Address to the Board of Control on September 30, 2010

Chair Richardson and members of the board; distinguished audience

The political commentator George Will recently wondered why President Obama did not invoke the rule of “strategic reticence” instead of making a speech on the gulf oil disaster.  This rule simply put is as follows:”do not speak unless you can improve the silence”.  With this in mind, I will try to be as brief as possible.

The Senate was recently placed on the governing chart of the institution and the Senate acknowledges that this must have been a difficult decision.  Actually, we do not know what went on behind the decision for inclusion, we simply assumed that if it were easy to put the senate there, we would have been on this page much earlier.  The position on the chart itself is utterly remarkable and extremely generous.  If one imagines that this sheet represents a map of the US, this position would imply location somewhere within the beltway. 

The administrative structure at Michigan Tech is defined on this sheet but it is important to realize that there are at least three different aspects of governance at this institution and to see how the Senate contributes to each and where improvements can be made.  Our involvement in these areas stems directly from the provisions laid out in the Senate’s constitution which were granted by you.

First we have faculty in their own disciplines setting up programs and degree regulations.  This is a highly localized function best left to experts in their own disciplines and this can even be considered as one aspect of academic freedom.  One of the main charges of the Senate is to examine all new proposed degrees ensuring consistency, rigor and fairness and this is a very important function.  The Senate needs to work harder to evaluate proposals more expeditiously. 

Second, one can consider issues relating to terms of employment, specifically benefits and compensation.  The fact that we are a University Senate composed of faculty and staff provides some optimism for widespread communication here and various Senate members already contribute on committees that relate directly to health benefits.  Compensation is currently handled locally at the unit level.  The conclusion we reached about these areas is that they are works in progress.

Thirdly, there is an area of governance that arises directly out of the sums of the reputations of the faculty who work here.  This one is harder to grasp but it does define the University, together with the quality of our students and our infrastructure. Clearly, the insights of faculty from different disciplines should be included in any decision making process that affects the way in which teaching and research are conducted.  In this latter research area, we are experiencing a transition to a more centralized model perhaps in the hope of a better accounting process in light of financial circumstances.  Legislation emanating from above down to a local area may not be received kindly.  In the end this may translate into a situation where the creative processes of our brightest minds are consumed with other non-productive thoughts.  The Senate can be the vehicle through which two-way communication is established before and not after decisions are implemented.  To that end the presentation and discussion of various preliminary reports, for example the recent addresses by Vice-President Reed on the proposed “Superior Innovations Inc initiative” and by Provost Seel on his academic vision for the university during recent Senate meetings held this semester were very constructive.  Additionally enhanced involvement between the assigned executive liaisons and various Senate committees may easily alleviate or even prevent stress, the reduction of which will surely constitute one aspect of the wellness plans soon to be promoted by our Human Resource department.

This slide attempts to illustrate the previous years’ senate accomplishments in the form of words.  One creates this by copying words from the minutes of a senate meeting, placing them into this website and the program calculates and then prints out the words used with larger sizes signifying an increased frequency of usage.  Therefore each blob represents a different senate meeting starting out with the first one in location 1A, if we number the rows 1 to 4 and the columns A to C.  A quick glance at this page would lead one to conclude that for some strange reason going from 3A to 3B, and onward, there is a significant increase in the size of a four letter word beginning with the letter L.  I assure you that this is not due to some dramatic personality change in this person, rather the effect is directly attributable to the change in Senate secretary where someone from humanities was replaced by a fellow chemist.  In any case, scattered throughout this illustration are the three different areas in which the Senate contributes to Tech’s governance, with words like students, research, faculty, staff, education, proposal, health, entrepreneurial, million, and employees featuring prominently.  This illustration is therefore a very quick way to inform you as to the deliberations of the Senate during the previous year.

More direct evidence of the accomplishments is in the listing of Senate proposals.  Here it would appear that most things approved by the Senate are greeted favorably by the administration.  This was not as a result of wishful thinking but as a consequence of the relationships, hard work and conversations that go on behind the scenes before a proposal realizes fruition.  In this we are guided and encouraged by the words and actions of Provost Seel who affirmed early the importance of continued and sustained dialog to resolve problems.  I would like to thank the Provost for taking the initiative to facilitate communication between faculty and students by sending out reminders this semester that, in essence, the spirit of defeated proposal 17-10 still exists in the form of other proposals, specifically Senate Policy 505.1 and that these aims should be realized.

We have added three search engines to the website, three because of the reasons explained above the Google one, but the lowest is the most constructive.  This “Free Find” search engine now allows for Senate members to find out exactly what sort of deliberations went on previously before discussing any new proposal that is put before them.  The entire website minutes and proposals are indexed.  Before this, one could only learn of a proposal or discussion in the minutes the old fashioned way, i.e., by examining hard copies kept in the Senate office.  This facility will ensure continuation and tradition and hopefully produce better informed and reasoned conclusions regarding the merits of new proposals.  A search for the citings of Board Member Reck reveals that she was mentioned in Senate discussion on issues pertaining to finances, the 14-week calendar and charters, among others.  Her extensive contributions to the University over the years are thus easily accessible for all to read, examine and appreciate.

Finally, the Senate Standing Committees have been assigned various tasks to explore this year all in keeping with our mandate derived from you as stated in our constitution and by–laws.  These are shown here and here. 

Thanks for listening.