Historic vote approves procedures of new faculty senate

“Habemus senatum,” Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler declared, banging her gavel. “We have a senate.”

On Tuesday afternoon, roughly 80 members of the FAS filed into Luce Hall and voted 61 to three, with no abstentions, to approve bylaws regarding the FAS Senate composition and procedures. The historic vote endorsed, with only minimal amendments, the rules detailed in a 23-page report released to faculty last week by the FAS Senate Implementation committee — a group of 11 FAS faculty members tasked in 2013 with outlining the structure and responsibilities of the new legislative body. With the first FAS Senate elections slated for April 2015 and first meeting planned for fall 2015, faculty interviewed were largely optimistic about the future of the governance structure and its impact on the University.

“I am very pleased that we had a strong turnout today and that we had support of the FAS,” political science professor and Chair of the Senate Implementation Committee Steve Wilkinson said. “But the ultimate test of an institution is how it works in practice, and I hope that it will become a good site for discussion.”

Wilkinson said that the success of the senate depends on qualified candidates standing for election and continual faculty participation.

Although an initial vote recommending the creation of an FAS Senate was held in December 2013, Tuesday’s vote formally approved the size, electoral process and authority of the body. The senate will be endowed with the power to set the agendas of its meetings. What is more, major initiatives and policies affecting FAS faculty — including discussions of the FAS budget, faculty resource pool slots and FAS diversity efforts — will be presented to the FAS Senate in a timely manner.

Molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor Joel Rosenbaum said he supported the proposal since it was a “fluid” document, which allows for changes to be implemented over time as necessary.

According to the report, major modifications regarding the body’s size, composition and electoral system must be put before all FAS faculty, while other changes may be approved with a two-thirds vote among the FAS Senate representatives.

“Built into the document is a very democratic way of representing the faculty and having really a faculty organization led by the faculty and not by the administration, which is very important,” Rosenbaum said.

Despite the overwhelming support for the proposed rules, Rosenbaum said there was a large amount of discussion devoted to the system for electing FAS senators.

Unlike other types of voting procedures, the FAS Senate will operate through a single transferable vote system. Under STV, voters rank candidates and any votes for a winning candidate past a defined threshold are then reallocated to the remaining candidates, the report stated. Votes are reallocated by the voter’s original preference until all seats have been filled.

“There was a lot of explanation about STV because it is not widely used in the U.S., although it is often used in other university senates, some local governments and used widely outside the U.S.,” Wilkinson said. “The main advantage of this system is that there are less wasted votes and it aggregates a larger number of preferences.”

Film studies professor Charles Musser ’73 said debate on the rules was relatively minimal since most professors entered the meeting in support of the idea of a senate. As a result, most of the discussion centered on smaller points of order and minor amendments, he added.

Computer science professor Michael Fischer proposed an amendment in which divisional directors — who will oversee the long-term initiatives of the three divisions of humanities, social sciences and the sciences — would be considered full-time administrators. As a result, these individuals would not be allowed to simultaneously serve as a member of the FAS Senate or vote in meetings, the amendment stated.

“The rationale is that the divisional directors play a major administrative role in the University, and they should be treated the same way as the dean, provost and president,” Fischer said. “The mission of the [FAS Senate] is to provide a channel of communication between faculty and administration, it is not for the administration to talk to itself.”

Fischer declined to comment on the specific margin by which the amendment passed, but noted that a “significant majority” voted in favor.

A second amendment, which failed to pass, proposed that full-time research scientists without teaching responsibilities within the FAS should be eligible to stand for election, Gendler said. She said the ultimate decision was to maintain the initial recommendation to include only full-time FAS research scientists who also hold multi-year teaching appointments as senate constituents.

Faculty interviewed said the overwhelming support for the FAS Senate rules suggests a strong future for the elected body.

Rosenbaum said a major strength of the senate, compared to other meetings in which topics can be “buried by the administration,” is that the FAS senate can set its own agenda.

“I think [the vote] was very promising,” Musser said. “It allows the faculty to voice its concerns and enthusiasms in a meaningful way, before we get to crisis like what we had with [Yale-NUS].”

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