Robert Staat, a microbiology professor at the School of Dentistry, will begin his first term as Faculty Senate chair in September. Staat, who’s been at UofL for 35 years, has been a member of the senate for 15 years and was vice chair for the past two years. He also has served on several Faculty Senate committees, including Academic Programs and Redbook, and served as faculty liaison to the Staff Senate.
Staat recently spoke to UofL Today about his goals for the senate this year.
UofL Today: Why did you want to be the chair this year?
Staat: I’m not sure that you set out wanting to be the chair. But there was an opportunity and strong encouragement from my colleagues. My style — my personality — is one of being fairly soft spoken, but being able to bring people together and get things done through a coordinated effort.
I’ve been on the Executive Committee 10 or 12 years. We bounce ideas off of each other. It’s an evolutionary process that develops into a leadership position. You learn by being on all of the different committees. You learn what makes the university run. You learn what the faculty issues are. In the Executive Committee, you work together to solve them or put together and formalize responses to them. You just don’t just sit down one day and say this is all you need to do. It’s an evolutionary process. The Executive Committee is a tremendous training ground.
UofL Today: What will faculty senate work on this year?
Staat: There are two major things that I would like to see improved on the senate. One, we need to have a better line of communication with the faculty in general. Toward that end, I’ll be working with the communications and marketing office to distribute an overview of each monthly senate meeting. Please read this as notes and not official minutes. This way, we’ll have common senate notes on a monthly basis to the entire faculty to keep them better informed. I will try to identify a faculty from each unit to send it out to their colleagues. If they want to add anything that’s relevant to their unit, that’s fine.
We also need to become more involved and aware of state legislative processes. We’ll do some committee realignment and try to become much more attuned and active in government relations and the legislative process.
UofL Today: Why do you think that’s important?
Staat: There are a number of faculty issues involved here. The major one is curriculum. In the last session, legislators pushed to have a core curriculum for all schools and with common numbering. That essentially goes against academic freedom. Obviously the budget issues affect us — our ability to present courses, to have suitable student/faculty ratios, and quite candidly, to retain quality faculty by paying competitive salaries.
UofL Today: How do you plan to become more involved in the legislative process?
Staat: We’re already in conversations with Nick (D’Andrea). His group has been invited to senate meetings. We now have a seat on the bill review team. I got that started a few weeks ago. I will sit on that. Nick will become an ad hoc member of our Planning and Budget Committee. When I visit the various committees this fall, I’ll charge the Planning and Budget Committee with legislative awareness. This is the first time it will be set up like this.
At this writing, Melissa Laning is still the senate chair and the first part of her term was taken up with the (Robert) Felner issues. Regardless, out of it, she has done a very good job of getting the (faculty) grievance process revamped, addressing Redbook issues and establishment of an ombuds position. Her plate’s been pretty full. I’m thinking we need to move on from that. Many of the faculty issues at the university are driven by the legislature. When legislators start talking about textbook laws, common course content and numberings and acceptance of all courses at all schools, that all has to be reviewed from a faculty perspective.
UofL Today: Why do you think it’s important that the Faculty Senate exists?
Staat: The principle of shared governance can be very, very valuable to an institution. The UofL administration recognizes that. We recognize it. By working together, we often achieve significantly better results than when one or the other is dominant. When I talk with colleagues around the country, the vast majority of them are quite envious of our faculty’s role and our acceptance by administration because we do have value-added in the decision-making process. We have one of the better functioning systems of collegial governance in higher education. We want to work hard at retaining it. That’s why I want the faculty to become more knowledgeable that their voice is heard, how many decisions are being formed and why.