Reorganizing of U Senate adds staff members’ voice

Adding academic professionals and staff members makes the senate unique.

by Matt Graham

The University Senate is reorganizing for the next school year, which will make it unique among higher education legislative bodies.

There will now be 25 seats for civil service employees and 25 for academic professionals. The organization previously had been composed entirely of faculty members and students.

This change makes the University the first school in the nation to add academic professionals and staff members to its legislative body, making it the “most inclusive” organization in the country, officials said.

Civil service employees include staff support and maintenance personnel. Academic professionals include advisers and researchers.

Dan Feeney, a veterinary clinical sciences professor, said he led the effort. He said he made the proposal after a study by University of Southern California researcher Bill Tierney.

“We realized there’s a whole segment out there that’s not being represented,” Feeney said. “What you want is a place where people can come together.”

Some faculty and staff seats had to be removed from the senate to keep it from getting too large, Feeney said, but faculty members and students will still have the most and second-most representation, respectively.

“Nobody is losing their voice,” Feeney said.

Student senators from the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus, led by Johanna Farmer and Nathan Hilfiker, were against the move. They have said they feel it takes representation away from coordinate campuses.

Neither could be reached for comment.

Becky Hippert, a University Senate executive assistant, said concerns that the other campuses will be underrepresented are unfounded.

The University Senate would include civil service staff and professionals, and administrators from all University of Minnesota campuses, she said.

Dorit Hafner, University Senate Civil Service Committee chairwoman, said she is excited.

“We will be the first (university) in the nation with such an inclusive body,” she said.

Jamie Nelson, a department of animal science research assistant and University Senate Consultative Committee member, said support for the move was strong.

“The only objection was that union members can’t be voted in,” she said.

Nelson said the University of Minnesota is opposed to union members participating in the University Senate on legal grounds.

Union members in the University Senate would be “double represented,” she said.

Teri Wallace, Council of Academic Professionals and Administrators chairwoman, said the increasing presence of nonfaculty professionals and administrators made the move necessary.

In 1980, they made up only 6 percent of the employee population, compared with more than 20 percent now, according to the group’s Web site.

Wallace said their close proximity to students and faculty members will be a valuable addition to the University Senate.

“(Professionals and administrators) are instructors, teachers, advisers, counselors, researchers Ö they touch the lives of students every day, all the time,” she said.

Wallace said the real test will come next fall, when the new members take their seats.

“Once you get to a meeting, it’s not about who you are,” she said. “It’s about what you do.”