Whenever a controversial issue “hits the fan,” it can seem like UT administrators form a task force to confront the issue head on. But faculty members sometimes wonder if these groups improve the conversation, or if they simply sidestep faculty committees.
Standing committees of the general faculty are created by the Faculty Council to revise University policy. Task forces are groups in which members are appointed by administrators to deal with specific issues. Both groups contain faculty and students. Several faculty members mentioned their grievances at the Faculty Council meeting on Jan. 23. A specific concern of some faculty is the forthcoming report from the Graduation Rates Task Force.
Alan Friedman, Faculty Council chair and English professor, said he is concerned about the control that administrators have over the task forces. The committees fall under three main categories — faculty affairs, student services and activities and institutional policy or governance. There is no centralized list of task forces, which creates confusion among faculty. Recent task forces have met for a semester and up to a full year.
“They bypass the governing structure,” Friedman said. “I objected to them on a number of occasions and they do keep coming.”
Friedman said he often hears task force supporters argue that task forces can have appointed members with thorough knowledge of the given issue and can respond quickly to the University needs about the issue.
“The only part of that which makes sense to me is if administrators want a group that will report only to them,” Friedman said. “Because there’s no reason the committees can’t report back.”
Sociology professor and associate liberal arts dean Marc Musick currently serves on a task force and previously served on the Faculty Council. Although Musick did not serve on the Graduation Rates Task Force, he wrote a report analyzing the time it takes UT students to graduate.
Musick said task forces give the faculty and students appointed to them an opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge on the topic.
“By simply starting the conversations we can facilitate change on campus,” Musick said.
Musick said task forces are meant to create ideas and it is up to faculty to implement those they think are appropriate or to forego them.
“Much of the business I’ve seen is to vet the ideas coming forward,” Musick said. “The faculty have a voice in that way.”
Senate president Carisa Nietsche met with the Graduation Rates Task Force and serves on the faculty’s Education Policy Committee. Nietsche said the task forces bring together the main stakeholders in the issue.
“I typically think of task forces as being more in tune with administrator priorities,” Nietsche said.
Nietsche said task forces can focus on sole issues in a way that faculty committees cannot, due to time constraints and the nature of committees to deal with broader policy matters. She said for the most part, the task forces and committees complement each other in an effort to improve the University.
“I don’t see it as a conflict,” Nietsche said. “I think the committees can have a role in task forces.”