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May 5, 2021

Dear University Colleagues:

This past year was undoubtedly a challenge for everyone at the University---students, staff, faculty and administrators as the pandemic became an intrusion that disrupted literally every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Not only did the pandemic necessitate an abrupt movement of classes online, it effectively killed the normal collegiality and support that comes from in-person interaction with one’s peers and colleagues. Similarly, the Academic Senate struggled to cope with the reality of how much more difficult it was for a 104-person legislative body to conduct its business on Zoom.  Nonetheless, the Senate had a busy and substantively productive year, and all Senators are to be commended for making that happen.  Everyone was patient with me in running the meetings and with each other as you raised your digital hands and patiently waited for your turn to speak.  Lest we focus too much on how difficult the journey was, let me remind everyone of just a few of the many significant actions the Senate took this past year.  Actions that made people’s lives better by

  • extending parental leave benefits to career-line faculty;
  • granting certain needed protections to post-doctoral scholars;
  • providing long overdue clarity to the process for the creation and regulation of University centers and institutes;
  • approving dozens of new certificates that provide retraining opportunities to persons whose employment was disrupted by COVID;
  • providing wise counsel on interim rules addressing Title IX and the individual conflict of interest policy;
  • lending the Senate’s voice to various resolutions regarding student mental health, systemic racism and our democratic processes; and
  • calling for a realignment of the University’s endowment to favor positive sustainable investments.

The Senate also thoughtfully tackled the serious and sensitive issue of how best to respect religious and cultural differences in the scheduling of Senate meetings, and launched an in-depth study of whether honorary degrees, which from time to time are a point of controversy, still retain a role in a modern university.

I am most proud of the meaningful role the Senate, the Executive Committee and the faculty-student Special COVID-19 Committee played in the shared decision-making surrounding how best to operate our University during the pandemic.  Unlike many other universities across the country, our central administration was receptive to input from faculty, staff and students on temporary work adjustments, appropriate pandemic protocols, relaxation of RPT reviews, and reallocation of resources and support to aid both students and faculty in coping cope with an abrupt shift to online instruction.  It was shared governance at its best!

I, for one, will always remember the past academic year for many reasons, not the least of which is how faculty, students and staff, individually and collectively, rose to the occasion and carried on with purpose, resolve and caring for one another.  I jokingly lamented being the Zoom President, but It was my privilege to have worked with all of you, some of whom I have yet to meet in person!  I hope the next academic year will return the Senate to a more “normal” look and feel, but we can all be proud of the job we did this past year.

While everyone deserves thanks for their respective contributions to a successful year, there are four individuals I would like to give a special shout out to as they were particularly helpful to me as Senate President.  First, I want to thank Past President Julio Facelli.  He was a good role model for me to emulate and was a source of sound advice and good judgment throughout the year. In the end, he was always supportive, even when he disagreed with a decision I had made. Not once did he ever say “Well, that’s not how I would do it.”  Second, I want to thank President-elect Christy Porucznik for her calm and thoughtful view that she brought to every decision that had to be made.  She is unflappable, no matter how much heat there is in a decision or discussion. She was a calming influence on me and is going to be a terrific President. Third, I want to express my gratitude to a Senate Icon, Bob Flores.  Bob and I go back a long way and it is safe to say we have different leadership styles and approaches.  Bob’s attention to minute details and process was at times frustrating in terms of my dealing with an issue expeditiously, but he served the institution of the Senate well.  His dedication and service to the Senate is without equal and he will be sorely missed upon his retirement in June.  And, finally, I want to thank Jane Laird, the Senate Secretary and Operations Officer.  Jane often operates behind the scenes, but is vital to the smooth operation of the Senate.  Although I was occasionally too hands-on operationally from her perspective, she was always professional and worked tirelessly this year.  She was the glue that held everything together and carried out her myriad responsibilities with great skill.  She was overworked, but never once complained.  I am happy to announce we have been able to secure some additional funding so that we can hire her an administrative assistant next year to reduce her workload.

Normalcy may never return to its pre-pandemic state, but we are headed in the right direction, at least in the state and at the University.  My wish is for everyone to experience a summer of rejuvenation and reconnection with friends and colleagues.  I know I am looking forward to the return of in-person hugs, high fives, laughter and good conversation over lunches and dinners.

 

Randy L. Dryer, J.D.

President, Academic Senate