Spring 2023 H&S E-Newsletter for Faculty and Staff
May 25, 2023
The core mission of the school is to enable you to do your work—to produce new knowledge and to educate the next generation. That mission takes place in classrooms, in labs, in your offices, in departments, institutes, programs, and centers, in conversations with others, and in time alone.
There is an ecosystem that is needed for that mission to thrive. Helping to ensure that ecosystem is a primary job of a dean, through fundraising; assisting with recruitments and retentions; and supporting a healthy and productive research and teaching environment. Of course, this ecosystem cannot be ensured by a dean or department chair or by any administrative offices alone, but that is the rationale that justifies having such offices.
It is absolutely critical that the faculty voice remains at the core of our mission. This voice cannot be taken for granted: Because faculty governance is a “public good,” no individual faculty member has an incentive to contribute to it, as opposed to pursue their own research and teaching exclusively. But without faculty governance, our mission is endangered.
There is, admittedly, a tension here. One of the most important resources for our research mission is “hours for what we will,” as early labor activists put it. We need free time to think, rethink, and to explore new avenues. Faculty time is a scarce good, and I recognize (and bemoan) some of the current encroachments on such free time. Still, not all encroachments are in the service of trivial tasks or merely burdensome bureaucracy.
The Faculty Senate is one important venue for faculty voices, as are the many important Faculty Senate committees—from the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid to the Committee on Libraries and the Committee on Research—all of which oversee, review, and update our teaching and research missions. In the Faculty Senate, issues are debated such as the meaning and scope of academic freedom, policies regarding the honor code and its enforcement, policies for undergraduate admissions—all of which contribute to who we are. At its best, the senate is a deliberative body, sorting through disagreements, listening to conflicting opinions, gathering information, and exploring consensus.
Depending on cluster, between 17% and 35% of the H&S faculty have voted in Faculty Senate elections in the last four years. Votes for the advisory board, which is the final review of all university tenure decisions, are even fewer. Matters of university processes and priorities, curricular changes, admissions, research protocols, and budgets are critical parts of the larger environment for your research and teaching. The Faculty Senate is the most important venue you have for expressing your views and those of your colleagues on such matters. I encourage all of you to play a role.
Ultimately, the university rises and falls with the strength of its faculty. Not only your individual excellence—which is critical and without substitute—but also your oversight, collective wisdom, and willingness to contribute to public goods. There is no superior power. I welcome your contributions and input, and I have a lot of faith in our judgment when we act together.
Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences
Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society
J. Frederick and Elisabeth Brewer Weintz University Fellow in Undergraduate Education
Professor of Philosophy and, by courtesy, Political Science