Senate of the Urbana-Champaign Campus

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Nicholas Burbules, Chair; Frank Calabrese; Robert Damrau; Joseph Finnerty; Amy Gajda; Michael Grossman; Doug Jones; Vera Mainz; Joyce Tolliver

The Sixth Senate Review Commission approached its task with the aim of identifying a limited number of specific action items that could improve Senate operations and raise the visibility of the Senate and its activities across campus. We conducted two online surveys, one directed toward faculty generally, who may or may not have served on the Senate, to assess how they view the Senate role, functions, and importance; the other directed toward former officers and committee chairs of the Senate, who presumably have a closer familiarity with Senate operations. The general survey went to about 2000 faculty, and was answered by 211; the targeted survey went to 47 recent Senate officers and committee chairs, and was answered by 15.

Both surveys yielded valuable information. In general, we took from the surveys that those not closely affiliated with the Senate do not have a clear sense of its purposes, and frequently do not regard it as a very effective or important institution; those committed to and involved with the Senate have a very different view of the institution, but they are concerned with maintaining its future relevance to campus shared governance, and with bringing aboard new members who will assume leadership roles in the future. Several key leadership roles in the Senate are held by retiring or emeritus faculty.

Let us begin by noting two items we discussed but did not deem appropriate for action. One was changing rules to change the eligibility of emeritus faculty for Senate service. While we strongly support the recruitment and socialization of new Senate members, as discussed below, we think that emeritus faculty provide valuable institutional memory and continuity to Senate deliberations. A second was a proposal that the Senate Executive Committee (SEC) chair, and not the Chancellor, moderate Senate meetings. We believe that the presence of the Chancellor is important both symbolically and substantively for Senate deliberations, and having the person chair the meeting is an important part of securing their presence and participation. If there was any evidence that Chancellors were using the prerogatives of the moderator to direct or manipulate Senate processes, we might view this differently. But we saw no reason to change current practice.

Before we get to the major proposals, a few matters came up that we did want to recommend for implementation, which are more procedural than substantive and which would be fairly straightforward to implement. We propose to the Senate that it immediately adopt the following:

1. Modify the Senate’s Standing Rules to take the quorum count at the sign-in for entry to the meeting. If this number is over the quorum, a quorum is presumed to exist for the remainder of the meeting. Members cannot block legislation by calling a quorum count midway through the meeting.

2. All Senate meetings should be videorecorded and webcast over the Internet. The Student Senate does this, to their great benefit, and they may even be willing to share their high-quality video camera for this purpose. It would be another step to see if local access television channels might be interested in transmitting these meetings, either live or via time delay.

3. We recommend that during the 2007-08 year, all Senate committees conduct a review of their charge, their operations, their staffing, and their titles, to determine if revisions to any of these might be appropriate. We know that some committees are already undergoing such a self-review. We also believe that the operations of the Senate office should be part of this review.

4. Somewhat more tentatively, we invite the SEC to consider adding another regular meeting to its schedule. At present it is difficult for the SEC to get through its agenda of items while also completing a report from committee chairs.

The following are our major proposals. We recommend that SEC form over the summer an Implementation Committee to draft these as formal action items that can be put on the Senate agenda next year, for deliberation and up-or-down votes for adoption.


Academic professionals have been non-voting members of many Senate standing committees since the early 1980's.  In 2002, academic professionals were given voting membership on ten of nineteen Senate standing committees, as well as approval for the Council of Academic Professionals (CAP) chair to act as a liaison for academic professionals to the Senate Executive Committee (SEC).  In 2006, the UIUC Senate Bylaws were changed to allow an academic professional to serve on the Committee on Committees in order to provide a conduit from CAP for nominations to Senate committees.  Academic professionals have also served on many campus-wide (e.g., the recent Chancellor Search Committee) and University-wide (e.g., the Presidential Search Committee) committees. 

The University of Illinois at Chicago Senate added representation by three academic professional senators to their assembly in 2005.  The University of Illinois at Springfield Senate has included representation by one academic professional senator since the campus joined the University.

