Tom Tunks, Provost ad interim, Address to the general faculty

The following text is posted in its entirety at the request of the author.

Tom Tunks, Provost ad interim Address to the general faculty

January 17 2007

Good afternoon, and welcome to a very well-attended general faculty meeting. When I saw the excellent turnout for this meeting I was flattered at first that so many colleagues would want to come and hear my address, but then I realized that perhaps other agenda items played a role. At any rate, it is good to see you here, and some of my later comments will touch on why.

At the fall general faculty meeting President Turner graciously shared with me the time that is traditionally reserved for the President to address the faculty. Now at the spring meeting, after fairly brief remarks, I shall return that courtesy and ask him to address issues that are clearly of interest and import to all of us.

At the fall meeting I announced that, even though this would be an interim year in the Provost’s Office, we would maintain our considerable momentum, and I announced several initiatives that were to be undertaken. Now, half an academic year later, I am pleased to tell you that they are all well underway.

The Study Abroad Council is in place, and is the body that will make or approve all academic decisions related to study abroad programs or issues. The Council includes

Nina Flournoy (CCPA), Jim Hopkins (History), Veronica Leon (Spanish), Dan Orlovsky (History), Carolyn Sargent (Anthropology), and Greg Warden (Art History). All have considerable experience with our study abroad programs. The Council reports to the Provost’s Office through Ellen Pryor.

The International Education Task Force and the Honors Task Force

both began their work in the fall semester, and will both present recommended plans by April 15. Membership of both Task Forces, along with links to their websites were emailed to all faculty and staff in October.

The AVP for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies search is well underway, and the committee is holding off-campus interviews next week. When on-campus visits by finalists are scheduled I urge you to take part. This will be a key position at the University.

The Dean of SEHD search is also well underway. Initial applicant screening began in December, but I understand that several more applications arrived over the holidays.

So the momentum is there, and we are proceeding as we should. But now that we know that our Provost-elect is Paul Ludden and that he will join us in July, some will feel the urge to slow down and wait for his arrival rather than remain aggressive about our progress. I remind you that the people in this room are the drivers of the University, and we cannot afford a fallow half-year. There are plans to be made and implemented, and important issues to be addressed, including the one to be covered later in this meeting.

In the comments that follow I do not address the relative merits of our having the Bush Presidential Library here – President Turner will do that momentarily. Instead, as chief academic officer, I choose to address issues of who we are and how we should proceed. I want to go on record, though, and state unequivocally that I strongly support SMU’s bid to host the Bush Presidential Library. The academic benefits would be immeasurable, and for us to lose this opportunity would be tragic. For us to allow that to happen, or worse, to cause that to happen, would be foolish.

We are a strong institution, and we draw our strength both from our own history and makeup, and from the history and makeup of the broader entity to which we belong – the academic community, the academy. That name, by the way, is from the Greek land owner, Akademos, whose olive grove was the site of Plato’s famous school. Since the middle ages, university scholars have held a sort of dual citizenship – as citizens at large and as members of the academic community, with all the rights and privileges thereto pertaining. This duality is clearly expressed in the AAUP’s classic 1940 definition of academic freedom, which specifies full freedom in research and publication of results, as well as in classroom discussion of the subject of the class. The statement also calls for academics who speak or write as citizens of the broader community to be free from institutional censorship, but stipulates that special obligations accompany our special position as scholars and educational officers because “the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances.” Accuracy, appropriate restraint, and respect for the opinions of others are among the obligations the definition imposes on us. They are necessary conditions for us to maintain the free exchange of ideas that is at the very heart of our work. And you know, across my 33 years of university work, and especially here at SMU, I have observed a wonderful adherence to those principles among the vast majority of my colleagues. We debate openly and endlessly, sometimes fiercely, but with honor and integrity.

The problem is, we have become so accustomed to this collegial academic atmosphere that we sometimes fail to realize that there are outsiders in our midst, especially when issues of public political interest arise, who feel no obligation to act honorably or with integrity, who care nothing for us, for our institution, or for our guiding principles, but who are interested only in furthering their own political agenda, financial interest, or job security. Why, such a person might even misrepresent himself and stay, uninvited, at a meeting open only to university faculty. Shameful behavior.

