Faculty Senate meets for final session

Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert addressing the Faculty Senate in the final meeting of the fall semester. 

Katherine Kealey

In the last meeting of 2021, the Faculty Senate heard final reports from Iowa State University’s provost and the Faculty Senate president, in addition to debating a potential bylaw change to Senate meeting minutes.

With commencement less than a week away, Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert championed the team effort from everyone at the university who made the first semester back in person a success.

“I am very proud and very appreciative of the work we have done together over the past two years but in particular this semester and making it through the fall semester,” Wickert said. “Back in the fall semester it wasn’t clear we were going to make it through the semester as successfully as we actually did, and I think that is testament to your hard work.”

K.L. Cook, a senator and professor for the English department, said there is a large number of teachers who are nervous about being indoors for the winter, which is also the flu and cold season. Cook said it is difficult to get flexibility in switching course modalities for teachers.

“I guess my question, but also plea, to you is are you still engaged in advocating for the health and safety of the faculty and the students?” Cook said. “Especially as we enter, arguably, the most dangerous period.”

Wickert said policies relating to mask-wearing, vaccines, course modality changes and COVID leave would all remain the same in the spring as they were in the fall. 

“We continue to work on this; I continue to advocate, we continue to do all the things that we have been doing,” Wickert said. “You are not getting as many memos or town halls because we are sort of in a steady-state now. A lot of the issues have surfaced.

In the November meeting, the Senate approved the new U.S. diversity directives, and the update was signed by the provost and the president of Iowa State University. The U.S. diversity ad-hoc committee will be concluding its work at the end of the semester. Next steps include forming the permanent U.S. Diversity Committee, which will be tasked with reviewing courses according to the new directives. The committee will start work in the spring semester. 

“We are carefully considering members as this is a very important committee,” President of the Faculty Senate Andrea Wheeler, associate professor in architecture, said. 

Requirements for the chair include expertise in the fields associated with diversity and education. The Senate is reaching out to faculty for recommendations and to discuss the role. The committee will also include student leaders in developing the processes for the change. 

All fall semester, the governance council has discussed a possible bylaw change regarding the recorded minutes for Senate meetings. Senator and University Professor for agriculture and biosystems engineering Steve Freeman said the new proposed bylaw is a representative middle ground on the debate while still maintaining the organizational structure of the Senate.

“We are not limiting our minutes to what Robert’s rules suggest,” Freeman said. “But, what we are doing is saying that we don’t want to have the details of debates and discussions, or have senators’ comments during those debates and discussions attributed to individuals.”

Senator and professor of political science David Peterson said he was surprised by the amount of time the executive board has spent debating the bylaws related to recording meeting minutes. The current Faculty Senate bylaws require meeting minutes be posted promptly after a meeting has concluded, and the council chair is required to make sure the minutes are shared. 

“After the start of this meeting, the Academic Affairs Council has their minutes from September and no other meeting, which actually makes them better than every other council,” Peterson said. 

Peterson said the Executive Board was among multiple committees from the Faculty Senate which do not have meeting minutes posted for the 2021 fall semester. 

Annemarie Butler, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies, currently serves as the Faculty Senate secretary who takes the official minutes. 

“I think we benefit from the detailed minutes,” Cook said. “I doubt we are going to get a secretary who will provide as detailed and comprehensive minutes as Annemarie and I think that is to our loss as a body.”

Chairwoman of the Catt Center for Women in Politics Karen Kedrowski is also an at-large representative for the department of political science. Kedrowski said she would vote against the change because the Senate has a job to maintain records for posterity and the public.

“I would remind this body that this is a public university and we are an official governing body of that public university,” Kedrowski said. “It is actually our responsibility to keep detailed minutes including holding ourselves accountable for what we say in public, and yes, Annemarie, you can put my name on that.”

Wheeler mentioned during the discussion that Senate meetings are recorded, and the public can request transcripts of the meeting. Freeman said the meeting minutes from the November meeting disproportionately reflected the views of the body in support of rescinding the updated diversity requirements, yet the bill passed. 

“So our debates and our discussion are not always representative of what the body feels,” Freeman said. “They are often the people that are most upset, and the loudest and the most concerned, not necessarily the will of the body.”

Some members of the Senate questioned whether personal subjectivity was incorporated into the minutes and recommended implementing general guidelines for minutes in the future. 

The Board of Regents will be implementing free speech training at Iowa State University. The training follows a free speech survey the regents sent out to faculty and students earlier in the fall semester. The link is expected to be distributed within the second week of January. The three universities contributed to the development of the content, and the Board of Regents retained a firm to develop the actual modules. 

The Faculty Senate approved the fall 2021 graduation list in preparation for commencement taking place Dec. 17 and 18. Wickert also thanked those contributing to the winter semester. There are approximately 1,870 students enrolled and 50 classes, with 70 percent of enrolled students being juniors and seniors. 

“It has been a challenging semester and a challenging environment for all of our faculty and still I am glad that we are where we are here,” Wheeler said.