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10 March 2022, updated 21 March 2022 (public meetings clarified, signed)

The Faculty Senate advises UCF’s administration and Board of Trustees on how to run the university, a process called “shared governance,” which is enshrined in the Florida Constitution. Much of shared governance happens when our committees meet with vice presidents and other campus leaders and when the president and provost report during Faculty Senate and Steering meetings. But, each of the senate leaders is active outside the meetings, as well. These activities vary somewhat, depending on the needs of the university, but many are consistent year to year. So, this blog and the next will discuss some of what we’ve done since the start of the pandemic. The first installment covers BOT activities and the second covers everything else.

The Faculty Senate Chair (that’s me) is a member of UCF’s Board of Trustees. The BOT specifically does not operate the university; it hires the president to do that. Rather, we provide oversight, conduct long-term planning, and review and approve – or not – the numerous reports required by the Legislature and Board of Governors. Each Trustee is on three standing committees – I’m on Academic Excellence and Student Success, Facilities and Infrastructure, and Audit and Compliance – but nearly every trustee goes to nearly all the meetings, which is encouraged. The others are Governance, Strategic Partnerships and Advancement, and Budget and Finance. There is an Ad Hoc Strategic Planning committee, which I am on as well.

The BOT and its standing committees typically meet every other month. The materials for these often run several hundred pages per committee. Since all the proceedings are public, we’re expected to read these in advance and work out any issues with the relevant vice presidents and their staffs before the public meeting. The president and Board Office keep us busy with the annual state audit, multiple internal audits per year, legislative budget requests, degree program proposals, requests for building-related funding, facility condition and maintenance reports, new and changed university regulations, major university contracts, the annual budget, financial management oversight, the reports of our many Direct Service Organizations (UCF Athletics, UCF Foundation, UCF Stadium Corporation, and so on), and many other topics! The reports come from the vice presidents and their teams, who are available to brief each trustee. Since, under the Public Meetings Law, trustees may not meet to discuss BOT business without noticing a formal public meeting, those teams conduct personal briefings for each interested trustee.

As noted in my January blog, the BOT does not directly negotiate the collective bargaining agreements with UCF’s three unions. Rather, we delegate this to the president, who delegates the faculty contract to the provost, who delegates to the university’s bargaining team. We see these contracts only after unions ratify them, for an up-or-down vote. We’re scheduled to vote on the faculty contract on March 17 in a special virtual meeting. Follow the link on to watch.

The trustees act as ambassadors to Orlando’s philanthropic community, attending a few events per year. Many of the Board are already known in this community, making the faculty representative a focal new face. I’m often asked about the latest developments on campus, how we’re handling COVID, UCF as a local economic driver, and the many aspects of student engagement and success. All told, I spend just over 20% of my time on BOT activities.

The State University System BOTs are mostly appointed by the Board of Governors (five slots) and governor (six slots). Student Government Association President Meg Hall and I round out the Board. The appointed members are generally business leaders from the region. Their experience is invaluable – we have several CEOs, a lawyer, an accountant, entrepreneurs, and business experts in computing, construction, real estate, contracting, and so on. However, none of our current trustees has a background in education, unlike most company boards, which include retired executives from the same industry.

My role is thus to relate how our decisions would impact education, research, and community service and outreach, based on my experience as a faculty member. Meg Hall does the same from the student perspective. This is important whether we’re deciding the order of priority for new buildings and major renovations, approving the budget, reviewing a restructuring of internal loans, or approving regulations implementing BOG directives and legislative mandates.

Our often-unanimous votes are anything but rubber stamps. This unity results from extensive behind-the-scenes discussions with the administration to make the language that comes before the Board acceptable to all of us. As I discussed in a prior blog, I was able to get “reduced student-to-faculty ratio” added to the president’s annual goals for 2021-2022 during one such negotiation.

The senate chair and vice chair and/or past chair sit on the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates, which advises the Board of Governors, Legislature, and Governor on matters affecting the universities. We meet three times per year to share experiences leading our respective senates and as trustees, before each BOG meeting to go over their agenda, and several times during the legislative session regarding bills that affect universities. Our own senate’s past chair, Bill Self, chairs the ACFS, which puts him on the Florida Board of Governors in the same way I am on the UCF Board of Trustees. Mostly a coordination group, the ACFS rarely speaks publicly, so when it does it’s important. In the past two years, we have passed resolutions on diversity and academic freedom and raised concerns with legislators and others on bills regarding classroom recordings and accreditation.

One of the major sources of stress for the BOT is the annual awarding of tenure. There is a political movement away from tenure, as state governments wish to exert more control over what is taught and what faculty can say. A bill in the Florida Legislature this year seeks to institute post-tenure review every five years (our CBA already provides for this). Last year, two trustees voted against tenure, the same as the year before. In an attempt to educate trustees, eleven of whom have business backgrounds, on what tenure actually is and why it’s important for society, Provost Johnson will deliver a tenure workshop to the trustees on March 17 at 1:30. Follow the link on to watch.

In the next blog, I’ll take a look at the other behind-the-scenes activities of your senate leadership team.

Prof. Joseph Harrington
Chair, UCF Faculty Senate
Member, UCF Board of Trustees