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Faculty group suggests creation of planning-policy board
STANFORD -- A group studying the structure of faculty committees and their role guiding academic policy has developed ideas that could result in the most significant governance change since creation of the Faculty Senate in 1968.
The committee suggests creating a 10-member planning and policy body beginning next year that would consider "the big issues" facing the university, electrical engineering Prof. Joseph Goodman told the Faculty Senate on Thursday, March 5.
The committee also suggests reorganizing and streamlining the seven standing committees of the Academic Council into four new bodies, one of which would be the big-issues committee.
Creation of the planning and policy committee is to be submitted for senate consideration April 2. Because of numerous other changes the university faces, consideration of all the other proposals will be delayed until next year.
Goodman is chair of the ad hoc Committee on the Structure and Functions of the Standing Committees of the Academic Council (known informally at StanCom), formed in September 1990 to reexamine faculty committees in light of changes in the university's administrative structure.
In deliberations spanning more than a year, StanCom "heard very uniformly" from senior faculty that the current committee arrangement allows too little time for faculty to consider the complex issues facing the university, Goodman told the senate.
A policy and planning board would focus its thoughts on "the future, rather than the present." The goal, he said, would be to "come to grips with issues that will be important in the future before they arrive upon us in crisis stage."
Goodman asked for faculty feedback on StanCom's ideas, saying his committee would meet before submitting a specific recommendation.
In the discussion that followed, faculty members generally supported the concept, but also questioned how the body would get its power and to whom it would report. Some thought it should be answerable to the Academic Council, while others considered that too vague and said the senate should supervise the group.
One member warned that it eventually could supplant the senate in importance, vesting power in a much smaller, and therefore less representative and diverse faculty group.
Goodman said that StanCom would like the proposed new body to be equal in importance and prestige to the Advisory Board, an independent body that advises the president and provost on faculty appointments and promotions. The Advisory Board is held in very high regard by the faculty, he said.
Functions of the new group
Goodman suggested that the new board could function as a strategic planning group, an investigative committee and a review committee. Specifically, it could articulate the university's academic vision and mission, examine long-term trends and frame academic policy issues, refer issues to appropriate standing committees or to the administration, and establish ad hoc committees as needed to address specific issues.
Sample issues the board might study, Goodman said, include academic strategic planning; the impact of intercollegiate athletics on undergraduates; implications of the internationalization of universities; balance between the arts, humanities, sciences and professional schools; and the desirability of continuing faculty involvement in setting budget priorities.
Goodman said that seven members of the new board would be elected at-large by the Academic Council, drawing from all ranks of the council. Serving ex officio with vote would be the Faculty Senate's immediate past chair, current chair and a new position, chair-elect, proposed by StanCom.
The faculty participates in university governance through the Academic Council, which is made up of 1,369 professors. In 1968, the faculty created as its legislative body a 55-member Senate, which meets approximately every two weeks during the academic year (see separate story).
During discussion of StanCom's initial ideas, Prof. Craig Heller, biological sciences, said he supported creation of the planning body because it could bring challenging subjects to the senate floor for discussion, perhaps eliminating the complaint that the senate is boring.
However, English Prof. Nancy Packer warned that the new board would appear "more interesting and more powerful" than the senate and eventually could "emasculate" it.
Echoing genetics Prof. David Botstein, Packer said that having the committee under the jurisdiction of the Academic Council rather than the Faculty Senate meant it would be "just floating around" not answerable to anyone.
"I don't know where it's going to get its ideas," Packer said, "or for whom it is going to speak, let alone how it's going to have an effect, except to be grandiose."
Packer said that most important issues are raised by individuals and departments, and she questioned that a group of "wise people" could do as well.
"If we had listened carefully to some of the faculty, we might have been dealing with the indirect cost issue a lot earlier," she said.
Botstein said he doubted it would work to assemble a committee and instruct them to "have ideas and vision." Such a group, had it existed in 1980, probably could not have predicted the problems that Stanford now faces, he said.
Heller said the committee would be not so much an "initiator of wisdom," but a group that would pull together "wisdom generated all over the university." It is not easy for faculty members to bring new ideas to the senate, he said.
Political science Prof. Steve Krasner said that many Stanford scientists were "screaming" about the indirect cost rate long before anything was done. What would a committee such as that proposed have done about the problem, he asked - refer it to another committee or "grab the president by the lapels"?
Prof. Arthur Bienenstock, materials science and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, said he would welcome a committee that systematically studies broad issues. He also pointed out that the Committee on Research, which he chaired the last two years, looked at the indirect cost issue after faculty members protested high rates, and the administration responded. The response, however, proved too conservative in light of later events, he said.
Education Prof. Elizabeth Cohen asked Goodman what problem StanCom was trying to fix: Are standing committees too consumed with administrative issues to consider academic policy?
Goodman affirmed that the existing committees spend much of their time consulting on administrative matters. He also said the new board would be chartered to consider any issue, whereas other committees are more limited.
How would it function?
Civil engineering Prof. Ray Levitt said the senate must decide whether the new body would think up ideas and put them on the senate agenda, or develop alternatives on major issues, or actually produce specific recommendations.
Botstein said that a committee that has "everything as its charge has nothing as its charge." He questioned who would set the group's agenda. The body probably should be a "creature of the senate," formulating ideas for the senate agenda, he said.
History Prof. Carolyn Lougee, who is also senior associate dean of humanities and sciences, said she strongly favored making the group a board of the Academic Council, with stature and strength similar to that of the Advisory Board. This was the best way to guarantee that people would listen to it, she said.
The proposed board should be viewed as a sort of coordinating committee of the whole faculty rather than thought of as something akin to the senate Steering Committee, she said. This would enable the committee to take up issues, such as the implications of undergraduate athletics, that cut across various Academic Council committees and even university committees.
Packer compared the proposed body to the now- disbanded Executive Committee of the Academic Council. Before creation of the senate in the late 1960s, most academic policy issues were controlled by seven faculty members whose distinguished reputations and wide name recognition helped get them elected to the Executive Committee, she said.
There was no voice for those who were not widely known, Packer said, pointing out that the replacement Faculty Senate includes both younger and older faculty, individuals from large and small departments, "people who are politically correct and people who are not politically correct. They all can have a voice here."
She suggested that the senate should control the new board, which could be made up of senate members or from a list of names provided by the senate's Committee on Committees.
"Let it fail here first," she said, and if it doesn't, it can later be converted into a universitywide committee.
Senate chair James Sheehan, history, asked the committee to return April 2 with a set of perhaps two alternatives for consideration.
In addition to Goodman and Lougee, StanCom members include Profs. Malcolm Beasley, applied physics; Albert Hastorf, psychology; Jerry Porras, business; and William Northway, pediatrics; senior associate provost Sally Mahoney; and student Derek Miyahara. Student Kevin Lewis served during 1990-91.
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