Faculty Senate Represents UAA Mission and Values

From Scott Downing, Associate Professor of English

The UAA Faculty Senate Executive Board appreciates the opportunity to address the op-ed article “UAA Faculty Senate Needs Restraint,” published in the Oct. 9 edition of The Northern Light. The author of the article recognizes that the Senate “serves as a forum for faculty to discuss, vote, and recommend policy to UAA leadership” and also acknowledges that “faculty input is valuable in any reform.” We agree with those sentiments but disagree that clashes with executive leadership necessarily indicates faculty need more restraint.

The Faculty Senate serves as the collective voice of the faculty, embodying the mission and values of the institution through its responsibility for programs, curriculum, teaching, research and academic policy. When administrative policies or decisions clash with the University’s mission and values, that tension comes to the surface in the form of Faculty Senate resolutions in which the faculty voices its perspective. As importantly, the Faculty Senate serves as a voice for responding to University of Alaska Statewide decisions that may negatively affect UAA’s ability to meet its mission and serve students most effectively.

Faculty Senate resolutions concerning Strategic Pathways and the performance of UA Statewide represented an example of a tension between administrative decisions and those values. Administrators may have the values of the institution in mind when they make decisions, but the various effects and consequences of administrative decisions cannot be known without the integral involvement of the voice for those values, the faculty.

The work of faculty is grounded in evidence-based approaches to addressing issues. The work of administration should be the same. When administrative decisions are made that lack transparency and don’t include an evidence-based approach to decision making (or that evidence is not shared effectively) faculty often question those decisions. Initiatives that are pushed forward without faculty involvement are often more difficult to implement and may undermine the very success they were designed to achieve.

We agree that USUAA serves an important function at the University as the collective voice of students. We include student representatives appointed by the USUAA on the Faculty Senate Undergraduate Academic Board (UAB), Graduate Academic Board (GAB) and General Education Review Committee (GERC), the committees that oversee programs and curriculum at the University. While those seats are currently unfilled, we welcome student input on curriculum matters. Students led the initiative to incorporate an Alaska Native-themed GER Initiative into the curriculum and we wholeheartedly endorsed that initiative. It embodied the values at UAA of diversity and inclusion.  Student success is at the center of our institution and we highly value student perspectives on the work of the university.

Administration must make decisions concerning the allocation of resources. Ensuring those decisions reflect the mission and values of the institution is the primary purpose of faculty governance and shared decision making. Restraining the role of the faculty and the Faculty Senate in the name of expediency risks long-term damage to the University, its mission, its values and student success.

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UAA Faculty Senate Executive Board