Faculty governance chair considers coming academic year


As a new academic year gets underway, the Record asked Silvia Pedraza, chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, for her thoughts on the coming year for U-M’s central faculty governance, which includes SACUA, the Senate Assembly and the Faculty Senate.

Silvia Pedraza
Silvia Pedraza

How do you view SACUA’s relationship with the administration and its ability to convey the faculty’s voice to decision-makers?

Unfortunately, the events surrounding the departure of our former provost, Martin Philbert, and our former president, Mark Schlissel, were such that they broke the trust of many in the Michigan faculty. They also helped to create an adversarial relationship between the faculty and the administration that was not there in the past. I am chair of SACUA now, but I was also vice chair of SACUA many years ago and I can feel the difference.

In the past, faculty governance worked together with the administration. SACUA as well as the Senate Assembly pushed the administration in the direction we thought it should take, but we were always respectful and never had the adversarial relationship these recent events created. We now need to restore the lost trust and to regain the respectful though decisive attitude we had in the past.

What, if anything, would you like to change in that relationship, and how?

We are now at a crucial moment in the history of this university. The crises surrounding the figures of the provost and the president led us into the national spotlight, in a very negative fashion, rather than the positive ways in which people were used to seeing us. However, we are now in the unusual moment where we have both a new president and a new provost at once, both of whom appear to be excellent people. It is a chance for the faculty to establish a new relationship with them — not the old relationship that issued from resentment and mistrust but a new relationship that could grow out of shared effort and new trust.

What are your priorities for SACUA and central faculty governance in the coming year? 

To restore the mutual trust between faculty and the administration so everyone can feel that we are all here to do our best for our school.

To ensure that the administration hears the voice of the faculty and takes its knowledge of this institution and its student body into account when making important decisions.

To insist that when faculty disagree with each other regarding which policies to support, what roads to take, they treat each other respectfully. 

What should the faculty governance system’s role be in developing and guiding university policy?

When faculty join SACUA and the Senate Assembly, we are taught that our role is advisory — that we give advice, not make policy. That advisory role becomes rather disappointing, however, if the leadership seldom heeds our advice and, in effect, ignores us. The faculty and the administrative leadership see and experience the university from different vantage points, so we do not expect them to listen to us always. But we do think they should listen to us often enough that we can be part of the important decision-making that shapes all our lives in the university.

As faculty governance chair, what would be your main message to incoming president Santa J. Ono?

I have been at Michigan for a long time. I grew to know a long string of excellent university presidents:  Harold Shapiro, Robben Fleming, Jim Duderstadt and Mary Sue Coleman. Different as they were, they were all honorable men and women who sacrificed themselves to make us into an excellent institution we could be glad we belonged to. Santa J. Ono should think of himself as being in that line of great University of Michigan presidents.

As soon as his presidency was announced, I looked Santa J. Ono up in the University of British Columbia website and was glad to see evidence that he was committed to excellence both in research and teaching, as well as to racial and ethnic diversity. Both of those are longstanding Michigan commitments, so he will fit well here. His knowledge of a large, public research university will also be quite useful to him. While we often see ourselves as too large and unwieldy, as Ono pointed out, such institutions also have enormous energy. As we do.

What does central faculty governance do well, and what are some areas that need improvement?

We in SACUA and the Senate Assembly are now beginning to be involved in bringing together the new and the old. The new are the technologies — online meetings, videoconferencing — that have improved the participation of the faculty in its governance. The old are the way people in a Senate arrived at their decisions through a parliamentary process of deliberation — discussions that benefited from the completely different points of view expressed in their assembly. With the help of our IT support personnel, we are trying to bring the old and the new together, to the benefit of the faculty.

Silvia Pedraza chairs SACUA, the Senate Assembly and the Faculty Senate. She is a professor of sociology and of American culture in LSA.


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