But within our own institution we have another great strength. We have a highly-evolved system of shared governance that has served us well, through both calm and tumultuous times. The system is, of course, representative in nature, but the faculty is represented in virtually all aspects of university decision-making, from hiring, promotion, and tenure to curriculum, budget, and calendar. There is faculty representation on all committees of the Board of Trustees, and the Faculty Senate President is, in fact, a University Trustee. That is not the case at all institutions. While it is far from being the only vehicle for University-wide faculty representation, the Faculty Senate is the primary one. The President of the Senate meets regularly and often with the President of the University, and works closely with the Provost and other Vice Presidents. The Provost and Associate Provosts attend every meeting of the Senate, and the President and various Vice Presidents make presentations to the Senate as invited. Senators, and especially Senate officers, spend long hours and much effort in representing faculty interests – and they do it effectively. I say all this because it is tempting, especially when an emotionally-charged issue arises, to forget the representatives who have served us so well all along and bypass them in the heat of the moment. That’s not only an affront to them; it’s uncollegial and inefficient. We have well-honed tools for coordinated input – we should honor them and use them. And don’t forget times like this when you’re asked to vote on Faculty Senate membership or to be a senator yourself!

Finally, I’d like to comment on the faculty committee that worked on the academic plan for the Bush Library proposal. That committee was assembled by then Provost Ross Murfin when we first began formulating our effort to attract the library, and it has faculty representation from across the University in areas judged then to be most likely to interact with the library. It is now being expanded to include other areas of study. It was not, and is not, intended to be an advocacy group. Initially, it was given the task of developing a proposal for a school to be established at the University, should the library come here, that would be the focus of interaction between the Library and the University. The committee members did their work well, and created what we consider to be an excellent proposal. At that point the committee’s work was done for the time being, and the academic proposal was formatted to fit within the larger Library proposal. When the Selection Committee sent the call for proposals, the criteria did not include a school or other academic unit to be established by the proposing institution. SMU included the school in the library proposal anyway. At that point began a long period of little or no interchange between the University and those in charge of site selection, although we did learn that a school would not be in the offing. At the end of this Fall semester, when the selection group announced that it would pursue talks with SMU, the committee was called back together to help think through issues and inform discussions with respect to potential interaction between the Library, the Institute, and SMU. It had its second meeting last Friday, and will work in concert with the Faculty Senate as we proceed. Rhonda Blair, and before her Van Kemper, and before him Christine Buchanan and before her Norman Wick have, as Faculty Senate Presidents, been kept informed of the committee and its work, as has the full Senate and the Council of Deans. Although the competitive nature of attracting the Library to SMU dictated that our plans not be made public, members of the committee and I personally shared and discussed the school proposal with the Senate Executive Committee.

So as we proceed, please remember that we are an academic community. We discuss, we argue, we debate. That is both our nature and our job, and it should be. Let us do so with accuracy, with appropriate restraint, and with respect for the opinions of others. Let us also be mindful that others will judge us and our institution by our utterances. We have long had effective structures and procedures, and we should use them. In the end, it is the responsibility of the University leadership to articulate our position with respect to Presidential Library issues. Rest assured that the articulation will be well informed by faculty thinking.

During his eleven years here, Gerald Turner has presided over the greatest period of growth and improvement this university has seen. His vision, his tenacity, his leadership skill, and his integrity have combined to accomplish what any leader should – he has fostered the success of those around him. He focuses on what is good for this institution not only across the next few months or years, but also for fifty or one hundred years from now. For the past six years he has worked tirelessly and expertly to bring the Bush Presidential Library to this campus. I should know – I am one of those who has worked with him. He has always championed the openness, honesty, integrity, diversity, and academic freedom on which we thrive. Ladies and gentlemen, the tenth President of Southern Methodist University, Dr. R. Gerald Turner.


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