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Introductory Letter to Faculty from Incoming Senate President

June 26, 2018

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

As the incoming Academic Senate President, I wanted to send out a few words of introduction with some brief updates.  Our faculty has gone through much in the last year, and I want to start by thanking Paul Rosenbloom for his tremendous leadership during that time.  Our community is in pain, with much sorrow particularly at the harm we feel was done to our students.  Now is hopefully the time for healing and for making this place the University that we all want it to be.

Sorry to get a little philosophical, but the primary mission of a university is to seek and disseminate truth.  We are a university, not a corporation, and truth has to be at the core of everything we do.  For that to happen, transparency is paramount, and frank and open discussions have to occur.

So where does the Faculty fit in?  Quite simply, a lot more.  We are in a time of rapid change, and with that, there is an opportunity to build a governance structure where faculty can participate in more meaningful ways. As part of that, we need to clarify the role of the Academic Senate.  But perhaps just as importantly, strengthening our Faculty Councils is imperative.  The challenges and issues in our large number of schools are quite varied, and the Faculty Councils are best equipped to understand their own schools’ needs.  Only by strengthening the role and outreach of your own councils can we address what matters most to you.

And to that end, we are creating a Task Force for Shared Governance.  I am probably not the only one who starts tasting bile at the back of my mouth at the thought of more Task Forces (and even worse, I have to tell you about a second one in the next paragraph).  But our Task Forces have done great work, and at this important crossroads where we need to take a hard look at what will get us to where we want to be as a university, we need to bring in a broad array of voices, including those that have felt disenfranchised and therefore uninvolved in faculty governance in recent years.  I will chair this group, which will begin with a group of only faculty.  I commit to you that we will complete an initial assessment and framework of what we need as a faculty body by the August 15 senate planning retreat, when we will start introducing these ideas more broadly for feedback.  Following that, we will further engage with the administration as well as the other important constituencies (including students and staff) on implementing the right governance structures.

Beyond shared governance, we have to better understand the barriers to faculty engagement in University life and tackle these issues head on.  So we are creating a second group, the Task Force on Communication and Faculty Engagement, because let’s face it, until recently, we the Senate have not done enough to communicate, and we need to think through ways to include faculty more broadly in the University.  This Task Force will be chaired by Rebecca Lonergan from the Gould School of Law (and incoming Academic Vice President of the Academic Senate) and Geoffrey Cowan from the Annenberg School of Communication. In the meantime, and in the spirit of improving transparency, we will begin to actively use the Senate twitter account (@AcadSenate). I apologize in advance for any embarrassing tweets that may come out, but I at least hope that occasional senate updates will inform more than annoy….

But more important than broadcasting right now is listening. There is much to learn from one another and our ability to engage in respectful discourse is what makes university life so wonderful.  I look forward to working closely with you all in the coming year and encourage you to reach out directly to me, the other senators or your Faculty Councils with your thoughts and concerns as we proceed through this process of healing.

Yaniv Bar-Cohen
Incoming Academic Senate President