From the Campus Facts 2007 database, there are 2083 faculty (both tenured/tenure track faculty as of Fall 2006) and 3419 academic professionals (this does not include those academic professionals working in University Administration units, which would be another ~1,000 academic professionals). 

Academic professionals bring a unique, distinctive prospective to all their service that complements the faculty perspective.  Given the increasing role that academic professionals play in delivering instruction and participating in the academic mission of the University, we recommend that they be given voting representation in the Senate.  Current CAP practice is to divide the campus into ten districts of roughly equal size and elect their members by district.  We recommend that the number of academic professional senators added be ten to conform with this practice.


Currently, the SEC chair and the SEC vice-chair are each elected for a one-year term. Past practice, however, has allowed the SEC chair and vice-chair to be reelected for an additional one-year term. The SEC vice-chair does not necessarily advance to SEC chair, i.e., the vice chair is not the chair-elect.

Previously, we had a single election for the SEC chair and the SEC vice chair, with the winner becoming chair and the runner-up becoming vice-chair. We now have separate elections for SEC chair and vice chair, for two reasons. The first is that with the runner-up becoming vice-chair, and not advancing to chair, the position was perceived by some as a “consolation prize,” instead having value in its own right. The second is that a person might want only to serve as vice chair, without wanting to become chair.

The proposal is to eliminate the position of vice-chair and create two new positions: “chair-elect” and immediate “past chair.” Under this proposal, after a person serves one year as chair-elect, the person automatically becomes chair for a year and then past chair for a year. Thus, person X is elected to SEC chair a year in advance, in a three-year cycle: chair-elect during Year 1, chair during Year 2, and past chair during Year 3:




Past Chair

Year 1




Year 2




Year 3




The chair-elect will serve on the SEC and perform duties as assigned by the chair. Duties and responsibilities of the chair-elect will be assigned also in the bylaws, e.g., to chair periodic review committees.

Duties and responsibilities of the SEC chair will be assigned in the bylaws. If the chair is absent, then the chair-elect will preside. If the position of chair is vacant, the chair-elect will fill the vacancy.

The past chair will serve on the SEC and perform duties as assigned by the chair. Duties and responsibilities of the past chair will be assigned also in the bylaws, e.g., to be available to the work with the administration on special projects or committees.

There is merit in having additional offices of chair-elect and past chair, and having both chair-elect and past chair serve on the SEC. Being the chair-elect will give the person time to learn the workings of the SEC, especially if the person had never served on the SEC, and to be known by the administration, including members of the Board of Trustees. It will also give the person time to plan his or her teaching schedule a year in advance, because the person gets released from duties for one-half time during the year serving as chair. Furthermore, having the past chair on the SEC provides continuity and “institutional memory” for the SEC.

According to Robert’s Rules, having a position of chair-elect means that the senate elects a person a year in advance and does not actually vote on a candidate for the position of chair. Once a person has been elected as chair-elect, the senate cannot change its decision regarding the chair-elect becoming chair, unless the chair-elect vacates the office. If there is a vacancy in the position of chair-elect, bylaws will have to provide for a way to fill the vacancy.

The past chair will serve for one year, even if the person is not a member of the senate. If this person is unable to serve, then the past chair who most recently served as chair may serve.  If there is no one eligible to serve, the position of past chair will not be filled.

Under the current UIUC Senate Constitution, “Senators shall be elected for two-year terms commencing at the beginning of the next academic year” (Article II, Section 8) and “No senator shall be elected for more than three consecutive full [two-year] terms” (Article II, Section 10). This means that a person cannot be a member of the senate for more than six consecutive years.

If the proposal for a three-year cycle is approved, these sections preclude a person from being elected to serve as chair-elect during Year 6 of the six consecutive years, because there will be no opportunity for the person to serve as chair the next year. These sections might also preclude a person from being elected to serve as chair-elect during Years 2 and 4 of the six consecutive years, because if the person were not re-elected to the Senate, then the person could not serve as chair the next year.  To be eligible to serve as chair-elect, therefore, the person must be starting the first year of a two-year term.


