Faculty standing up for students

The University of Vermont | Photo courtesy
Despite the unique circumstances of this school year, faculty are still trying to cater to the needs of students.

Faculty Senate and their efforts to keep campus safe

From a student’s perspective, it can be easy to adopt an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality; wherein, the students are ‘us’ and the ‘them’ are the higher-ups in the university, as well as all staff, including professors. Especially this semester, as a result of the struggles brought upon by online schooling, students often feel unheard and alone in their attempts to keep up.

However, this really isn’t the case. Every Monday from 3-4:30 p.m. the Faculty Senate meets virtually to discuss their concerns within the university as they relate both to professors and to students.

Prior to this week, I was unaware that the Faculty Senate even existed, and it would not surprise me if this was the case for many students.

For those who may not know, the Faculty Senate is about as old as the university itself. One week after the founding of the college, in 1890, the faculty of the then North Dakota Agricultural College held their first meeting. Since then, the Senate has evolved into a meeting place to discuss research and curriculum, as well as a forum through which to collaborate with the NDSU administration.

Basically, it is very similar to the Student Senate, but in this case, instead of approving budgets for student organizations, the Faculty Senate is making recommendations about classes, about the future of student education and about decisions being made by those individuals at the top rungs of the university. This doesn’t bear a lot of similarity with our national senate, either in weightiness or politics, but to anyone within the NDSU community it is deserving of some acknowledgment.

At this past week’s meeting on September 14th, the Faculty Senate’s COVID Committee drafted recommendations to the university about allowing faculty to have more input on future COVID-related decisions. As well as more transparency within that decision-making process.

Discussed in this recommendation was the breach of the Faculty Senate’s constitution by the university’s decision to adopt a Hyflex model. The senate was not consulted about the decision, which certainly comes as a surprise when it is, in fact, the faculty who would be responsible for effectively instituting Hyflex procedures. 

It seems unlikely, had they been consulted, that many professors would have preferred a teaching model that required them to monitor that students in person were following university COVID regulations, while simultaneously monitoring an online classroom and trying to teach their regular lesson.

Faculty Senate also addressed that, as of right now, there are no metrics in place at the disposal of either faculty or students in the event that any number of situations occurs as a result of the pandemic.

As the recommendation states, “Faculty Senate has a strong expectation that the President, his Cabinet, and the corresponding administrative units will display transparency through the rapid publication of tangible metrics related to the various thresholds at which the following occur: instruction is moved to the online medium temporarily or for the remainder of the semester; residence halls are put on lockdown; students are removed from campus.”

Admittedly, the language from the Faculty Senate is a little bulky, but the point they’re making is imperative: the university has zero plans if classes need to be moved online, or in the case of an outbreak, that students get removed from campus. This should be concerning to all of us, and luckily, the Faculty Senate is making moves to try to protect students and faculty alike in the not totally unlikely case that these steps do need to be taken. 

This recommendation to the university passed with 33 yes votes and 3 abstaining. However, there was also a motion to add three reading days to dead week that failed to pass with 25 no votes, 11 yes votes and 1 individual abstaining.

If this motion passed, students would be given more time to prepare for finals week. However, the faculty got hung up because some of them had classes on one of the three days to be allotted and they decided that was enough to vote no on the motion. 

Not only do students rarely attend these Faculty Senate meetings, but there wasn’t even a representative from the Student Senate present at this past meeting. It seems, had there been more students present (as the motion for reading days was based on a request from Student Senate), the faculty residing at the meeting might have had a more difficult time arguing against a motion meant to assist students in this particularly difficult semester. 

Those present at this meeting, a representative group with members from each of NDSU’s colleges, were there to assist students, but they can only do so much when students don’t show up to give their input. 

Our professors are making choices that change how they teach, and thus, how we as students receive an education. The fact that students likely don’t know about these meetings, and that those who do don’t care to attend, should be concerning. 

Additionally, President Dean Brescani wasn’t present at the meeting. Here is a group of faculty actively trying to better the university, and neither students nor leadership is showing up. It’s a sad state for the professors and a poor reflection on the university.

From a student’s perspective, I get it. In fact, I work during all the meetings, and even if I didn’t, it would be hard to set aside time to visit a meeting that can be exhaustively bureaucratic. But these are our professors, standing up for issues on behalf of students, we should expect nothing less from them than fully beating an issue into the ground.

And if you as a student can’t make it to the meetings, we should at least make sure our student leaders are present to voice our collective concerns. 

For more information on the Faculty Senate and to find out which professors represent your college, visit the NDSU website.

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