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From Dateline (November 11, 2004)

Veteran Chair Explains Collegial Governance, Its Role on Campus and Current Challenges

Last spring, when Jack Bedell, professor of sociology, was elected to a fourth term as chair of the Academic Senate, he became the first faculty member to be elected four times to the leadership position. Recently, Bedell discussed the role of the Academic Senate and what he anticipates will be some of the challenges facing senators this year.


Q: What is the role of the Academic Senate? Has it changed over the years?

Essentially, the Academic Senate serves to represent faculty on a variety of venues – this can be done either formally or informally. We provide advice and counsel to administrative leaders, as well as insight into how the faculty views various positions and policies. I think part of our job is to ask tough questions.

We recommend actions to the president, and he listens carefully to what the senate has to say. As the university has grown, we’ve grown as well. We have 44 senators who represent the various colleges and departments on campus, as well as administrative representatives.


Q: What are some of the major issues this year?

As you can guess, there are several. One concern is the declining numbers of tenured faculty members. As we bring in more students, the workload increases and so we need more professors. In an area like Southern California, where property values are high, it can be difficult to attract and retain new tenure-track faculty.

I also think we need to look at our criteria for tenure. It’s often more difficult to be published today and many of these young professors are being encouraged to take on leadership and civic roles. In some instances, I believe we should reward service and civic engagement more appropriately.


Q: Are there other issues that are causing concern?

We are reviewing policies – many of them several years old. There are lots of rules and regulations that may have been appropriate at the time they were drafted but now no longer apply. I’m currently looking at 149 university policy statements; 79 are out for review.



Seventy-nine policy statements are out for review?


Yes, many of them are quite old – some people have either forgotten them or weren’t even aware of them. I’m getting lots of e-mails from people who haven’t seen these in years. That’s fine – we’re just doing some housekeeping to see what should stay and what needs to be dismissed or revised.


Q: Another issue is civility on campus?

This is a problem on a number of campuses, not just Fullerton. In fact, I think it’s a general problem in our society. People just aren’t as respectful of others as they should be. For instance, when I was giving a test last week, about a quarter of the students had cell phones that went off. It’s distracting and, quite frankly, rude to others – especially during a test!

Of course, that’s just one example. I am concerned when I see rudeness and disrespect on campus – faculty to students, students to faculty, students and faculty to staff members and vice versa. I think many have lost sight of how to treat one another. I find that disturbing.


Q: Do Academic Senates differ from campus to campus?

The composition differs, as does the membership. In addition to faculty members, we have two students, an emeritus professor, the president and vice president of academic affairs. Other campuses may structure their senate differently. We elect the chair and appoint committee members.


Q: Is there a structure in terms of how the various colleges are represented?
A:  We want to make sure that there is representation for each college, as well as administration and student services.

Q: What are the qualities that an Academic Senate should have to ensure that it is effective?
A:  I think you need to focus on those issues that are within your sphere of influence. Sometimes senates will want to vote on issues that they can’t impact. To me – while the goal may be worthy – it’s not something that’s within our purview. We try to limit our focus to areas that are germane to instruction.
Q: Why do you keep serving as chair?
A: I ask myself that same question! Actually, in my years of teaching, I’ve grown up with the concept of academic governance. I truly believe in the importance of this senate to the overall well-being of Cal State Fullerton.
Q: Are there any accomplishments you are most proud of?

I think it’s important to be a visible academic chair. I try to network and bring in others. I advocate for the senate and try to encourage others to become involved.

I also am proud of the number of faculty members who have stayed here for so many years. They have become the institutional memory for the campus. What I find very rewarding is the number of emeriti, as well as faculty members close to retirement, who still volunteer for this committee and others. To me, that represents a commitment to this campus and to students. That sort of loyalty and sense of purpose are what can set a campus apart.