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Q&A with Barbara Hornum: What is the Faculty Senate?

October 7, 2013

faculty senate

Once a month, a group of individuals with a vested interest in the future of Drexel gather to exercise the power of “strength in numbers.”  They are members of the University’s Faculty Senate, a governing body in existence since 1989, which serves as the collective voice for Drexel faculty.

DrexelNow checked in with Barbara Hornum, current chair of the Senate, to learn more about the organization’s beginning, how it operates, the goals it hopes to accomplish and its role in propelling the University forward.

You mentioned that while most of the University community knows that the Senate exists, much is unknown about its creation, function and purpose. Can you give us a little background?

The Faculty Senate was created in 1989 and replaced what was then the Faculty Council, which had no major influence. Several members of that council got together and created a charter, which is important for a governing body to have because it clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Senate, it defines the areas of focus for faculty, the areas that involve faculty-administration interaction, and it also officially involved faculty in things like searches for high-level positions on what we call University Advisory Committees (UAC), as well as issues involving the budget, human resources and academics.

There’s a role, I think, that all faculty coming into a university who want to be engaged have to play, and part of that is participating in shared governance. Our original charter states, “Each member of the community must bring to the common endeavor a high degree of commitment, including the obligation to participate in its governance activities. Governance is an essential right and responsibility of a scholarly community….it provides for the exercise of the faculty's fundamental role in academic decisions, the protection of legitimate faculty aspirations, the implementation and preservation of academic standards, and the promotion of the welfare of the students.”

Can you break down the structure of the Senate?

The size of the full Faculty Senate varies each year but each of the 14 colleges and schools—as well as Athletics and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University—is represented by one or more senators, who are elected by the voting members of their respective colleges. The Senate this year is led by three officers: a chair (Barbara Hornum), vice-chair (Hazem Maragah) and a secretary (Eva Thury).

Within the Senate we have seven standing committees that have a particular focus, and each of those groups has a committee chair. The committees focus on topics that include: Nominations; Academic Affairs; Academic Support; Faculty Affairs; Student Life; Budget, Planning and Development; and Research & Scholarly Activity.

A steering committee comprised of the three officers and each of the committee chairs meets twice a month. This committee is essentially the executive body of the Senate and is in charge of, among other things, setting the agenda for the full Senate meeting, which meets once per month. All faculty are welcome to attend this general Senate meeting.

Finally, once a quarter, the three officers meet with President John Fry and Provost Mark Greenberg, and we have an agenda with any concerns we’ve heard among the faculty.

What are some of the issues addressed either at the committee level or higher?

Always curricula review—we discuss any new programs or major modifications in programs. Any new courses are all reviewed by the standing committee on academic affairs, and must fit under all kinds of criteria including a course’s fit with the program, staffing and cost, if it’s redundant, etc.

There is always a lot of discussion over faculty issues including retirement policy; that is a hot issue. And we often have guest speakers—at the last Senate meeting, the provost and two senior vice provosts talked about the pros and cons of moving from quarters to semesters. We also brought someone in this year to speak on negotiation and communication skills because we all know how you approach things is half of getting what you want. You have to attach reality to your demands and you have to be willing to compromise.

We also listen to concerns among the faculty on topics such as the speed of Drexel’s programmatic growth, and the University’s outreach to community.

Why is it important for the faculty to be represented by the Senate?

Well, there is strength in numbers, there is no question about that. We want to make sure the faculty have a face and a voice in some of the emerging new areas of both content and organization. As senators, we reflect the greater good and not simply our own particular needs. And so, we represent our entire constituency—not just senior faculty, not just the teaching faculty, the adjuncts or junior faculty, but the whole range. The Senate empowers the faculty. If the faculty feel strongly about something and mobilize, they can really make a difference. That kind of momentum is a tremendous thing. But, you better know what you’re fighting for.

The Senate is also a collective voice that is much stronger because we have a representative body of senators who have been elected by their colleges. And, if everyone understands what’s behind their actions, and if they’re communicating properly with the faculty in their colleges, then they’ve got 200 more people supporting them. Suddenly you’re reflecting the views of hundreds, and that gives you a certain amount of influence that you don’t have as an individual.

How can a faculty member get involved?

A lot of exciting things are happening now in terms of rethinking the curriculum and modernizing it, and I would like to have more involvement throughout the whole faculty. One of the biggest things to work on is making sure everybody understands what we do, and what they gain from what we do and that we want to hear from them. I’d really like to have more dialogue about what the 21st-century university should be.

I’d also like to see more involvement and replenishment from younger and newer hires, particular those who are mid-career. Those of us who have been here a long time—and I think we bring a lot to the table—when we step down from these service activities, we want to know that there is a trained group of people to take our place.

I suggest that the new hires, once they’ve been here for a couple of years, start at the committee level—it’s a great place to start. And, after a few years, they could enlarge their role and run for Senate and maybe even become an officer.

Another great resource for the entire University community is our revised website, located at www.drexel.edu/senate. We post minutes from all of our meetings there and we hope to soon start a regular newsletter about Senate activities and news.

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