Philosophy Professor Describes Faculty Senate Meeting

February 7, 2007

Thanks to Philosophy Professor and Former Faculty Senate Secretary Steve Sverdlik for this description of Wednesday’s faculty senate meeting:

Today, the Faculty Senate voted down a motion to hold the referendum called for in the recently-circulated petitions. The motion failed by a wide margin. The significance of this action is unclear.

The Senate met in the ballroom of Umphrey Lee. Senate attendance was excellent, and visitors were allowed. About twenty non-Senate faculty members were in attendance. The Senate took up the petition issue at 3:40. A number of extensions to the discussion were approved, and it did not conclude until about 4:50. President Rhonda Blair announced that there would be a follow-up meeting next Wednesday that would be entirely devoted to the issues surrounding the proposed Bush Library complex.

The discussion began with some confused procedural debate. The parliamentarian stated that a ‘referendum’ is an action undertaken by the ‘people’ (that is, the entire faculty), not the Senate itself. It was noted in response that the issue under discussion was simply whether to receive the petition that called for a referendum. The Senate therefore voted to receive it.

One Senator then introduced a motion for the Senate to carry out the request in the petition. In light of the parliamentarian’s point, he accepted an amendment that called on the Senate to conduct a ‘survey’. This survey would simply determine whether faculty members find the proposed Bush Institute unacceptable in its present form. Most of the following discussion focused on this motion.

A number of points were made that, in effect, opposed the motion. It was said that: 1) The Senate itself is the appropriate body to speak for the faculty, so the survey is superfluous. 2) The characteristics of the Institute are being constantly revised, so any survey would be out of date by the time it was taken. 3) Some parts of the media will use the survey results for their own purposes. 4) There are many issues besides the basic acceptability of the Institute that should be in any survey.

Proponents of the motion made the following points: 1) The signers of the petition asked for a referendum on one basic question. 2) It is important to get data on faculty sentiment. 3) The administration has consistently downplayed the extent of faculty disquiet. 4) It is important for the entire faculty to weigh in on these issues. 5) The idea of an Institute is something that was kept quiet until recently. 6) Some crucial points are already clear–for example that the Institute will be functionally independent of SMU. It therefore makes sense to poll faculty members about this basic structure.

As I noted, the Senate eventually voted down the motion to have a survey on only the acceptability of the Institute as now proposed. This does not mean that the Senate rejects the idea of a survey in some other form. Nor does it mean that Senators believe that the current proposal is acceptable or wise. A very intense and important dialogue will be resumed next Wednesday.

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Debate Rolls on and on . . .

February 7, 2007

Today the Dallas Morning News reported on the University Park hearing. The Daily Campus was dominated by Library-Institute matters. One of my senior colleagues in the history department mounted a vigorous defense of the Institute , concuding that “SMU will not be judged or tarnished by a Bush think tank unless its faculty abandons research for politics and leaves the think tank to play the only research game on the Hilltop. Two students editorialized on behalf of the Library and Institute. A writer identifying herself as a granddaughter, niece and cousin of Methodist ministers urged SMU President R. Gerald Turner not to accept the Library, “[i]n the name of Methodism and in the name of Christianity.” The paper also ran its own story on the University Park hearing.

Beyond SMU and Dallas, the debate was all over the blogosphere. The Daily Kos weighed in on the matter. Another blog, entitled “How the Neocons Stole Freedom,” contrasted the two Methodist petition campaigns. An editorialist from the Institute for Religion and Democracy vigorously backed the Library and Institute, concluding that the debate demonstrates “how the religious and academic left, which are too often unwilling to engage in robust debate, simply want to eradicate any possibility of dissent.”