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Faculty Senate will begin meeting this week

When the Faculty Senate convenes for the first time meeting of the academic year on Thursday, Oct. 2, Frances Conley will silence her pager and take her seat at the front and center of the U-shaped, law school lecture room where the meetings traditionally are held.

Conley, a prominent neurosurgeon who recently was named acting chief of staff at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System, was elected chair of the Faculty Senate for the 1997-98 academic year. She succeeds Michael Bratman, professor of philosophy, who steered the senate through several lengthy, and sometimes passionate, discussions revolving around the freshman core curriculum that resulted in new legislation creating a program called Introduction to the Humanities.

No such single issue is anticipated to galvanize the senate this year. But Conley says several interesting aspects of university life will be explored and brought to the faculty's attention.

"We will be discussing issues that we won't necessarily vote on and are not necessarily controversial, but without a faculty constituency would remain essentially hidden," says Conley, who believes an important function of the senate is to facilitate dialogue among faculty from different departments on a broad range of matters relating to academia and campus life.

At Thursday's meeting, for example, Michael Keller, university librarian and director of academic information resources, will report on the state of the libraries in an increasingly electronic age. Keller's presentation has been scheduled to supplement the annual report of the Committee on Libraries. Other departments and offices that might be invited to give future reports to the senate include the athletics department and the office of facilities and maintenance.

On Oct. 16, the senate is tentatively scheduled to hear the annual report of the Committee on Research, followed by President Gerhard Casper's yearly "State of the University" address to the Academic Council. On Nov. 13, the provost is tentatively scheduled to discuss revisions to grievance procedures. Looking further down the road, issues regarding the hospital merger, such as dual faculty appointments, could arise and potentially require senate action, Conley said.

Susan Schofield, the university's academic secretary, predicts Conley will "step right into" her new position as chair. "I don't think she'll be nervous," Schofield said.

If anyone can be called a "child of Stanford," Conley fits the bill. She was born on campus. Her father is a professor emeritus of geology. She earned her bachelor's degree here, her medical degree at the School of Medicine and her master's in management at the Graduate School of Business. She was appointed assistant professor of surgery in 1975, granted tenure in 1981 and made full professor in 1988.

Despite this life-long affiliation with Stanford, the 57-year-old doctor with silver hair and a steadfast gaze has said she often feels like an outsider on campus. In 1991, she publicly alleged that sexual harassment was commonplace at Stanford's medical school and she resigned as chair of the neurosurgery department to protest the promotion of a male colleague, whom she accused of sexism. Three months later, she resumed her faculty position when he was demoted and the university took steps to deal with gender insensitivity.

Conley told Stanford Today that she regards her recent promotions as vindication for having spoken up after so many years of "paying dues."

The list of university administrative positions she has held over the years is impressive. She has served five years in the Faculty Senate and five years on the university's Advisory Board, including a stint as chair. She also has served on several university and medical school committees, including the Committee on Athletics and Physical Education and Recreation and the Panel on Laboratory Animal Care.

"I have an innate curiosity about the institution and its particular functions. One way to satisfy this curiosity is to be willing to become involved in some of the more formal aspects of running the place," Conley said. Being an active participant in university affairs has made her "more valuable as someone people can talk to. People seek advice [from me] all the time," she said.

Conley doesn't know how she will balance her multiple roles in the coming year. But she isn't worried.

"Like everything in life, things usually have a way of working out," she said, from her spacious office overlooking the Stanford hills. "I just hope they work out without bruising me too badly."


By Marisa Cigarroa

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