One of the points made repeatedly in the feedback on Senate participation is that Senate meetings spend too much time on matters that are marginally important, and so give the impression of ineffectiveness on important matters and excessive attention to trivial ones.

We regard this as a problem of perception more than reality, but perception it is. How can it be addressed?

The move to a Consent Agenda has streamlined the meetings greatly. Here we offer some additional recommendations:

The SEC should exercise close control over the pre-planned agenda. Symbolic votes or resolutions should be limited to matters (a) of significance and (b) where the selective focus of Senate attention can have some effect. Largely symbolic votes that have no impact give the impression of ineffectiveness and lack of seriousness. Clearly, on some matters the Senate needs to have a voice (even if that voice is unlikely to have an immediate impact) – the Senate’s resolution on retiring the Chief occurred almost ten years before the decision was finally made. But the SEC can play an important role in prioritizing which issues are worth the time, which would yield an edifying public debate, which might help spark a wider campus conversation, and which are likely to yield a beneficial impact from a Senate vote.

We strongly recommend that SEC also add to each debate item on the agenda a prescribed time limit, included on the agenda. At the end of that elapsed time it will require a formal vote to extend debate; otherwise the presumption is that the Senate as a whole is ready to hold a vote. There are ways in which this provision could be manipulated to stymie debate, but we believe that previous experiments with such time limits have proven beneficial overall.

We also recommend strict management from the moderator about efforts to edit proposals from the floor. Certainly amendments and word changes are part of the deliberative process, and must be allowed. But there comes a point where it is better to refer the proposal back to committee and have suggested revisions and rewrites directed back to that committee, who can then rework the proposal and bring it back again. There is no sharp line of when the decision to refer back to committee is preferable, but there have been cases where it should have been done sooner rather that later. Sometimes the line of people standing at the microphones provides a good indicator.


The Senate has sometimes been accused of being outmoded, inefficient, and not in step with the times.  We have made great technical strides to improve this image with an overhaul of the Senate website in preparation for fall semester 2006 and with a just-completed second successful round of online elections for Senate Executive Committee (SEC) officers and Committee on Committees faculty members.

A handful of respondents to the Senate Review Commission (SRC) survey suggested better communication between general Senate meetings might increase the visibility of the Senate as well as improve the flow of information back to academic units.  (The Senate Bylaws, Part A 2., mandate six Senate meetings each academic year.)

One method to improve this information flow could be an email sent to all senators shortly after a Senate meeting that highlights the two or three most important items discussed and acted upon; links to the document URL’s in question would be included in the message.  The SEC Chair and Senate office staff would be responsible for making this happen.

Senators would be strongly encouraged to use these bulleted items as the basis for sharing this information with colleagues in their departments.  A similar notice could also be circulated to all faculty using massmail with a corresponding blurb placed in e-week and Inside Illinois.

Prior to each Senate meeting, the agenda for that meeting could be placed in the Daily Illini, with reference made that non-senators could request floor privileges by contacting the Senate office in advance of the meeting. 

The Senate Executive Committee Chair could remind senators of these developments at each Senate meeting so senators will come to expect such a reminder, i.e., keep the Senate on their radar.

A follow-up survey of all faculty should be conducted within two or three years that asks, among other things, if such changes in communication have effected any change in the flow of information about Senate activities.


According to the AAUP, one of the traits of an effective senate is that it “attracts both junior and senior faculty who are esteemed as faculty leaders”; another is that the “Senate leadership is visible in the ceremonial and symbolic affairs of the campus” (

Given those goals, we believe that an orientation session or sessions for all new faculty members would both attract new members who may not know much about the senate and increase the visibility of the senate.  This could also be accomplished on a lesser scale by becoming a formal part of the new faculty orientation currently offered by the university.

