Tom Braun, a professor of biostatistics in the School of Public Health, recently began his 2023-24 term as chair of the nine-member Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, as well as the 74-member Senate Assembly and the Faculty Senate.
The Faculty Senate includes all professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans.
Braun has been at the University of Michigan since 1999. He is an international expert in the design and application of Bayesian adaptive clinical trials, primarily focused on the discovery of safe and effective chemotherapy and immunotherapy regimens for the treatment and prevention of cancer.
Braun provided the following answers to questions about topics that the central faculty governance system will address this year, as well as its role in the university decision-making process.
Q: What are some topics SACUA will prioritize or address this year?
Academic freedom remains a growing concern for faculty, including syllabus, curriculum and grading autonomy, protection from external online trolling, and how U-M can be a beacon for academic freedom both internally and for peer institutions dealing with similar challenges. We also hope to focus on issues impacting faculty mental health, including the growing feelings of burnout felt by many faculty, greater family-care demands, and the growing administrative burden that many faculty are experiencing. I also hope SACUA can substantially improve existing policies and procedures around retaliation and grievance.
Q: How do you view SACUA’s role in developing and guiding university policy?
SACUA allows faculty to provide unsolicited, candid and direct feedback to U-M administration and creates a direct line of communication between U-M administration and faculty. SACUA allows faculty members to gather their voices and bring collective input to administration with greater impact than a single person can do. We also have a provost and president, both early in their roles, who have demonstrated greater openness to faculty input and working collaboratively with SACUA; hopefully this contributes to increase SACUA’s future role at U-M.
Q: How do you view SACUA’s relationship with the administration and the process of conveying the faculty voice to decision-makers?
SACUA’s role with the administration is a challenging and dynamic process. Certainly, some faculty would prefer SACUA to be combative and push against administrative actions, while other faculty would prefer SACUA to be collegial with administration toward producing positive change. Both approaches have value in different situations, and finding a balance is what makes faculty governance so challenging and interesting. I believe there is a way to challenge administration in a direct way that allows for disagreement and debate, but still maintains trust and respect. If we can achieve that, much can be accomplished.
Q: What does SACUA do well now, and what are some areas that need improvement?
I think SACUA does a great job responding to the myriad of input we receive from faculty, due in large part to the outstanding staff we have in the Faculty Senate Office. I also think SACUA remains engaged nationally with the faculty senate leaders of our peers, which is crucial in today’s environment of external attacks against academia. A major area for improvement is simply “getting things done,” which is not simple for two reasons. First, SACUA often spends a bulk of time reacting to important emergent issues rather than having time to focus proactively on new topics. Second, SACUA membership has historically, and currently, been polarized on many issues. I am hoping we can move forward from a group with two diametrically opposed beliefs, to one that allows for disagreement, but values compromise as a way forward.
Q: How do you plan to engage more people in faculty governance?
This continues to be a challenging issue on our campus. I have reached out personally to many faculty members asking for them to participate in our Senate Assembly committees. We also are planning to task one of our Senate Assembly committees to examine this issue in greater detail. I also continue to brainstorm on effective ways to directly publicize what SACUA does and the positive results that have resulted from our efforts.
Q: In what ways will the recent addition of clinical professors, archivists, curators and lecturers impact the future of the Faculty Senate?
I think the coming year will introduce some necessary growing pains for the Faculty Senate. It will be wonderful to have new members with new ideas, new issues and new enthusiasm for interacting with U-M administration. However, I also anticipate some conflicts arising as to what the Faculty Senate should prioritize, and building trusting relationships between the existing and new members. I know that some faculty voice a fear that the expansion allows for an erosion of tenure, and we certainly need to acknowledge this fear moving forward.