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Faculty Senate holds first meeting of new academic year

UD moves closer to restoring rhythms of campus life, amid pandemic

The University of Delaware’s Faculty Senate set sail for the 2021-22 academic year on Monday, Sept. 13, in a virtual meeting led by Faculty Senate President Chris Williams, professor of wildlife ecology.

In this first meeting, the Senate  — comprising 75 elected senators from across University academic departments — approved resolutions related to a potential new position on campus and a popular policy regarding flexible work options. 

But first, UD President Dennis Assanis welcomed everyone, expressing gratitude for efforts to protect the health and safety of the University community; 91% of students and 85% of faculty and staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, he reported.

“We are thrilled to be back on campus and spending more time together,” he said. “Of course, the pandemic means we are always treading carefully — the Delta variant reminds us that it’s not done yet, and we are not out of the woods — but, certainly, we are guardedly optimistic about our future.”

To ensure the best on-campus experience possible, Provost Robin Morgan urged everyone to take better advantage of the ample COVID-testing opportunities on campus, both for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. And she encouraged faculty to accommodate students who may be late to class because they are at a testing appointment.

“How can you help?” she asked the Senate. “Model appropriate behavior across our campus, applaud those who are compliant and continue to insist on attention to our protocols.”

Although not mandatory, faculty also have the option of verifying the green check marks from students in their classes, which indicate approval of access to campus by UD’s required daily health screening. Additionally, faculty may move an in-person class online for up to 14 days, should they feel learning is compromised by COVID-related absences. Faculty must inform their department chair and notify the Registrar’s Office via a form.

“We don’t need to be a fearful institution,” Morgan said. “We have these amazing tools — we have vaccines, we know how to wear a mask… and we have testing capability. We want to get back into the normal rhythms of our lives and make our discoveries, share our learning and reach out to communities with the kind of great work we’ve always done.”

Making more of this great work possible, the Faculty Senate approved several new certificate programs for UD’s graduate students in several areas, including business analytics, data analysis, sales development science, health entrepreneurship and community engagement. One certificate program, the Birth Companion Certificate, will qualify interested nursing scholars as perinatal support partners for people in labor. According to recent research, such support partners are critical for improving the health outcomes of mothers and children.

Given the unpredictable trajectory of the pandemic, the Senate also approved a resolution allowing for faculty choice in selecting course modality for the 2021 fall semester and 2022 Winter Session. In other words, if instructors or faculty members assess that in-person instruction represents an unnecessary risk, then these instructors or faculty members may opt to teach their courses in an online format for a portion of the semester. More than 80% of senators voted in favor of the resolution.

Additionally, the Senate voted to recommend the establishment of an ombudsperson at UD. The approval of this office, which would offer “neutral, independent and informal dispute resolution” for all members of the University community, represents a longtime goal in the works since 2013, when a formal request for this position was initially made.

According to the resolution, such a move aligns with a guiding principle at UD: embracing an inclusive campus where all voices are valued. The confidential services offered by this office to faculty, staff and students — including the provision of resources for collaborative problem solving — would “affirm the University’s dedication to fostering a climate of fairness, equity and respect.”

The approval of an ombudsperson is particularly important for ensuring fairness “in regard to promotion, tenure and the peer-review process,” said Meghan McInnis-Dominguez, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the Senate’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. “We are strongly in favor.” During a vote, more than 90% of senators agreed.

Because this meeting marked the first of the new academic year, Parliamentarian John Jebb, assistant professor of English, offered a refresher on Robert’s Rules of Order, a 714-page guide for Parliamentary procedure adopted by the Senate.

Fundamentally, the goal is “slowing down movement toward a decision until all sides can be considered,” Jebb said. “That idea is the guiding principle.”

These guidelines will be in effect throughout what promises to be a very productive period, Williams reminded the Senate, of formulating and administering the academic and educational policies of the University. He encouraged members to apply their passion in a volunteer capacity to the 20 Senate committees “where the sausage is made,” and he highlighted topic areas ranging from diversity to student life to budget. 

Such engagement will be key, he added, to a rewarding, successful new year and smooth sailing ahead.

“You’re an active participant as part of the Senate,” Williams said. “If you see injustices or issues that could be fixed in the faculty handbook or in your classes, don’t hesitate to bring those forward.”

Further information about the Faculty Senate, including meeting minutes and agendas, can be found on its website.

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