A&S Council debates compromise

The Arts and Sciences Council met Thursday to further debate the restructuring plan proposed at its December meeting.

 Council Chair Kathy Ewing presented a revised draft of changes to the bylaws--including changes in composition of the council, election procedure, frequency of meetings and length of service--which addressed much of the dissent surrounding the original proposal.

 The major difference between the December proposal and the modified document presented Thursday pertained to the structure of the council. The December proposal that called for a massive reduction in members--from the current count of 55 to 15--was altered to mandate a membership of 35, one member elected from each department or program in Arts & Sciences.

 Although most members seemed comfortable with the revised composition of the council's membership, the election procedure was called into question. According to the revised draft, a nominating committee would facilitate the election of representatives by organizing a list of candidates based on nominations received from faculty members within the departments. Members of each department would then be responsible for electing their representative to the council.

 Biology lecturer Ron Grunwald viewed the new election procedure as an "end-run" around department chairs by going directly to faculty members for nominations. He said the chair should have an option to organize the service commitments of a department.

 Another proposed change regarded the timing of council elections, which under current bylaws take place in the fall semester. The new plan calls for elections in April, allowing the new council to meet once before the end of the academic year.

 "Getting things up-and-running in the fall is a tremendous chore, but also it slows down the possibility of doing a lot of things early on," Ewing said. "For example, the executive committee doesn't get constituted until after the first meeting in the fall."

 Another contentious part of the proposal was the call for bi-monthly meetings of the full council. Several members voiced concerns about the added burden on members, who already serve on the council's many committees.

 Ewing pointed to the fact that the proposed structural changes would end up occupying three full meetings of the council--more than a third of total meetings for the year--as evidence for the need to increase the frequency of meetings. Nevertheless, many argued that it was not the frequency of meetings that had limited the council's effectiveness, but a problem of communication among members and its overly top-down leadership approach.

 "If we want greater communication and for things to happen more quickly, these things can be accomplished with list servs and e-mail," said Steven Wilkinson, assistant professor of political science. "The structural changes don't really solve coordination or communication problems."

 Sydney Nathans, associate professor of history, humorously questioned a proposed change in the length of membership, from a two to three year term according to the revised plan. "What's the rationale for the extension of the term of service to a three year sentence?" he quipped.

 Amid laughter from the members, Ewing explained that part of the rationale was to enhance continuity. "The idea is that we could try this and see if we have less transition difficulty," she said. "Whether it is more like a sentence and people aren't willing to put up with it that long, then that's something to consider."

 While several of the particulars of the plan went unresolved, Ewing concluded the meeting by reminding members to contact the executive committee to voice suggestions before the vote on the proposed changes at the February meeting.


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