Inside Iowa State
May 21, 1999
Ex-senate president takes a look back
by Linda Charles
When Denise Vrchota assumed the presidency of the Faculty Senate a year ago, a post-tenure review policy had just been voted down by the general faculty and she had no plans to pursue the issue.
"I don't see any point in dealing with it again. Life goes on, other things go on," she said shortly after the policy had been rejected.
But by the end of last summer, Vrchota was predicting the issue would be back. "Post-tenure review needs to continue to be a concern," she said. "It would not be smart to not continue talking about it."
In December, the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, requested that the university develop a post-tenure review policy by year's end.
The timeline alone seemed daunting. Writing, fine-tuning and voting on the first post-tenure review had taken nearly two years. This year, the senate needed to complete the task by the end of spring semester for it to be presented to the regents by the end of the calendar year.
Complicating the task was a core of senators who adamantly opposed any sort of post-tenure review and the senate's newly passed resolution restricting meetings to 90 minutes unless the senate agreed to extend them.
Tempers grew short and other senate business remained untouched as post-tenure policy discussion claimed big chunks of each senate meeting. And when the senate finally voted on the policy, things were so rushed as the meeting's deadline approached that some senators claimed they were confused about what they were actually voting on.
However, the policy, based loosely on a similar policy at the University of Iowa, was approved by the senate and, a month later, received strong support from the general faculty (see story on page 5).
"I'm pleased with the post-tenure review policy," Vrchota said in an interview since ending her term as senate president. "It had a huge margin of support and I think it speaks loudly for how the faculty felt about the policy."
Somehow, in the midst of all the debate on the post-tenure review policy, the senate also managed several other major accomplishments, Vrchota noted. They include:
Promotion and tenure policy: Although approved by the general faculty the previous year, adminis-trators had requested several changes in the policy before presenting it to the regents. Most of the changes were minor edits or changes to make the document consistent with other policies. But there were two significant changes: the first concerned the timing for a second request for a tenure review when a faculty member is turned down during the first attempt, and the second involved the composition of college promotion and tenure advisory committees. Vrchota credited the hard work of the committee that met with administrators to work out the details with getting the final version approved by the senate and sent on its way.One of Vrchota's disappointments as president was the lack of progress on establishing a university club where members of the campus community could meet. While she said the Faculty Values e-mail discussion group was a good start, Vrchota said she thinks the university needs a place where people can meet face-to-face to discuss issues.
Fifth council: The senate created a fifth council to deal with university budgetary concerns, particularly in how budgeting affects faculty. The new council will help the senate make an "impact" on the university in a more deliberate and organized fashion, Vrchota said. Those selected for the council will need to be politically astute, intimately familiar with the university's strategic plan and understanding of the budget process, she added.
Provost review: A senate com-mittee completed a review of the Office of the Provost at a "strategic time," Vrchota said. The university currently is searching for a new provost and Vrchota said she expects the new provost will consider the committee's recommendations seriously. "The committee's recommendations are realistic and clearly tied to interviews and surveys," she said. "The results are down-to- earth and I am confident that a number of them will be carried out."
Senate committees: "The senate is only as good as its councils and committees," Vrchota said, adding she was impressed with the efforts of many this year. Among those that made significant progress were committees that looked at the representation structure of the senate, reorganized the Faculty Handbook, tackled the high cost of scholarly journals and other budget problems of the university's library system, reworked the faculty conduct policy, revised the senate's basic document into a constitution and started reworking the senate bylaws, and tackled long-term senate planning.
Overall, Vrchota said serving as senate president (and as president-elect and vice president) were a "good experience - - although if I knew then what I know now, I can't promise I would do it again."
She said she was surprised at the level of mistrust the general faculty has for the senate, and noted that Iowa State is held in high esteem, even by those who criticize it. "If they didn't care or hold it in high esteem, they (some faculty) wouldn't spend so much time griping about it," she said with a smile.
Vrchota will be seen at senate meetings next year; she has been appointed to chair the senate's strategic planning committee. But for now, she's busy preparing for two summer classes.
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