Nancy Felson, professor of classics, is chair of the University Council Executive Committee this year. Columns sat down with her to discuss the role and responsibilities of the position.
Columns: What does being chair of the Executive Committee entail? What are your duties?
Felson: The chair mainly guides the Executive Committee in processing requests that come from the university community for the agenda of University Council. But the position has evolved into more of a leadership role for the faculty and it now includes additional duties such as being Grand Marshall at ceremonial events, introducing the president for his State of the University address, reading names at the memorial service honoring deceased faculty, staff and students, and representing the faculty on the Arch Foundation. I serve on the Arch Foundation Development Committee where I have the opportunity to brainstorm with others not only about how to identify donors but also about initiatives at the university that might be attractive to donors.
Columns: Would you view this position as being a sort of de facto public voice for the faculty-the person who represents the faculty viewpoint?
Felson: It’s ambiguous, because I wasn’t elected by the faculty at large and am therefore hesitant to speak for them. On the other hand, no one is elected by the faculty at large, and I see a need for someone to lead the faculty, someone to whom they can bring their concerns. I’m trying to play that role to some extent, but I would also like the council to consider whether this is the position to fill that role, and if so, whether the person should be elected as I was-by a very limited body-or in some other manner.
Columns: What are your goals as chair of the Executive Committee?
Felson: First, I’d like to make sure people in the university know how to bring their concerns to the attention of the council. I want to make transparent the various procedures-from contacting the chair of Faculty Conference to
e-mailing me or another appropriate person-for getting items on the council agenda. Second, I’d like to help forge and sustain a cooperative decision-making process among faculty, staff, students and the administration. Third, since we now have a strong report of the Task Force on General Education and Student Learning, I’d like to see the council use that document to help departments and colleges implement excellence in undergraduate education, which to me means a broad liberal arts experience and a curriculum that engages the students and inspires them to work hard from their first semester to graduation. A great university simply has to have the strongest possible undergraduate liberal arts programs. This requires not only faculty dedication and a culture of learning but financial support as well.
Columns: You’ve called on faculty to take a more active role in faculty governance. Can you be more specific about what you’d like faculty to do in this regard?
Felson: There are times when faculty simply complain but feel impotent to change anything. They blame the administration for excluding them from determining even their own academic programs. When I was chair of the College of Arts and Sciences faculty senate, my beginning point was to urge faculty to be informed, to read data and documents and think about issues. In this position, too, I’m asking faculty-especially those on University Council-to consider what will really make a difference here at UGA. As faculty, we have considerable expertise in engaging and inspiring our students, with whom we are in close touch in the classroom and beyond. Our research fuels our self-confidence and capacity to teach well. I’d like to see the administration enable faculty to translate that expertise into policies that will shape the education our students receive for years to come.
Columns: Occasionally there are issues that cause tension between faculty and the administration. How do you see your role in these conflicts?
Felson: I see my role as bringing matters to the notice of the administration in a timely manner before tension mounts. One issue that might be brewing at the moment concerns soft benefits for domestic partners. It passed University Council with a strong vote, with support from many who are not necessarily part of the gay and lesbian community but consider this measure humane and just, and long overdue. Also, they recognize that UGA will not be competitive with other leading universities if it doesn’t grant these benefits. I trust the administration will move forward with this and not generate a problem that doesn’t have to be. As a rule, when such an issue arises that upsets some in the university community, I want us to listen well to those complaining and channel their complaint into some kind of remedy. Timeliness is all important-what the ancient Greeks called kairos.
Columns: Any parting words?
Felson: I hope this year’s council can leave a legacy of meaningful dialogue at meetings and active participation by faculty along with staff and students and administrators. I hope those elected to the council will stay in touch with their constituencies, identify problems early, and talk to appropriate people and work things out, not just let them simmer. I’m all for debate, especially when there are strong differences of opinion. And I’d like to see a position of official chair of faculty.