Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology Katherine Ewing has assumed the chair of Arts and Sciences Council during a time of great change both for the council and for the Arts and Sciences faculty in general.
Ewing highlighted several structural changes currently being explored that will give the council a stronger campus voice, which she said has been lacking in the past. "There is a perception out there that the council does not do much," she said.
The first step in increasing the effectiveness and strength of the council, Ewing said, will be, ironically, to reduce its size. "As happens in large organizations, individual members feel that the success of the council doesn't really rest on their individual participation," Ewing said.
Former Chair Ronald Witt put the restructuring plan on the table during his term, which expired last year. He agreed that a smaller size would increase the vitality of the council.
"Attendance has been bad," said Witt, a professor of history. "With a smaller group, everyone selected would know they were responsible and feel more of an obligation to come."
Another change will likely be in the composition of the council. Ewing said that while the council's by-laws call for representation from every area of the faculty, recent lapses in procedure have created notable vacancies, especially in the sciences.
The dearth of members from the sciences has also created an imbalance on the executive committee of the council, comprised of six members plus the chair. With this in mind, Ewing said two places on the executive committee will be reserved for faculty members from the sciences during the upcoming elections this fall.
Ewing said she hoped the restructuring will reduce wrangling among departments, allowing the council to focus on more pressing matters. "In the past, there has been some turf protecting--making sure that a particular department is represented so that they can argue for their interests," Ewing said. "There is a concern with building a structure where it is not simply a matter of turf wars, but a place where we can debate the issues."
Ewing emphasized the necessity for these structural changes in the council to precede the arrival of the replacement for William Chafe, dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences.
"This will be a selling point to the new dean coming in: that he or she has an effective advisory body," Ewing said. "But it is also important that we have a structure in place that has a strong voice of its own, that it won't simply be a rubber stamp advisory body but will be a real intermediary between the faculty and the dean."
Along with structural changes, Ewing cited a number of issues currently facing the faculty--including reduced faculty searches, the management of classroom space, proposed changes to class scheduling and the reconciliation of undergraduate and graduate needs--as evidence that the council should be a place where the faculty can make decisions and speak as one body.
"Different departments are handled differently," she said. "Often those who are making decisions in one department do not have much information about what's going on in other departments unless they individually go out and ask. We need a forum to do it in a more public way."
Ewing is currently heading a new FOCUS program on the Middle East. Her past responsibilities include positions on the Academic Council and the Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty.
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