Senate Guides University Policy

November 1, 2004

Nick Marinello

As if the beginning of the new academic year isn't enough to keep a person busy, Meredith Garcia had a few extra things on her plate this year.

senateAs the newly elected vice chair of the University Senate, Garcia, a professor of otolaryngology, says she spent a good portion of August and September meeting the demands of her new position.

As vice chair, Garcia heads the senate's Committee on Committees and Committee on Educational Policy.

That meant on one hand leading the effort to fill vacancies on the senate's 12 standing committees and on the other helping sort out the issues in a controversial proposal to create a new four-year undergraduate program for the A. B. Freeman School of Business.

And the year is still young. Be it the creation of a new degree program, changes to faculty and staff benefits or assessment of the proposed budget for the upcoming year, no significant academic, financial or social issue relevant to Tulane skirts the attention of the University Senate.

The senate, which is chaired by the Tulane president and comprises elected faculty representatives from the academic divisions, senior administrators and student and staff representatives, is the senior internal governance body of the university and plays an advisory role to the Tulane Board.

For Garcia, who has been a full-time member of the faculty since 1993, and a member of the senate since 2002, the senate provides multiple challenges, especially when issues are controversial, as they were with the business school proposal.

"There was some unhappiness with the LAS faculty and some students felt they were left out of the process," she says.

Issues that needed to be hashed out included whether business school students and liberal arts and sciences students would have equal access to courses in each division, a disconformity between the academic calendars of the two divisions and questions concerning students who transfer from one division to another.

"I had to gather information and try to mediate discussion so it didn't end up in an unstructured free fall," says Garcia. "My role in CEP was to get the facts that I had gathered out and I felt that I accomplished that."

The Committee on Educational Policy's motion to approve the program was endorsed by the entire senate at its Sept. 13 meeting. And that is a good example of how the University Senate works, says Graeme Forbes, secretary of the senate.

"Some people don't understand that most of the detailed work in the senate is done in its committees," he says.

While it might be impossible for any senator to become master of every issue, the committees allow small groups of faculty, administrators, students and staff, mainly appointed by the Committee on Committees, to focus on specific areas, namely budget review, equal opportunity, faculty and staff benefits, faculty tenure, academic freedom and responsibility of students, athletics, honors, information technology, libraries, physical facilities, research, social issues and student affairs.

"Much of what comes to the senate floor is something that has been well worked out in committee," says Forbes, a professor of philosophy, who has been at Tulane since 1981 and been a member of the senate since 1990. And Tulane is better off for it, says Forbes.

"I think the senate provides a filter through which things have to pass. What comes out the other end comes out better than if the senate had not been there."

Forbes, who has been the senate's secretary for the last five years, regularly distributes the minutes of the monthly senate meetings to all faculty and staff. He also keeps current the senate website , which has information on the senate's constitution, committees and timetables, and funnels all committee reports to senators before each meeting.

"Graeme does a great job," says Gracia. "Before, the minutes were circulated through department chairs. Some would pass them around and some wouldn't." Having firsthand experience with the senate, says Garcia, is an even better way to get the big picture of the university. "By sitting on the senate I have a better appreciation of what the entire university does." "It's a small boat and if we don't row together we don't get anyplace."

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