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University service necessary for shared governance

From Barry Swanson, executive secretary, Faculty Senate; Fran McSweeney, vice provost for Faculty Affairs; and the Faculty Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate

Washington State University, as other universities, faces a crisis in faculty service. Twenty- five years ago, the Committee on Committees recruited at least two faculty members for each opening on a Faculty Senate committee. Today, this committee fails to fill 20 percent of the openings on Faculty Senate committees and usually recruits only one person for each of the other 80 percent of openings.

Persuading people to take on major service commitments (e.g., offices in the Faculty Senate, chairing of major committees) has become difficult. We encourage the faculty to change this trend. Faculty members should serve the university because it’s their job, it can be rewarding and it is vital to the functioning of the university.

Many faculty members avoid service because they believe it will not be rewarded during annual review. That should not be the case. The job description of all tenure-track faculty members involves teaching, scholarship and service. For example, a typical faculty job includes 40 percent teaching, 40 percent scholarship and 20 percent service. That means the average faculty member should devote one day per week to service.

Benefits of service
Participants in service also benefit from it in several ways. First, committee members influence important decisions. These decisions, in turn, affect their quality of life. For example, the policies in the faculty manual, a faculty member’s legal contract with the university, result from discussions in Faculty Senate committees and on the Faculty Senate floor. Members of Faculty Senate committees influence fundamental university policies … yes, including parking.

Second, members of universitywide committees learn about the university. This information will be of value to them later. For example, members of the Faculty Status Committee undoubtedly acquire information about tenure and promotion that will help them to obtain their next promotion.

Third, committee members meet faculty members from other departments. When faculty members learn that they have teaching or scholarly interests in common, these connections may help to improve faculty performance.

Meeting other faculty is also fun. One of the greatest benefits of working for a university is being surrounded by interesting and intelligent people. The opportunity to meet those people is an important perk of an academic job.

Learning and leadership
Fourth, committee members have a chance to polish their leadership skills. Learning new skills is intrinsically interesting and it may open new career opportunities. Administrative positions are more likely to go to those who have developed a broad view of the university through service.

Many faculty members openly abhor administration; however, administrative skills vastly increase a faculty member’s job prospects and, in some cases, their job satisfaction.

As a final point, the university in which we live would be changed beyond recognition without faculty service. Washington State University has adopted a shared governance model. If faculty members don’t participate, administrators will make decisions without faculty input.

If you’re not willing to serve, you need to ask yourself if you can tolerate the consequences. The next time the university makes a decision that appears flawed to you, consider participating in the decision-making process rather than bemoaning the outcome.

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