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Switchback complete in Faculty Senate

The switchback is complete. Chuck Pezeshki and Ken Struckmeyer have traded positions, making them chair and chair elect of the Faculty Senate once again. Pezeshki and Struckmeyer began in this configuration when elected in 2004, then switched places following the 2005 election, and now are switching back for a final year.

Awaiting Pezeshki this fall was the recent arrival of results from the 2006 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The raw results of that data are currently being analyzed by WSU executives and staff. (see story on page 1). Detailed outcomes from that effort are expected to be available to the university and public on about Sept. 20, said Al Jamison, interim director of Student Affairs.

If you look at the 2004 NSSE (pronounced nes-see) results, Pezeshki said, “We suck. But it isn’t enough to say we suck, we need to know how and why we suck.  And then, armed with that data, we have to aggressively move to do something about it. We simply can’t wait for five more years and then do another study. We have to come together as a university and do something now.”
 
The NSSE is administered to randomly selected freshmen and seniors, considering student perceptions and patterns, such as how connected students are with faculty, how much time students spend studying, student learning outcomes, and retention. The 2004 NSSE results revealed that WSU scored above average on providing a supportive campus environment but was lacking in the academic areas of collaborative learning, interaction with faculty and educational challenge and experiences. The NSSE survey also showed that WSU freshmen weren’t spending much time out of the classroom in learning activities.
 
Among other responses, WSU initiated its Freshman Focus Living Communities program in the fall of 2005, in which 3,000 freshman with similar majors and classes were placed in common living quarters.

“I believe the biggest single challenge we have,” Pezeshki said, “is that faculty are out of touch with the student experience and students are out of touch with the faculty experience. Faculty don’t realize how busy students are and students don’t realize how busy faculty are.”

Pezeshki also said that faculty need to better understand how students learn and receive knowledge including classroom, family, media, games, pop culture. “To get a perspective on this, it’s been 25 years since we launched the first space shuttle.  Most of our students weren’t even born when that happened.  Our world, and the world that has produced our students, has changed dramatically.  We’ve got to make sure we understand their core colloquial knowledge base—even as we teach them the more formal knowledge that the university brings to bear.”

Major issues ahead

Major issues the Faculty Senate will tackle this year, Pezeshki said, include:
* Faculty compensation (see the Faculty Senate’s final report and recommendation on salaries at http://facsen.wsu.edu/whats_new/documents/Final_report1-22-05_000.pdf)
* Early childhood education center
* Faculty leadership training program
* The future look of the library – journal costs and online services.
* Trust and respect among faculty, students and staff
* Staff compensation.

“Trust and respect are our number one issue at the university, Pezeshki said. “We have to believe that our student and faculty will do great things. I’m going to try to make it a core issue and that’s what NSSE data shows.

“Besides working on our problems with faculty compensation, we also have to be sensitive to what is happening with our staff partners. Many of these are paid less than faculty, and because of the housing cost differential, live in outlying areas like Colfax. These good folks are being hit hard by gas price increases, and we have an obligation to find ways to help them out. Staff are often front-line with our students — their morale matters.”

 “We have a lot of good strengths to play from and that’s what I find encouraging,” he said. “We need to build on our strengths and identify our weaknesses.”

When asked what he perceives as the university’s top strengths and weaknesses, Pezeshki listed the following.

Strengths: 
* Quality of and partnership among faculty and staff
* Quality of students
* Physical location, relative isolation, of the main Pullman campus, in that we can to a large degree we can influence the student experience
* Branches campuses, providing centers of excellence and broad urban perspectives

Weakness
* Lack of mutual understanding regarding faculty and student experiences
* An us vs. them attitude between campuses
* Pullman’s isolation, if we don’t actively engage with the entire system
* Lack of thinking about, equipping, working on and rewarding the tenure and promotion process on a high interdisciplinary level
* Failure to identify and fund priority educationally based programs, changing directions if necessary
* Lack of state discretionary funding, especially with regard to improving the educational experience, so we have latitude to explore and be flexible.

Pezeshki will present a State of the Faculty Senate speech at that organization’s opening meeting at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at FSHN 101.

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