What is Faculty Senate and why does it matter?

“The faculty cares about what’s happening with students,” Dr. Paola Fajardo-Heyward, director of the International Relations program and associate professor of political science, said. “The idea is to come together and start and dialogue to better get a sense of what’s happening.”

Director of Athletics Bill Maher (standing) spoke at the Feb. 7 Faculty Senate meeting about missed class time by student athletes. Professor concerns about athletes missing excessive amounts of class evoked a much needed conversation between athletics and academics. (Abby Wojcik)

Faculty Senate met on Feb. 7 with the main purpose of discussing issues between the athletics department and academics. Professors are concerned about student-athletes missing excessive amounts of class for practices, meets, games, and traveling.

Bill Maher, director of athletics, presented at the meeting to summarize missed class time by student athletes over the last three years, as well as policies already in place to communicate with faculty. Maher also answered questions from senators about the issue at hand.

This was the first time Maher presented at Faculty Senate in his 15 years at Canisius, and the first time an intentional conversation was facilitated between faculty and athletics in terms of linked concerns for student participation and presence in class.

Faculty Senate meets monthly to open a conversation up between administration and faculty. Typically, a meeting will consist of committee reports, resolutions, presentations, and an opportunity for faculty to ask questions of various administrators and vice presidents. Questions topics can range from the parking garage to student behavior issues in the classroom.

Generally, Senate is a place where the faculty can discuss and debate matters relating to the college’s academic mission.

“Under the shared governance structures at universities, faculty are seen not as employees but as managers,” Marshelle Woodward, assistant professor of English and Senate secretary, said. “This is why we can’t unionize at private schools, and we are supposed to basically be the experts in the academic side of the college.”

As Senate secretary, Woodward composes transcriptions of the meetings similar to minutes but with fuller, more verbatim transcriptions. These are important for absent senators and faculty to know what happens at meetings. It also keeps a record for future senators to have a history of what was discussed and debated over the years when issues resurface. 

While she isn’t a voting member, Woodward emphasized that being a part of Senate is a really important service job that she has enjoyed taking part in.

“When the faculty is able to bring resolutions both for the administration about matters of salary, benefits, general equity on campus that line up with our Jesuit values,” she said, “I think that’s really important.”

Dr. Paola Fajardo-Heyward, director of the International Relations program and associate professor of political science, has been working at Canisius for 10 years and has been on Senate for about a year. She echoed what Woodward said about Senate as an important representative body on campus. 

“All the bodies that we have in the college to represent faculty or students are an important mechanism to voice those concerns, to voice those demands,” Fajardo-Heyward said.

Fajardo-Heyward is also a part of the Student Liaison Committee, which is in place to connect students and faculty in order to collectively work on their concerns. 

“The faculty cares about what’s happening with students,” she said. “The idea is to come together and start and dialogue to better get a sense of what’s happening.”

One of the goals for the committee is to get student representatives present at Faculty Senate meetings to contribute and give their perspectives. 

“It would be great to have more student voices there to speak about curriculum, to speak about initiatives on campus outside of the classroom and how faculty can get involved,” Woodward said.

In addition to the opportunities faculty have at Senate to voice concerns and ask questions, it is one of the only ways faculty can regularly meet with members of other departments. In most cases, different departments are located in separate buildings, and therefore there aren’t many opportunities to meet and collaborate with each other.

Woodward and Fajardo-Heyward both expressed the importance of participating in campus government platforms. Whether that be through Undergraduate or Faculty Senate, as a small school Canisius requires passion, interest and effort from everyone in the community.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating,” Fajardo-Heyward said, “but I think, because I teach political science, I think that it’s my responsibility. You have to be part of the things, you can not give up. Even though it’s frustrating, it is the only space that we have to come together and try to push things forward.”

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