Gwen Kay, President, SUNY University Faculty Senate
Sometimes someone else’s dream becomes your dream. For me, that dream was a national organization for shared governance, parallel to what we do for the public institutions in New York State. And as much as I cringe to admit this, history does repeat itself.
In the fall of 2018, campus governance leaders (CGLs) across SUNY, and across the country, received an unsolicited email asking if they would like to go to Texas and maybe create a new organization to represent shared governance nationally. The emails were random groupings of campuses, with 30-40 recipients per email. I know this because many CGLs forwarded their email to me to make sure I knew about this and to see if it was legitimate. I wanted to go! With the endorsement of both the Executive Committee and the knowledge of the Senate, I headed to Austin, Texas, for Halloween.
The hotel was abuzz with governance people from all over the country – you could tell who we were because we were wearing work attire on a Saturday, not a splashy costume. And there was a preponderance of people from Texas. It turns out that our meeting piggybacked the Texas Faculty Senate meeting; they were our hosts for the first meeting. It was because of their commitment to shared governance that their staff harvested hundreds of campus websites to find any semblance of faculty and staff governance and then sent out those emails. We used the meeting rooms in the afternoon that had been used by the Texas Faculty Senate earlier that day. There was great excitement about forming a national entity to represent our shared governance concerns, from shrinking state support for public higher education to changing federal policies, from shared governance being ignored or shut down to potentially lobbying for higher education. In a word, to replicate on a national level what we have with UFS.
What have we done, and what have we learned?
Over the course of two years we worked to create a national organization, cleverly called the National Council of Faculty Senates. This entailed creating committees to work on bylaws, publicity, organizational structure, and officers. This work may not be glamorous, but it’s critical to have the basics done first. Luckily, the folks who got involved on the national level were leaders on their campuses, so they had the expertise and experience. I’m happy to say that we’ve now got bylaws, and we’ve got officers –I currently serve as vice president – and an executive committee. Like UFS, the terms of officers are staggered, such that the elections for president and secretary are one year, and elections for vice president and treasurer are the alternate year. I was elected vice president and am in the second year of that two-year term. The first year, our president, Trevor Hale, Texas A&M, kept the energy from the Texas Faculty Senate going. Now, in our second year, our president, Diane Henshel, Indiana University, was NCFS’s first secretary.
We held our first meeting of substance –going beyond organizational work – virtually in September 2020. There were two keynote addresses: on Friday, Hans-Joerg Tiede, AAUP, spoke about “Shared Governance During Perilous Times and the Need for a Revised National Shared Governance Survey”; on Saturday, Sirry Lang, Lehigh University, spoke on “How Higher Education Can Fight Racism: Speak Up when It’s Hard.” There were breakout sessions by topic on the first day, and by geographic region (aligning with accreditation zones) on the second.
We are working to be as inclusive as possible. Currently, NCFS operates on a shoestring budget, with nominal dues to attend the conference. Anyone from any campus can join, and anyone can be involved in any committee. If you’re interested, please ask me and I’ll make it happen! There are more colleges and universities than there are community colleges. We’ve got members from Hawaii to Maine, Alaska to Florida.
As for history: I have learned from UFS past president Karen Markoe, Maritime, that this idea has been around for a while. In fact, UFS was extremely involved in an earlier 1980s-1990s iteration of a national shared governance body. The lobbying on a national level isn’t there yet, but we continue to serve as a resource for campuses with shared governance challenges. We hope to continue to grow in numbers, in visibility, in lobbying, in importance. And I hope that we – as UFS, and as individual campuses – continue to be involved as individuals, as campuses, and as a system-wide body.
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