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University Council bogs down already slow communication lines

On May 30, 2012

The University Council is meant to be a new governing body for our institution, allowing communication to flow openly between members of UT and the Board of Trustees that governs it. The council is meant to foster communication and teamwork, things no one would argue against. Indeed, lack of communication has led to some unhappy and wasteful consequences.

It is not uncommon to hear of two separate administrative bodies working on projects that address the same problem, such as earlier this year when a certain phone application geared toward students was being developed independently by both UT Human Resources and the Information Technology Department. Nor is it unfamiliar for confused students, facing some billing issue or health insurance snafu, to be shuffled between department after department without much more than a, “Sorry, but I think you should talk to this secretary — we don’t handle that here.”
Yes, improved communication is something we are in desperate need of, and it is nice to see the administration doing its best to address an issue of high importance. It is a laudable task they are undertaking as they strive to fit the largest thinking bodies under an umbrella of cooperation meant to enhance the knowledge of the powers that be, the trustees. They believe there is no other way.

Members of the Board of Trustees are busy — it is impossible to ask them to attend every Student Government meeting, every Faculty Senate meeting and every administrative gathering.

But with this council, this new conglomeration of information, this academic think-tank, is the administration truly gaining the full scope of our university reality? Are they perhaps fostering disinterest in the bustling of the every-man, of the concerned student or faculty member whose voice has been swallowed by a council of advisors?
Perhaps that doesn’t matter — the idea of a republic government, a few speaking for many, is the preferred mode of governance by our country, and should therefore be good enough for our school. However, in our country, we are allowed to vote for our representation, to choose our fate. Without this luxury, it is up to the administration to hand-pick the party leaders who will decide our opinion and to balance the needs of every faction.

As the recently approved constitution stands, will it provide a council with balanced factions? Despite the best efforts of the administration, the answer is unclear.

At the heart of the confusion is the matter of faculty representation. Yes, appointing the dean of each college to represent faculty is an easy, seemingly harmless move — but are these well-meaning employees really faculty? They are teachers who walk, talk and do their job like administrators, not professors. They are tenured educators who depend on administrative approval to maintain an important position and a comfortable pay-bump.

Of course, to say that these individuals are inherently sullied with ill-intentions is to suppose much with little evidence. But to believe the dean of any college, when faced with a situation that pits faculty against administration, will not remember who has appointed him or her to an honored post is to dilute fact with a naïve dream.

Are there no other voices to bring to this meeting? Can members of serving terms on Faculty Senate not be brought in? The undergraduate voice is completely represented by SG members, a body eerily similar to Faculty Senate.

Perhaps the logistics of the council are not the problem. Maybe the problem is so fundamental, so simple, that it is almost too obvious to embrace.
The problem we go back to is communication, the burdensome ‘silo’ effect. Each department is stuffed to the gills with information, but the transportation system between idea and achievement seems to be bogged down.

What is the next logical step? To build a larger silo that each tower must transport information to before the final transformation of knowledge into action? To ask departments not to lose any nuggets of data or clods of invention as another step is added onto the journey to the top?
How about we simply repair the roads?
What if the departments were organized, strengthened and asked to manage themselves like the silos they are meant to be, and the necessity of an overbearing republic was replaced by a simpler grass-roots democracy?
Of course, there must be oversight at an upper-administrative level. There must be a filtering down of orders, a master plan to avoid repeats and dead-ends, just like there must be a filtering up of information, of completed objectives and successful initiatives. But is this council the answer?
The university should take their Green initiatives to heart and reduce, re-use, and re-organize the still-standing constructs of their communication system.

Of course, that will not happen — the university is well on its way to creating a new system, a long road to a vast silo of information, where the few knowledge nuggets that made it to the end will be stored and dispersed to the Board of Trustees. After all, this council was created as a fast answer to a deep, aching problem, with the good intention of uniting us.

And another road is paved with good intentions.

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