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November 21, 2012

Senate Matters

What’s ahead for the Senate

SmithermanActivities of the University Senate are back into full swing  this academic year. Faculty Assembly and Senate Council met in September, October and November. All of the committees are active and have met at least once. The faculty affairs committee, which was somewhat inactive last year, has been revitalized and has agreed to add to its purview the special concerns and needs of students who are veterans of uniformed services. The budget policies committee continues to monitor the process of reviewing the status of the graduate programs in classics, German and religious studies.

The single plenary session of the University Senate has been set for Thursday, April 18, 1-3 p.m. The session, “The Coming Cyberlearning Revolution in Higher Education?,” will explore in depth the rapid inclusion into higher education of computer-assisted online courses including MOOCs or massive open online courses: Why is this happening?  Why now?  How fast will change occur?  What are the potential advantages and disadvantages?

Cynthia Golden, director of the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education; Charles Perfetti, director of the Learning Research and Development Center, and Alan Lesgold, dean of the School of Education, will be the principal speakers.  The Senate committees on student affairs, educational policies and computer usage have been asked to help plan the session.

The recent report from the National Research Council, “Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security,” has been and will continue to be a major topic for Faculty Assembly this year. Special sessions at Faculty Assembly meetings will include a summary of the report, as well as focused reports on state action, making research universities more efficient and cost-effective and reforming  graduate education. Many of the subsequent Senate Matters columns this year will deal with aspects of this report as it relates to the University.

The Senate officers strongly recommend that every member of the faculty download the report and read at least the 26-page summary ( This report may inform and affect in major ways the agendas and actions of research universities, state and federal governmental bodies, businesses and philanthropic organizations.

The 10 breakthrough actions include recommendations on federal action; state action; strengthening partnerships with business; improving university productivity; a strategic investment program; full federal funding of research; reducing regulatory burdens; reforming graduate education; STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) pathways and diversity, and international students and scholars.

In addition to these special sessions, planning is underway for special Faculty Assembly sessions on the University’s involvement with our communities; opportunities for improving the health of our faculty and staff, and the status of the student athlete at the University.

Thomas C. Smitherman is president of the University Senate.

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