SENATE MATTERS: One question leaders should ask, ‘What do you need?’


The memorable leaders I have known over the years have all had at least one thing in common. Just as a meeting is about to end, they tie everything up with one question: “What do you need?” I will leave it to them to fully appreciate why they ultimately do that, as the nuance of these things tends to go over my head, but I can appreciate on a few levels why they might. The most practical reason is that they need to know, so they ask.

In my view, the University Senate is facing a crisis of communication. We do not actively engage the majority of faculty, and so the best picture we have of what people need is limited at best, and woefully biased at worst. And even if the truth leans toward the former, perception leans toward the latter, and that undercuts the effectiveness of the Senate as a credible representative and advising body.

The mechanisms by which Senate leadership receives and transmits information to the faculty are limited and underutilized, and for an official University body established by the bylaws, our communication channels lack those special marks of legitimacy that make other official University communications stand out. To those familiar with that complaint, one I have raised a few times, this seems like nitpicking. Email is email. But a central job of the Senate is to represent, query and communicate the interests of thousands of our faculty.* Should that be treated as an essential University function or an ancillary one?

The honest answer to that question is a bit anticlimactic. I already said the Senate does not engage the majority of faculty, and our insights into what the faculty actually need are limited or biased. But that is likely a symptom of not being able to reach them effectively. If we cannot reach them, we cannot ask them what they need. If we cannot ask them what they need, we cannot lead.

So, what are we going to do about it? We can ask for a broader, official communication mechanism to reach our faculty, but we are not likely to get that. Instead, we must work with what we have. In the coming months, the Senate officers will use this column, the Senate website (, our regularly scheduled meetings, and any additional available channels to query and communicate with the faculty in the interest of testing the fundamental premises of the Senate. Like the great leaders we want to be, we will reorient around the mindset that admits that our success is contingent, at least in part, upon our effectiveness in asking one question: “What do you need?” For your part, you can help us by answering.

Join us in the Senate and see what we can all do together.

Senate Vice President David Salcido is a research assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine. 

* Anyone who participates in the Senate recognizes that the interests of staff, students, faculty and the administration are all represented in the Senate, a fact that makes this body all the more useful.