A new president, a new chance to work for a common goal
This op-ed appeared Oct. 8 in The Gainesville Sun.
By: Anthony Brennan
Anthony Brennan is chairman of the UF Faculty Senate and a professor of materials science and engineering.
Today’s expected selection of a new University of Florida president offers a rare opportunity for UF faculty and administration to heal a historically tense, often divided relationship. By working together, both groups have the opportunity to create a new culture at UF, one that considers and endeavors to meet the needs of everyone on campus in a climate of mutual trust and respect.
As followers of UF politics know, the university has been moving for some time in the direction of shared governance — in a nutshell, giving faculty members greater say in drafting and implementing university policies and procedures. Such a system makes sense for large research institutions such as UF, which rely heavily on research faculty for funding, graduate student recruitment and national prestige.
With the commitment of a new president, shared governance will go a long way to healing the divide between administration and faculty — provided both sides can come to agreement on how exactly this system will function.
In an attempt to get at this question, three committees have recently released reports addressing this subject. The reports by the Presidential/Faculty Senate Joint Task Force, the Senate Committee on Structure and Effectiveness and a minority report from the Senate Committee on Structure and Effectiveness have differences, which has understandably prompted debate. Far from indicating failure, however, this debate suggests the process is squarely on track. Any scientist or scholar knows only a diversity of sometimes clashing, but nonetheless good ideas can fuel real improvement.
The differences in the committee reports are not as major as they may appear. Although this is not the forum to go into detail, committee members, for example, have varying ideas of exactly who should participate in shared governance. They also differ on the makeup of proposed committees overseeing the process, with some arguing, for example, that the proposed Faculty Senate Executive Committee should include the president or provost and others that it should not. Since the executive committee is largely a steering committee that will attempt to define the discussion, it seems reasonable that it should be as inclusive as possible. Whatever the case, these and other differences are part of the process. The important thing is not that there is disagreement, but rather that no one loses sight of the goal of a new system of shared governance.
To those who live and work beyond UF’s borders, this issue may seem like inside baseball – why should outsiders care how UF governs itself? The answer is that how this matter is handled is ultimately at least as important to the greater Gainesville community as to the university. For example, how a shared-governance university shapes tenure and promotion, the system of retaining and rewarding professors, will have a major impact on the faculty, students and funding UF attracts to Gainesville.
If the university is perceived as faculty friendly, it will help attract top scholars and scientists, who in turn attract first-quality graduate students and major research funding. The result has a huge impact locally, influencing areas of community concern from employment trends to the local tax base to the creation of local start-up companies.
As the UF Board of Trusties meets to select UF’s 11th permanent president, all parties should acknowledge, first, that the movement towards shared governance will generate debate. It wouldn’t be a significant change if it did not. But the new UF president, the faculty, the current administration and the Board of Trustees should view this debate not as a negative, but rather as an opportunity to form new partnerships. Shared governance will not guarantee individuals or specific groups their personal or parochial goals, but it will be the best mechanism for achieving the overall goals of the university.
To sum up: UF today begins a new chapter. However active and intense the debate over the future of governance, it’s in the best interest of all stakeholders to remember they share a similar vision for UF’s growth and prosperity.
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