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The Academic Senate: Making a Difference

Other articles in the May 2018 newsletter:

Faculty governance is alive and well at USC. Some people might dispute that claim, but having served on a variety of Senate committees and task forces over the last decade, I know it’s true. Especially during the last five years, I have repeatedly seen the Senate act as a catalyst for positive change, pushing for and helping implement multiple policies, programs, and initiatives aimed at making USC a better place, not only for the faculty but also for our students, staff, and community. This article will briefly describe three recent initiatives that illustrate the role the Senate has played in improving the quality of life for everyone at USC.

First, a number of faculty committees, including the Diversity Task Force, the Diversity Council, and the Senate’s Campus Climate Committee, were instrumental in pushing USC to pay more attention to access, opportunity, diversity, and inclusion issues. During her tenure as the Senate President, Ginger Clark made it her top priority to help the Provost’s Office put in place new policies and programs to increase diversity among our students, staff, and faculty, and to support every member of that diverse community once they are here. With that goal in mind, the Provost’s Office did a number of things, including requiring all USC’s schools to have Diversity Liaisons and five-year Diversity Plans, detailing the ways each school will work to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Those five-year plans are being implemented across our campuses.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Task Force on Teaching Evaluations and the Committee on Teaching and Academic Programs were working to find better ways to evaluate, recognize, and encourage excellent teaching. They helped conceptualize, draft, and implement new policies, including those discussed in the Provost’s September 2017 Memorandum, directing all schools to recognize excellent teaching faculty by giving them longer term contracts and putting in place transparent and clear policies concerning when and how teaching faculty can be terminated. Then, in April of this year, the Provost announced the new Initiative to Promote Teaching Excellence at USC, which includes innovative new evaluative tools, including “learning experience” and peer evaluations, which are designed to reduce the risk of students providing biased answers on their course evaluations and instead more accurately evaluate the quality of our teaching.

Finally, the Senate’s Sustainability Committee has continued to push USC to make sustainability a core value at USC, to create proposals for sustainability initiatives, and to track sustainability achievements. Recently, the committee drafted the USC Sustainability Strategy 2030, which proposes that by 2030, USC should not only be a recognized leader in researching and teaching about environmental sustainability issues, but also be implementing sustainability practices on its campuses, including reducing the university’s carbon footprint by 50%, purchasing power only from environmentally sustainable operations, having “zero waste,” and reducing potable water usage by 50%. In April, that strategy was endorsed by the Senate and given to the Provost’s Office to hopefully be adopted.

Those are just a few of the things that the Senate has worked to achieve over the last five years. I am excited to see what we can achieve in the next five years.

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Professor of Lawyering Skills, Gould School of Law
Associate Director of Legal Writing and Advocacy Program