The orientation for all new faculty members should include a session on how work gets done on campus (including how to propose a new course, help revise curricula, etc.) that contextualizes the work of the Senate.  Another session, focusing on the many functions of the Senate itself, might introduce new faculty members to Senate leaders.  This session might be coordinated by the Chancellor in tandem with the SEC Chair and other Senate officers and leaders (e.g. chair of the Educational Policy Committee). These leaders might be introduced in such a way as to not just mention their roles in the Senate, but might also focus on their other contributions to the University in terms of teaching and research as well as service.  This would emphasize from the beginning of a faculty member’s career that the shared governance of the University is carried out by those who are “esteemed” in several different ways “as faculty leaders.” We could also use this opportunity to emphasize the benefits of extradepartmental service in terms of forming connections and a sense of community outside of one’s home department.

In addition to a more formal orientation session or sessions, we might elicit the help of UEO’s (unit executive officers) to identify new faculty members, even at the beginning assistant professor level, who might have special talents or interests relevant to the work of the Senate.  The SEC Chair might then issue a personal invitation to such a faculty member encouraging him or her to consider serving on some specific Senate committee.  The same process might be applied for newly tenured faculty members.  Committees that are really work-intensive should probably be reserved for the tenured, but we should not exclude junior faculty from our invitations.

We suggest these changes because faculty members who responded to the Senate survey repeatedly suggested that they did not fully understand the function and value of the senate.  Such comments included complaints that “it’s not clear what the senate does, or what types of issues come before the senate,” to suggestions that “wider publicity” for the senate and its work would increase understanding.


“On the participation of faculty members in the life of the institution, not simply in the life of the classroom, depend curriculum, hiring and firing, goals and policies. To give up such participation and leave it to a few whose sense of obligation or desire for change encourages them toward responsibility is to relinquish influence over the institution, justifying the kind of policy that treats colleges and universities simply as a form of business.”  (Report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on Governance, p. 10)

The current situation is that there is no campus-wide recognition of appreciation for the time, energy, and work donated by Senators, not even a letter for the Senator’s annual report file.

We see two short-term remedies:

Minimally, all senators should be publicly recognized and thanked, preferably in an individual letter from the Chancellor sent to the senator with a copy to the unit EO. Along the same lines, a full-page ad could be placed in the DI listing the Senators at the beginning or end of the academic year, thanking them for their contributions, just as charitable organizations often do.   Cost:  minimal, except that the staff support people would have more to do. (See Chronicle column by Gary Olson, Dean of Arts and Sciences at ISU: “Praising You As We Should,”

Ideally, something more tangible should be put in place. The AAUP recommends an “adjusted workload for officers” (“Traits of Effective Senates,”  This adjusted workload might include not only the SEC Chair and Vice Chair but also chairs of work-intensive committees.  Also, as one senator suggested in the survey,   even a token amount deposited to a research account would probably make a lot of otherwise busy faculty members more positively disposed to serve.   Another suggested faculty teaching load accommodations for all senators.

But we also recommend a longer-term remedy:

We need a change in culture, specifically in terms of how the Senate is perceived and more generally in terms of how service and shared governance are perceived.  This year’s SRC survey indicates that currently, many members of the UIUC community do not value the work of the Senate.  We hope that many of the changes the SRC recommends this semester will help to alter that perception both by rewarding faculty for senate service, and increasing the visibility of the senate among faculty members as a working, important body.  But the larger problem is that service, including service on the Senate, tends to be seen as, at best, an optional activity, and, at worst,  a time-waster for those who have nothing better to do.  Large-scale changes are necessary in order to alter this perception. Reports from the Assoc. of Departments of English and the Modern Language Assoc. recommend that service be taken seriously in tenure and promotion reviews. An intermediate measure might be to establish awards for meritorious faculty service.

As one faculty member commented succinctly in a survey response, “We need to reward people for service.”  Another suggested that failure to serve was related to the “lack of exposure to the senate’s work.”  We believe that these suggestions would work to correct these issues.

  “Report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on Governance,” ADE Bulletin 129 (fall 2001): 4-13 <>; also Donna Stanton, “The Labor of Service,” MLA Newsletter, summer 2005, 3-4, <> and “Making Faculty Work Visible: Reinterpreting Professional Service, Teaching, and Research in the Fields of Language and Literature,” Report of the MLA Commission on Professional Service, Dec. 1996,  [http://www.mla/org/resources/documents/rep_facultyvis>.