Philosophy Prof Reports on Faculty Senate Meeting

This from guest blogger extraordinaire (and, during the day, Philosophy Professor) Steve Sverdlik.  Like last week’s Faculty Senate meeting, this meeting was not announced or advertised to the general faculty.

Report. The Faculty Senate held a special meeting today devoted entirely to issues related to the Bush Library complex. Three motions were introduced and two passed in amended form. The third was tabled. In contrast to the last meeting, the Senate formally expressed some concerns about the complex.

The Senate met again in the ballroom of Umphrey Lee. There were fewer Senators in attendance than at the last meeting, and there were only a handful of observers. The meeting was called to order at 3:10 and adjourned at 5.

The first motion was one that endorsed the sentiments expressed in a recent letter to the Daily Campus by all the members of the SMU History Department. This letter condemned Executive Order 13233, which enhances the ability of ex-presidents and their heirs to limit access to presidential records. It was generally agreed that the History Department letter was well-crafted. There was some discussion about how to frame the Senate resolution based on it. It was agreed to call on President Turner to ask the Board of Trustees to ask President Bush to rescind the order. This amended motion passed the Senate by a wide majority.

The second motion was drafted by the Executive Committee of the Senate. There was some difficulty at first in even finding the current language of this motion. The basic thrust of the motion is to applaud the possibility of having the complex at SMU but to express some concerns that faculty members now have about it. Seven concerns are listed, including the basic relationship of the Institute to SMU, the sort of joint appointments that would be possible, the relationship between SMU’s Board of Trustees and that of the Institute, etc. There was quite a lot of discussion of the language in the resolution, some Senators finding the word ‘concern’ too negative and preferring the word ‘issue’. It was agreed to speak of ‘concerns and issues’. An amendment was introduced to add a call to President Turner and our Board to respond to these concerns (and ‘issues’). This amendment passed. One Senator suggested ranking the order of the Senate’s concerns. It was responded that the Ex-Com’s order in wording the motion simply represented their sense of how often an issue was raised by faculty members at the recent meeting with President Turner. The Senate rejected the proposal to rank the concerns. The amended motion, calling for a response to the concerns and issues, passed by a wide margin.

The third motion concerned joint appointments between the Institute and SMU. It expresses grave reservations about them, given the likely non-academic orientation of the Institute. President Rhonda Blair asked Jim Hopkins to report on the developments in the Academic Policy Committee concerning this issue.  Hopkins said that the committee wishes to speak of these as ‘concurrent’, not ‘joint’, appointments. And it will propose that any such appointments must be initiated and approved at the departmental level. (In the case of Law and Theology, which do not have departments, they must be approved by the faculty members of the school.) There was general discussion of such appointments and the risks they could pose to SMU. One Senator argued that the current form of the motion would not be helpful, given the current developments in the Academic Policy Committee. The Senate then voted to table the motion. It was suggested that Jim Hopkins could transmit the thinking and concerns aired in the previous discussion to the Academic Policy Committee.

Analysis. The Senate showed today that it is willing to express itself on the issues surrounding the Bush Library complex. But, in my opinion, it did very little to advance the resolution of any important issue, and it in effect postponed action. The Ex-Com resolution formally puts President Turner and the Board on notice that the Senate is not entirely happy with all the features of the proposed library, museum and institute. But they surely inferred as much after the last general meeting of the faculty and President Turner. President Turner and the Board may clarify or revise some of the proposed features of the complex in response to the resolution. I doubt that they will, given the diffuse language in the resolution. I believe that the Senate (and the faculty at large, it seems) will only be able to have a significant impact on the relationship between the Bush Foundation and SMU if the Senate identifies a specific feature of the proposed relationship that is unacceptable to it. If the Senate takes the initiative, it can also suggest what would be acceptable in that case. In a formal sense, the ‘concerns and issues’ now rest with President Turner and the Board. But the Senate has not really begun to assert itself–if it ever will.  A hopeful way to evaluate today’s meeting is to see it as a part of the Senate’s self-education.

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