Focus on the Presidency: When the Stars Align

Forming a Faculty Senate

By Barbara-Jayne Lewthwaite    //    Volume 25,  Number 4   //    July/August 2017

I am proud to say that I served as the president of Centenary University for eight years. This year, I am on sabbatical— one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I have had time to think about many things that happened. One was the formation of our faculty senate in 2010; it is a story worth sharing.

Everyone has heard the reference to the stars aligning properly. That is what happened when the faculty council at Centenary University (then Centenary College), headed by Dr. Thomas Brunner, suggested it was time for us to move toward the formation of a faculty senate instead of a faculty council. The idea of a senate heralded a new era where there would be more faculty participation in shared governance. For example, the faculty now have two non-voting members on the board of trustees (BOT) and are involved in the budgeting and financial oversight processes.

This change took place without radical posturing. I wanted a senate, as did our then chief academic officer, Dr. James Paterson, and the trustees. The timing and alignment were paramount, and the senate fit well in a place that had continued to change and evolve. It was time. Dr. Jeffrey Carter, associate professor of criminal justice & public administration, reminded me of the level of synergy supporting the concept.

In higher education, we are lucky to have trustees who are willing to share their time, talent, and treasure. Many come from the business world. Trying to explain shared governance and tenure to them is not easy because the concepts are so different from their culture. But dedicated, intelligent people make a point of trying to understand various organizational cultures.

Centenary is blessed with many wonderful trustees. In particular, we are fortunate to have a trustee who raised the understanding of this culture—one he never actually worked in—to an art form. So great was his understanding that he became a leading force in the formation of our faculty senate. Yes, a board member worked both directly and side by side with the faculty in drafting the bylaws for the senate and getting it started. Wolfgang Gstattenbauer, a retired Mars International executive, attended Centenary as an adult student. He eventually joined the board, and is now serving as chair.

As a relatively new board member in 1986, Wolfgang helped the faculty and administration draft its first faculty constitution. Since then, he has been involved in every revision, so the faculty have been accustomed to his involvement in the architecture of shared governance. In addition to his experience working with the faculty, he has had the respect of the trustees. His involvement offered the trustees, administration, and faculty a sense of comfort with this new endeavor.

Joining Wolfgang in this adventure was Dr. Stanley Caine. He joined our board in 2009, and was the only former college president to serve as a trustee at that time. I treasured Stan’s participation. He had done the president’s job, and thanks to his wit, brevity, and humility, the other members of the BOT listened to and sought his advice. Even during conference calls, Stan recalls “a general sense of harmony and mutual purpose among the participants.”

Faculty members who were involved expressed similar sentiments. Carol Yoshimine, professor of art, said, “Throughout this entire process, there was a collegial, respectful, and often frank exchange of varying viewpoints.” Lynn Taylor, professor of equine science, recalls, “Sometimes we convinced Wolf and Stan about things, and sometimes they convinced us about a particular process.” Chris Adamo, associate professor of philosophy, remembers “there seemed to be relief that the BOT was involved, and excitement at the promise of more direct and frequent contact between the BOT and faculty through the faculty senate.”

To be sure, this was a moment in time that is part of our proud history. During our recent 10-year review from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the visiting team was fascinated with this story, and we received a commendation regarding the process for our senate formation.

Fast forward several years. How is the faculty senate doing? The governing body is recognized as the heart of our shared governance. Tim Cleary, associate professor of equine studies, who became the first chair of the senate, commented that many would acknowledge the improvement that has taken place since the group’s formation.

A significant amount of the faculty senate’s success is due not only to the faculty who helped with the formation, but also to all the talented faculty members who were willing to both lead and serve.

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