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Election upends tradition

Washington State University’s annual Faculty Senate election took a surprise turn April 1, when a self-nominated candidate captured the chairmanship, upending an unwritten but unbroken tradition in which the sitting vice chair was routinely voted in as the next chair.

Chuck Pezeshki, an associate professor in mechanical engineering completing his second three-year term as a faculty senator, defeated Cindy Kaag, the lead librarian at Owens Science and Engineering Library and the Faculty Senate vice chair, by a vote of 29-26.

Later the same day, the Faculty Senate ended any chance the same thing would happen again by approving an amendment to its constitution. Ron Brosemer, the 2003-04 Faculty Senate chair, said the amendment will eliminate the “vice chair” title in spring 2005 and replace it with a title of “chair elect.” From that point on, the person filling that position will advance into the chairmanship uncontested.

“There are all sorts of traditions associated with this chair position and I kind of broke some by running, then I broke some more by actively campaigning, then I broke even more by winning,” said Pezeshki. “But, I’m used to stirring the pot.

“I ran a real campaign and called about 55 (out of 82) senators,” he said. “And these people wanted to talk. But it was really helpful and gave me a good feel for what they care about. And they elected me.”

Pezeshki says he has received quite a number of congratulatory messages from other senators, but also knows there are some ruffled feathers. Despite his unorthodox entry, he said he is hopeful that “people can move beyond this and work together.”The change does not end with Pezeshki, however. The Faculty Senate also elected a new vice chair, Ken Struckmeyer, an ombudsman from Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and a new executive secretary, Barry Swanson, a professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition and the 2002-03 senate chair.

Swanson will take over the reins from Tom Brigham, who has been the executive secretary for the past 6 1/2 years. Brigham will continue his work in 2004-05 as a half-time executive assistant to the president and begin a half-time leave of absence to work on a book.

All three elected Faculty Senate positions are half-time, paid posts. The chair and vice chair are one-year positions, the executive secretary is a three-year position.

Based on his phone conversations, Pezeshki said the things faculty are concerned about most are:

• academic integrity
• faculty communication with administration
• urban campus program spin-offs
• communication to faculty about decisions made by the upper-level administration.
“It’s not like the faculty thinks things are in crisis. They’re not,” said Pezeshki. “Overall, everybody has a good feeling about the current administration and how things are being handled, but they want to make sure there are no surprises. They want to know that things being are carried out and their voices are being heard.” Pezeshki said he hopes to:

• change the image of the Faculty Senate so it is seen as proactive and effective for change
• establish an online bulletin board with updates on what the Faculty Senate is working on
• create a blog(s) through which he and possibly others can report on meetings attended
• make Faculty Senate/administration communications more clear in all directions
• elevate key philosophical issues for real debate

“As chair, I am the chief faculty advocate to the administration, and I will advocate,” Pezeshki said. “The biggest thing I will be working on, I believe, is facilitating and managing change and ensuring academic integrity.”

Pezeshki said that under his leadership the Faculty Senate will address some large philosophical debates which are important to the faculty and university, including the continuing relationship with urban campuses; the emergence and adaptation of new technology that advances students’ skills while reinforcing core knowledge; advancing the relationship between faculty and the Center for Teaching and Learning Technology; championing the cause of academic integrity; and reining in the rocketing cost of private journals, which is sinking the libraries financially.

“We are the academic backstop to make sure programs are viable, valid and strong, and we take that role very seriously,” Pezeshki said. “At the same time we need to be responsive and agile to manage the change.”

Pezeshki earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering in 1987 from Duke University, where he taught for one year before coming to WSU. In his off hours he is an environmental advocate, authoring a WSU Press book titled “Wild to the Last: Environmental Conflict in the Clearwater Country.”

At WSU he founded and directed the Industrial Design Clinic, which works with business and industry on projects and provides engineering students with experience and paying jobs.

“I’m a little different.” says Pezeshki, describing himself as a “classically educated, traditional academic and intellectual who believes strongly in the role of the university.

“I also feel a strong sense of obligation to give back to society and to do what’s best for society. I was raised to believe that to those whom much is given, much is expected.

“If you’re talking about changing and improving the institution, it isn’t enough to just sit around and talk about it and complain. Someone has to be the first to jump. It was an opportunity to run for chair (of the Faculty Senate). It gives me the bully pulpit, and I plan to use it.

“It’s going to be an interesting year. We’re going to do some really positive things with the Faculty Senate, and we’re going to have fun doing it.”

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