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Mahood succeeds Simoni as Faculty Senate chair
STANFORD -- Gail Mahood may have gained national prominence as the leader of the movement to revamp Stanford's grading system, but the incoming chair of the Faculty Senate is no single-issue crusader.
Although Mahood, professor of geological and environmental sciences, thinks that undergraduate and graduate curriculum issues always should take precedence in senate deliberations, she hopes this year's discussions will focus more on concerns related to faculty "quality of life." Tenure, conflict of interest, conflict of commitment, tuition benefits and retirement benefits are some of the topics she would like to see on upcoming agendas.
"When you get hired and get tenured, all [the agreement] basically says is that you've been hired with no time limit," Mahood said of the current system. "You never sign on a dotted line. There is nothing there that says, 'This is what we expect you do to.' "
Mahood has served in the senate for more than four years. She currently is helping to shape a proposal for an interdisciplinary science core and she was an active member of the Commission on Undergraduate Education. She was a member of the senate's steering committee in 1994-95.
The 44-year-old volcanologist, who takes over as chair of the Faculty Senate on Oct. 12, was known for her commitment to improving undergraduate education long before 1992, when she assumed the chair of the Academic Council's Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement. That committee was charged with examining whether there should be any changes in grading practices at Stanford.
In April 1994, the committee recommended that the Faculty Senate vote to bring back the failing grade and to include stricter add/drop deadlines and more restrictive rules for retaking courses. While several aspects of the grading system came under fire from both professors and students, Mahood's persuasive arguments about the need to effect a more accurate "historical transcript" of all course activities prevailed and the new policy took effect this academic year.
"She is very concerned about giving evaluations that are accurate and fair and I think that is what has characterized her career here at Stanford and led to her interest and involvement in the grading policy change," said geology Professor Gordon Brown, who knew Mahood before she joined Stanford's faculty in 1979. "She is also an excellent departmental citizen. She does a lot of work in the trenches that's needed to make a department function."
Mahood currently serves as the geology department's associate chair and she will succeed David Pollard as departmental chair in January. A frequent teacher of the introductory geology course, she often shows up at lectures with her two Welsh corgi terriers, Maddy and Flint.
The dogs' presence, she said, helps to destroy the "invisible professor repellent" that keeps many students from approaching teachers after class. Maddy and Flint also provide students, especially those who are away from home for the first time, with a much-needed "pet fix," she said.
Last month, Mahood was one of five faculty members who took part in the inaugural Sophomore College, an intensive two-week academic program designed to combat "sophomore slump."
"It was the sort of teaching experience you hope you have all the time," said Mahood, whose class explored the geological hazards of the Bay Area. "It really reminds me how talented Stanford students are and how much they can accomplish when you have high expectations of them."
As the government and the health-care industry continue to redefine their relationship with universities and medical schools, Mahood thinks it will become increasingly important for faculty members to understand what the university expects from them and what they, in turn, should expect from the university.
"Universities can't really afford to espouse the 'take care of your own' attitude that they have in the past," she said.
Tenured faculty, for example, should be expected to continue being productive members of the university, Mahood said. But whether that means they should be required to maintain or increase their involvement in teaching, in research or in some combination of the two is a delicate issue that Mahood thinks can benefit from senate discussion.
"Somebody may have spent 10 years working like crazy to make a name," she said. "You can't just throw them out when they turn 45 or 50 and might not be producing as much."
Still, Mahood thinks a re-evaluation of tenure is needed because nearly 80 percent of the faculty are tenured and retirement is not mandatory. This high concentration of tenured faculty doesn't leave the university with much flexibility to move into new areas of academia, she said. One alternative, she suggested, is to free up tenured spots by encouraging early retirement. But this can be difficult because senior faculty are a highly valued segment of the university.
"It would be very sad," she said, "if you had a place run by a bunch of people who just arrived on the scene."
Mahood is optimistic that the Faculty Senate will have time to discuss many of these issues since the bulk of the curriculum recommendations made by the Commission on Undergraduate Education were voted on by the senate last year.
She credits former Faculty Senate chair Bob Simoni, professor of biological sciences, for having moved the commission's recommendations through the senate so quickly. Simoni, in turn, praised a new streamlined procedure for speeding up much of the senate's work. The procedure, adopted last year, allows the steering committee to consider routine, non-controversial agenda items at special administrative sessions, rather than during the full senate.
"It made more senate time available for what we thought were more critical and substantive issues," he said. "We thought it would probably take two years for the senate to deal with all of the curriculum issues that the commission raised. We managed to get it done in one year. It was down to the wire, but we got it done."
Simoni, who this fall begins serving his 15th year in the senate, has been active in university governance since 1974. He has served on the senate's steering committee several times, and there is no indication that his pace will slack off anytime soon.
"Once he stepped down as chair, he joined a budget and strategy planning group that the provost has and he's already making his voice heard there," said Mahood, who also is a member of the group. "I think he's actually looking forward to going back and being a member of the senate, because the irony is when you are chair, you are very constrained in what you can say."
The senate was created in 1968 as the representative body of the Academic Council, which includes more than 1,300 members of the Stanford professoriate. The 55 members of the senate approve students' degrees and set university policy on curriculum and academic programs.
Mahood's election as senate chair was announced on May 4. Serving with her on the senate's steering committee will be Professors J. Myron Atkin, education; David Clayton, developmental biology; Alexander Fetter, applied physics; Joseph Goodman, electrical engineering; Brad Osgood, mathematics; and Gavin Wright, economics.
The Academic Council's Advisory Board officers for 1995-96 are Professors Amos Tversky, psychology, chair; Bradley Efron, statistics and health research, vice chair; and Joanne Martin, business, secretary. Other members of the Advisory Board are Professors Frances Conley, neurosurgery; George Dekker, English; William Reynolds, mechanical engineering; and Eric Shooter, neurobiology.
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