forums were originally planned to be held twice a semester, Engelman said the faculty members present at Wednesday’s meeting have already set plans to hold an extra meeting in several weeks for the consideration of meeting rules, adding that there is a possibility that more forums will also be scheduled.

Yesterday’s FAS meeting took place in Luce Hall.

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