Faculty Senate President’s Message – “The Voice of the Faculty”
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as President of the Faculty Senate for the 2013-2014 year. I have worked the Center for Academic Excellence/Writing Center since 1999, and I am Professor in the Department of Library Science and Informatics. I have served in various capacities on the faculty senate since my first term as an alternate in 2003.
I came to this corner of university life with a desire to commit not only to my training’s scholarly realm but also to the institution which granted me a parcel in which to sow. I came and I trust you came similarly, with at least a willingness to commit to this place, which offered you a place, whether humble or rarified.
When that commitment was made between me and MUSC, I made a decision both conscious and unconscious, that I supported the institution’s basic mission—even those parts in which I have no training. I didn’t understand it fully when I arrived and still don’t today, but I chose to figure out a way to contribute to the mission’s various arms in any way I could reasonably do so.
Similarly, MUSC’s rules and traditions and policies, crazy or spot-on, became also my rules, traditions, and policies. In essence, by coming here and buying into the mission and sowing in my little parcel of academic earth, I at first unwittingly agreed to (but agreed to nonetheless) the institution's various bureaucratic and policy arcana as my own. When it mis-steps or utters bewildering new approaches to un-named problems, I choose—hard as it can be—to view myself as partly responsible. A small part, I hope to think, but a part. It is therefore my role to seek to give input, to correct course if my view is valid, but I have to convince others I'm right through whatever other arcane policies and structures may exist to allow it.
This, to me, is what institutional—rather than personal or ideological—commitment means. Not that I solely care for my own parcel of academic activity or my own preferences, but that I am responsible for (not just affected by) what is growing in fields around me as well, the full ecosystem. This institutional commitment does not absolve individuals—whether me or others—from the consequences of policy or political error, but it does suggest that the solution to decision-making that I question is more involvement on my part, not more indignation. Further, we need to understand, in my view, that malice is rarely if ever used in decision-making at our university. I hasten to add that freedom from malice in motivations does not mean freedom from error; it does mean that I choose to interpret what I regard as error generously--as more likely caused by a lack of prescience or failure of imagination than by a dark heart.
The Faculty Senate's mission and vision are clearly articulated on our website. We are the faculty interest, and the faculty interest is MUSC's mission and attendant initiatives. Our Senate is obligated to advocate for faculty not in a vacuum but...IN pursuit of the institutional mission. So we do not defend parochial interests…that is, as staunchly as we will support this year, for example, equitable and fair compensation or evaluation, we will be equally supportive of the necessary best means to achieve MUSC’s missions in difficult times. Indeed, as an institution, Faculty Senate support of fair compensation and evaluation stems from our support of the university’s mission. The reason we are the faculty’s voice is not because we’re looking out for number one. It’s because an active, growing, engaged, and collaborative faculty is among the primary means to all our university’s ends.
I believe that all we have done over the past several years is consistent with this understanding. But I am not certain we have done all we can to emphasize the way our responses are consonant with MUSC’s mission. Let's do more of that so that everyone understands that we know our obligations and rights are of a piece.
I'd also like to offer a message to those in leadership at the university. I enjoy the work of the faculty senate because I enjoy solving problems. I suspect that's what motivates most who seek to engage in caring for an institution. I hope in the coming year to persuade as many people as possible that the Senate—though constitutionally and by academic training poor at endorsing dramatic solutions without time to ponder—is an eager, highly trained, and intelligent resource for helping to solve problems.
And once asked to participate at an early stage before commitments to particular solutions have gelled, there are no more effective allies than a group of our faculty. Ask any of the current or former Senators who have been involved in assisting to resolve our more contentious issues. They defend compromises as victories. And they do so rightly.
I look forward to being your ally and supporter over the coming year. I hope you’ll be mine and your faculty Senators’ as well. I ask all faculty to find a way to engage in some aspect of Senate life, whether through election or through intermittent but concerned communication with your own Senate representatives. Frankly, to be more persuasive, the Senate's voice needs to be in theory and in fact--obviously also the voice of the faculty.
Tom G. Smith, Ph.D.
2013-2014 Faculty Senate President