University Council constitution approved; sparks debate
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 13:05
At their last meeting on May 14, the Board of Trustees’ approval of the constitution for a new advisory council made up of faculty, students, staff, alumni and administrators sparked compliments and controversy.
The University Council is meant to advise the board on topics like academic programs, budget issues and university policies, as well as take up “responsibilities as may be delegated to it” by the board, according to the first draft of the constitution.
“This council will report directly to the board and is supposed to have representation from all the constituent bodies of the university,” said Linda Rouillard, president-elect of Faculty Senate and associate professor of French.
The constitution projects 18 faculty members, six graduate and undergraduate student representatives, two staff members, two alumni members and six administrators, including suggested chair President Lloyd Jacobs, as representatives for their respective factions.
“By addressing challenges and opportunities across UT’s many and varied constituent groups, the council will offer trustees a broad spectrum of insight as they make decisions to best position the university for the future,” Jacobs said in a statement.
Rouillard, however, does not believe the council is anything more than a “redundant body.”
“I believe all constituents currently have a chance to voice their concerns,” Rouillard said. “Why do we need to have another body? This is a duplication of process and structures already in place.”
Rouillard also raised doubts that members of the council, especially administrators, will have the proper educational background to make decisions concerning matters like academic programs.
Former Student Government President Matt Rubin said the council meetings will replace quarterly leadership meetings.
“This won’t be adding a layer,” Rubin said. “It’s something that’s a necessary step to breaking down the silos across this university and creating better communication between factions.”
Rouillard agreed that lack of communication is a problem at our university, but she said this council was not the answer. She said Faculty Senate and other organizations are functioning correctly, but the proposals and advice they have been putting forth have gone unnoticed.
“The part that people forget about communication is the listening part — if the board is concerned with communication, then they should concern themselves with listening,” she said.
However, Rubin said the style of communication was important, noting the difference between giving a report to administrative committees and sitting on the committee with them.
“For someone who was asked not to even give a report to Faculty Senate, I appreciate this opportunity the university is giving to students to voice their opinion,” Rubin said.
Another concern raised by Rouillard was the strength of the faculty voice being diminished.
The faculty representatives listed in the constitution include two members from Faculty Senate, two members from the Graduate Council and 14 faculty chairs from each College Council.
Even with a projected 51 percent voting advantage for faculty members, Rouillard said the College Council representatives are deans who may not vote on behalf of the faculty accurately.
She said though the deans are tenured faculty, their position as dean is not protected, making them vulnerable to the will of administrative representatives.
“Deans are administrators — they’re not exactly free agents,” Rouillard said. “You’re less likely to go against the wishes of your boss when you’re beholden to your position. It seems to me like a way to dilute the voice of the faculty.”
SG Vice President Chris Dyjkj said he was optimistic about the representation available to students.
“With six students on this council, I feel we will have equal representation,” Dyjkj said. “This is another great opportunity for Student Government as a whole to work hard and find out exactly what our students want and need and make it aware to the council.”
But Rouillard said she is worried that undergraduate students may be under-represented in the council.
Currently, undergrads will be represented by SG president, vice president, and senate chair, while the Graduate Student Association will have two representatives and the Medical Student Council will have one.
Rouillard said if the number of representatives from either the GSA or the MSC changes, the balance of power will shift away from undergraduates.
“Student input has the potential of being skewed,” Rouillard said. “How is that going to make information gathering more efficient?”
But Rubin, who worked with administrators on this project during his SG presidency, said it was not the quantity of students that mattered, but the diversity of their opinion.
“If you have a bunch of undergraduates talking about parking, you’re going to hear a lot of the same ideas and complaints because you only have one point of view,” Rubin said. “But if you have a medical student, a law student, a graduate student and an undergrad talking about parking, you’re going to find a solution that works for all of them a lot quicker.”
Dyjkj said he has full faith in the new system.
“I believe that this will be a learning year for all of us and if the council continues we should only get stronger as one,” Dyjkj said. “There is always room for improvement, but as of right now it will take time and tweaking to find out what needs to be improved.”