Faculty Senate chair enjoys policy challenges

Barry G. Swanson is the current chair of the Faculty Senate and has been associated with faculty governance at WSU for 29 years. The following is an interview with Swanson focusing on faculty issues and his personal experiences at the university.

Q: What does the Faculty Senate do?
The senate represents nearly 2,100 part-time and full-time faculty at WSU and is the legislative body delegated to make recommendations to the president and Board of Regents on matters relating to the general welfare of WSU. One of our primary responsibilities is the faculty manual. The senate is responsible for keeping information in the manual clear and updated, as well as promoting faculty awareness. The idea is to be proactive so that the faculty can be better informed as issues arise. We also deal regularly with faculty titles, administrative professionals and staff.

Q: What issues are currently facing the senate?
This semester, the online delivery of payroll statements was a small issue, but a lot of faculty were interested in it. The faculty are genuinely interested in the formation of centers, institutes and schools. There are also 11 departments involved in a five-year rotating undergraduate and graduate program review right now; those are always very important.

As far as controversial issues, there’s a substantial amount of concern about the Holland Library remodeling and the potential for incorporating a department into former library space. The other matters of interest are the strategic plan and implementation, as well as the recommendations for the faculty at the newer campuses. And of course, the state and university budget is always important.

Q: How are issues brought to the Faculty Senate?
I respond to a variety of phone calls. People call me with many interesting things. We have a steering committee that determines each Faculty Senate meeting agenda. But, any faculty member can take an issue to Tom Brigham, the executive secretary, or to a faculty senator or committee, and we will address the issue in a selected committee or as the Steering Committee. We prefer that faculty talk with a committee rather than bring a matter directly to the floor, because like most legislative bodies, we prefer to be prepared to offer constructive responses. In most cases, we discuss issues at one meeting and act on it at the next, so there are at least two weeks between the time items are addressed when they are voted on. Once we vote, our approval or recommendation goes to the Provost and then to the Board of Regents. We’re the approving authority, but not the final authority.

Q: What do you like and dislike about your current position?
I enjoy the opportunity to participate in administrative meetings and to see how problems and policies are dealt with at the university level, which involves the president, provosts and deans. Most importantly, it gives me the opportunity to share faculty input. I enjoy the interaction with these administrators because they’re all overachievers and interested in the promotion of the university.

What can be wearing is that some of the meetings become tedious. We have 82 members of the Senate representing about 2,100 full and part-time faculty. The level of faculty participation and interest is somewhat frustrating. It would be nice if we had more interested participants.

I will be a senator when my term as chair is completed. I think it is wise to expose as many faculty as possible to the administrative discussions and participation in faculty governance opportunities as a faculty senator or Faculty Senate Chair because it is definitely beneficial for any faculty member to share these experiences.

Q: How important is the faculty salary issue?
We haven’t received substantial salary increases for some time and it’s obvious that some faculty are disgruntled. Some know that they can be productive and make more money elsewhere, so they leave. Faculty salaries are a real issue because we’re not very favorably positioned with respect to faculty at competitive universities.

As faculty, we’re all busy with heavy teaching loads and active lives, yet presumably we’re immersed in the scholarly activities we love. Oftentimes faculty get frustrated, wondering why they don’t get paid what they believe they deserve. Others feel that it’s just wonderful to be working and living here. I’m one of the latter because I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. Most faculty members have traveled the world, and if they didn’t want to be here, and they had the opportunity to choose a better place to work, they wouldn’t stay around for very long.

The president states that faculty salaries are one of his top issues in addition to the strategic plan and the quality of undergraduate education. As far as his legislative agenda, faculty salaries are a top priority. I’m comfortable with that and I think President Rawlins is doing the best he can with available resources.

Q: What do you see on the horizon for WSU and the Faculty Senate?
Obviously, the university is making great progress in areas of research, especially in biotechnology, the sciences and the arts. I think that the working environment at the university is improving because of the new facilities and positive attitudes of most employees. The strategic plan is giving beneficial direction to the faculty. It’s good to know where you’re going.

More importantly however, I think that the quality of students and enrollment is improving remarkably each year, especially in the past two years. Many of our freshman and sophomores are more interested in academic achieving than in socializing, and I think that better quality students directly benefit faculty productivity and motivation. Students are arriving at WSU with better preparation in mathematical, science and communications skills. It’s a great joy to work with them.

Q: What would you tell faculty?
I encourage all faculty to consider participating in the Faculty Senate and the strategic plan in some way, and to interact with faculty colleagues from across campus as well. There are many opportunities to participate in faculty governance at WSU that many faculty fail to recognize or see as advantageous. We’re all colleagues in the strategic plan, so we can all make an effort and benefit from participating in discussions and contributing to determining the future direction of Washington State University.

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