By Maegan Clearwood
In recent years, many faculty members have felt that their role on campus has been kept within classroom walls. Now, they are speaking out, opening up lines of communication with administrators, and taking on greater positions in campus governance.
This burst of enthusiasm was spurred by a survey that the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance and Faculty Leadership conducted
in 2008; according to political science and international studies professor Christine Wade, the survey “revealed significant dissatisfaction with regard to the faculty’s role in co-governance. Of particular concern to the faculty was lack of access to major institutional initiatives, as well as the absence of faculty decision-making process.”
Faculty is letting itself back in with the newly-formed Faculty Council, which was designed to replace the Faculty Affairs Committee. Wade was elected to be chair of the committee. Wade, President Mitchell Reiss, Dean Christopher
Ames, and five faculty-nominated professors meet every two weeks.
Council member and physics professor Karl Kehm feels that the group is working towards solving an issue that the faculty has been struggling with for some time.
“We try to make sure that information that somehow seemed to be missing the faculty, information that is crucial for us, is getting to us in a timely way and is shared with us before it is shared with the broader public,” he said. “The design behind it was for faculty to have a voice.”
According to Reiss, giving faculty this voice on campus is crucial.
“I think that in order to steward the college properly, the best way to do it is collaboration between the staff and the faculty,” he said. “We are redesigning the structures of college governance, which is very exciting, I’m sure, to many students…We’re trying to change the ways that the faculty and administration steward the college going forward.”
One sign of progress lies in the series of administrative reports that now take place at faculty meetings, when a top administrator speaks to staff about their department’s status.
“I think [the administrative reports are the] most of the important things,” Reiss said. “It’s also hopefully an attitudinal, or a cultural shift where I’m welcoming the faculty to try to take more ownership of the school, and it’s a responsibility also, because it means having to do the homework of getting behind the numbers and diving into the issue, and making sure that we understand it. Hopefully, it will all make things better in the end.”
Opening lines of communication between faculty and administration is one of the first and most important steps toward improvement.
“It’s crucial for the members of to committee to be very proactive in reaching out to the administration, asking for access, and asking for a shared role,” Kehm said. “I think this committee is really doing that. It requires a willing partner on the administration’s side, and so far the signs are encouraging that our new president is behind this.”
Co-governance is not benefitting faculty members; it is advantageous for the entire campus.
“We strongly believe that co-governance will strengthen the academic program,” Wade said. “This isn’t just about happens in the classroom, but gets at the heart of what this institution is about…It gives faculty a voice in defining their role in the institution. Your professors aren’t just teachers; they are scholars and professionals in their fields. They do service and administrative work at the college and beyond, and they are leaders in their communities. Doing all of this, and doing it well, is a careful balancing act.”
With all the changes Washington College has been undergoing this year, maintaining this balance is not easy. Faculty members are concerned about a wide array of issues, including budgeting, curriculum decisions, construction, and support for scholarship. Until this year, they had little say in how policies about these issues were made, and Kehm thinks increased involvement will better the campus.
“The faculty are the ones that are on the front lines with the students,” he said. “The faculty are the ones who are here, typically a lot longer than anyone else on the campus. We’re sort of the one constant. I think that creates a responsibility for us to speak up about the direction that the college is taking. I know administration cares about the campus, but the faculty care just as much, and in the future would like to weigh in on decisions.”