Things That Can Go Wrong and How to Prevent Them

February
2006
Jane Patton, Relations with Local Senates Committee Chair

At the Fall 2005 Plenary Session in Pasadena, in keeping with the session theme "Managing Conflict by Balancing Principles with Pragmatism," the Relations with local Senates Committee facilitated a discussion about issues that local senates face. The discussion was framed around three topics:

  1. Things that can go wrong and how to manage them.
  2. Things that can surprise you and how to prevent them.
  3. Things that can go right and how to nurture them.

The senate presidents that comprise the committee created scenarios, based upon their actual senate experiences. The scenarios and conversations that ensued can serve as advice for new senate leaders as well as internal team-building activities for local senates. What follows are some of the comments offered by the Committee and the audience and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else.

Things That Can Go Wrong

Scenario #1: Public Feuds at Senate Meetings

During the public address portion of an academic senate meeting, a faculty member uses his/her time to make verbal attacks on a colleague. The target of the comments faults the senate for allowing these comments to be made. How do you handle this situation?

Participants pointed out that people are allowed to say what they want during public comments, but personal attacks are not appropriate and civil discourse should be the expectation. Senates can set rules. Senates can also censure senators but not a member of the public. Some colleges have faculty conduct and ethics policies, which offer more suggestions on this topic.

Scenario #2: senate versus union conflicts

An action of the previous academic senate president has antagonized the union president, who feels the senate is interfering in union business. Senate-union relations become strained. How do you address this?

Many suggestions were offered for improving senate-union relations, and the ASCCC paper on this topic provides additional recommendations. Some senates have crossover representatives: a union representative attends senate meetings and a senator attends union meetings.

The presidents of the two bodies might meet periodically to build rapport and prevent miscommunication.

The two bodies might occasionally hold joint meetings, especially on topics that have significance for both groups (e.g. evaluation policies). Because very often the conflicts are personality issues, an intermediary can be used, provided he or she is trusted by both parties.

Things That Can Surprise You

Scenario #1: media Inquiries

A local newspaper has just published an article written by a board member, which contains very controversial statements. You receive a phone call from the local press asking you to respond to these statements. You have answered the phone. What do you do?

Senate leaders provided some rather frightening examples of being caught off guard, but it was agreed that with some anticipation of the potential calls, one could prevent regrettable results. At the moment of the surprise call, some replies might be, "I have a student with me; may I call you back?" or " I'd like to call you back after I've had a chance to think about it." or "the senate is considering this topic, and we will get back to you when we have a comment." In the longer term, one suggestion was to develop a relationship with the reporter and learn to control the flow of information. Ultimately, these cautions were offered: know your goals; remember you do not have to comment if it is not in your or your senate's interest. Resist the temptation to air dirty laundry unless it meets your needs. Remember: a reporter's main goal is to get a story, which may not be what is most important to you.

Scenario #2: Signing Off on Documents

As senate president you are asked to sign a Student Equity Plan, which is due in the System Office in two days. You have never seen this document before, and it has been developed without adequate faculty participation. How do you respond?

One suggestion was to have a committee on documents that would keep up with such deadlines and processes. Another idea was to reply to the administrators that the Academic Senate requires two weeks' notice in order to bring the document before them for first and second readings. Finally, you might call the system office and report that because you had not received documentation in a timely manner, there was no time for proper consultation and you could not yet sign it.

Things That Can Go Right-and How to Nurture Them

Lest we leave the impression that senates only face problems, the Relations with Local Senates Committee was quick to suggest that it is important for faculty leaders to find ways to sustain the good practices that are already in existence.

Scenario #1: Good Relationships

You have developed a strong working relationship with your faculty, classified unions and classified senate. How do you keep those relationships strong during times of conflicting needs, values, and perspectives?

Audience members suggested that we must not let administrators or trustees create a divide between full- and part-time faculty members, between union and senate or between faculty and staff. Sometimes it is useful to phone representatives from these other groups to learn what they are thinking. If the senates help other groups when they are in need, they will respond in kind later on. Building a climate of respect and trust is an ongoing responsibility.

Scenario #2: Effective Policies

Your academic senate develops a strong policy that ensures that the prioritization of new faculty positions is determined by the senate. How do you develop and maintain effective policies in other areas?

Policies can be eroded if not followed. It is important to see to it that policies are followed. By so doing, policies are reinforced. Whatever processes were used to develop the effective policy can be replicated in developing new policies. Local senates should point to the success of the effective policy to encourage the development of new policies.

Conclusion

Academic Senates have many resources available to support them in their important work. The ASCCC publications and links available at http://www.academicsenate.cc.ca.us help us on many current topics. The spiral-bound paper, Empowering Local Senates: Roles and Responsibilities of and Strategies for Effective Senates is an essential reference.

Faculty can develop expertise and feel supported when they attend plenary sessions and institutes-especially the Leadership Institute, which is scheduled for June 22-24 at Temecula Creek Inn this year.

The Relations with local senates committee encourages you to plan to bring a team to all plenary sessions and to send senate leaders to the leadership Institute in June, and that is our final and perhaps most important suggestion for building and maintaining an effective and successful local senate.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.