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Faculty Forum Papers

October 1977 - THE FACULTY SENATE By

Thurston E. Doler, Professor
Department of Speech Communication

September 13, 1977


My role as Parliamentarian of the Faculty Senate has brought me into association with numerous faculty who state their opinions about its activities and quite a few of their statements denegrate the Senate's accomplishments. Many of us, I suspect are more prone to criticism than to commendation on any topic, but regardless of the disposition to criticize I am convinced that a great number of faculty, perhaps a majority, believe that what the Senate does is of little consequence. Any criticism implies, I think, that the critic has some idea of what a more desirable result would be, and I trust that these critic's ideas of "something better" will provide the impetus for some useful alterations in Senate performance.

During my tenure at OSU the Senate has changed rather slowly, and is now in a metamorphic process that could produce a somewhat new organization. A recent impetus to that change occurred last fall when the President of the University discussed with senators some thoughts for making it a more "effective" organization. Subsequently, the Senate Bylaws Committee, chaired by Frank Adams this past year, has presented several bylaw amendments wand will probably recommend others which purport to improve the organization. I had the opportunity to present to this committee some of my own ideas for change, and I want to discuss those and others in this paper.

My experience with parliamentary groups leads me to believe that among the factors which most commonly govern the operation of legislative groups are their committee structure, agenda control, officer scheme and selection, and power to implement their decisions. The Faculty Senate is a unique organization in many of the just enumerated categories and this uniqueness, I think, accounts to a great extent for the manner in which it operates.

First a look at the committees. Normally, a legislative body will formulate its own committees, provide for filling them with its own members, select or determine the selection of committee officers, prescribe rules of operation, and frequently control the agenda. By comparison, the Faculty Senate's bylaws delegate to the Executive Committee the task of appointing committee members and officers (Article III) with no stipulation that these members be senators. The Senate does retain control of standing rules for committees through its Committee on Committees, and it does have the authority to create both standing and special committees as it sees the need. However, the practice of appointing to committees and to officer positions faculty who are not senators, while having the commendable effect of involving many more faculty in affairs of the University and relieving senators of doing that committee work, has the disadvantage of removing from the Senate's deliberations those people who are (or should be) most knowledgeable on the reports committees bring before the Senate. A proposed bylaws amendment, recently introduced by Adam's committee, would allow committee members the "priviledge of the floor" during deliberations on their reports. If this amendment passes and these non-senators do, in fact participate freely in the debate of their proposals, this provision could alleviate some of the present problem. Under present practice, committee reports are debated by senators who have had little, if any, exposure to previous discussion of the committee proposal. The chair of the committee is usually the only one of the committee available to answer questions, and the whole Senate, then, tends to duplicate the committee's work, including the proposing of amendments from the floor. This is always a time consuming process and is frequently an inefficient one. It tends to cause the Senate to operate as a committee, an improbable function for almost one hundred people.

Control over the agenda of an organization is control over what it does. The Executive Committee, on which the Senate is well represented, is charged with drafting the Senate's agenda (Article XI), and individual senators and faculty may submit to the Executive Committee may refuse to include a suggested item on its agenda, I expect that it seldom does so. Another avenue for getting an item on the agenda is to present it as a main motion from the floor of the senate (Article X, Section 1). The motion from the floor may, of course, originate with some non-sector upon whose behalf the senator is acting. I do not know how often agenda items are presented by individual faculty to the Executive Committee, but I do know that very few original main motions are presented on the floor of the senate. The main reason, I suspect, is the absence of caucuses, among faculty and senators, which afford the opportunity to generate ideas which faculty want the Senate to consider. I have seen enough main motion presented from the floor however, to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach to get Senate consideration.

I mentioned above the role of the caucus. I was once invited as chairman of the Senate's Bylaws Committee to attend a noon meeting during which one school systematically covered the forthcoming Senate's agenda. I do not know how widespread or frequent these caucuses are, but they are suggested by the bylaws (Article III), which state that, "it shall be the responsibility of the members (senators) to seek the opinions of their constituencies." If caucuses were held systematically and frequently I expect that many things faculty now merely gripe about would find their way before the Senate for its consideration. At any rate, it is apparent to me that faculty, and senators, are not fully using their opportunities to generate agenda items and probably not using all opportunities to engender faculty support for agenda items which are generated.

When the Senate completes the pending provisions for electing its own President and Vice President, it will have created faculty officers with whatever prestige those titles represent. The power of these offices will be, in my opinion, more that of a Phil Lang than of a Jason Boe. I mention this to suggest that the Senate could endow its President with considerably more power. Under the present bylaws the Senate could delegate powers by instructing its officers to perform designated functions such as referring (originally) bills to committees, appointing ad hoc committees and/or chairmen of those committees, and representing it in prescribed situations. It could for example, give the President, or a designated individual or committee, specific instructions to present its views to a legislative committee. This very important matter is one which I expect to discuss in another paper.

That matter of power! Article X, Section 3 states: "Actions taken by the Faculty Senate are subject to approval by the President of the University." While Articles II and III give the Senate broad sweeping perogatives to consider topics of interest to faculty and to the purposes of Oregon State University, Article X states categorically that Senate decisions are advisory only. Consequently, many faculty consider the Senate's actions to be of little, if any, consequence. This position is, I think, a grave error. Although decisions on University policy are subject to executive veto, there are perogatives of expression in representing the faculty which constitute a broad area of influence which is so akin to power that it should be cultivated carefully. (The public employees collective bargaining law is the only source that I know of for potential alternation of this faculty position of powerlessness). Let us take a look at the matter of influence versus power. I have known of several instances on this campus, some recent, in which recommendations of the faculty as expressed through the Senate or some other faculty group were followed by the executive. There are, admittedly, contrary examples, but I do think that there is causation here. I believe that what we do in the Senate is of more consequence than the venting of our collective spleens!

Finally, I must assert specifically what I have implied. There exists a large reservoir of little used procedures through which faculty could pursue in the Senate a great many objectives. Through formulating special committees, broadening agenda, and instructing officers the scope of the Senate's influence could be broadened. These things will happen, however, only when we faculty individually and collectively make them happen.

Bylaws and rules of procedure are formulated by people to assist them in the pursuit of goals. An organizational scheme can be constructed, I admit, that will run itself and produce some results automatically, but that is not the ideal legislative situation. People with goals and with means to pursue those goals still have to produce a program and our Senate cannot escape that prerequisite of achievement. We seldom, if ever, get more than we are willing to settle for. When we insist upon more "accomplishments" from the Senate, I think we will get them. We have the ability!