Your faculty senate doesn't function like the U.S. Senate …oh, wait a minute, maybe it does! Oops!
Fact is, being a senate leader is a tough job even in the best of situations. Colleges in Texas vary tremendously in the scope and role of their faculty organizations—even with an assortment of official names. Some organizations elect representatives, some encourage all to attend and participate. Some follow strict parliamentary rules, many don't. Some have their own budgets. Most have committees with a variety of responsibilities. Some tend to be disputatious, and occasionally get wrapped up in parking controversies or other matters that we all wish could be worked out elsewhere. An old cynical aphorism says, "The reason campus politics is so vicious is because there is so little at stake." Let's hope not.
Organizations work best when they operate in an atmosphere of trust. First, faculty members must be able to trust their own leadership. Faculty and administration must trust each other, too. This gets interesting, particularly in times of diminishing resources. But trust is essential, and can be hard work.
As with classroom discussions, sometimes a few individuals dominate the conversation. One faculty member noted, "If I want to sit around and listen to the same people complain, I can just go home!" It's easy to get discouraged.
The job of a faculty leader often involves telling peers and administrative supervisors things they probably don't want to hear. But real leaders know they need to hear about it anyway. Critics often wish to remain anonymous, which complicates matters, to put it mildly. Still, relating the facts on the ground is important on all sides. The alternative is a surrender to rumor and conspiracy theories. There is enough of that going on these days.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription may be required) recently featured a blog post by Jason B. Jones on how to improve faculty senate meetings. Some of the suggestions may not apply to your school, but the piece is certainly worth reading and considering.
Often it helps to visit face-to-face with colleagues from other institutions. Each year the TCCTA Fall Conference for Faculty Leaders features a program called "Faculty Senate Best Practices." This year's conference is in Austin on Oct. 7-8. Join us!