Meet the Faculty Senate

While most Brandeis students might be familiar with the Student Union Senate, they might not know about a similar body that represents the faculty members that form an integral part of life at Brandeis: the Faculty Senate. 

The Faculty Senate is a representative body of the faculty, and it aims to investigate anything that has to do with faculty life, according to Faculty Senate Chair Professor Joel Christensen ’01 (CLAS/COML). The Faculty Senate works directly with the president and the provost’s office, and senate meetings are conducted every week with the provost’s office, along with occasional meetings with the president. There is a faculty meeting once a month.

There are two main issues that the Faculty Senate is attempting to deal with this year, Christensen explained in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot. The first one is the creation of a committee on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice. This idea was previously proposed by Bernadette Brooten (NEJS), who recently retired and includes a committee that will observe diversity, equity and inclusion at Brandeis. 

The committee will look for suggestions from the Brandeis students on how to expand diversity, equity and inclusion and social justice initiatives. It will be made up of one faculty member from each of the four divisions of the Arts and Sciences: one from the Heller School for Social Policy, one from the International Business School (IBS), staff from the Brandeis University Staff Advisory Committee (BUSAC), an undergraduate student member appointed by the Student Union and one graduate student.

The second issue has to deal with bullying among faculty. The Faculty Senate has a task force, the Dignity at Work Committee, that has worked for several years to prepare legislation and to come up with reports about bullying in the faculty community. The task is complicated—the faculty needs to deal with legal issues related to bullying, said Christensen, and is working with Human Resources and Title IX to find a way to properly deal with issues of bullying and harassment. Christensen believes that the faculty must re-evaluate the way they treat people and work toward creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment at Brandeis.

For both issues, legislation must be written, presented to the faculty and individuals must talk to people to get their votes. There is a lot of work involved, but it is necessary if change is to be created at Brandeis. For example, as a result of the bullying present within the faculty on campus, many of the faculty of color end up not staying on campus. Through changes in the legislation, Christensen believes that faculty will be forced to make changes in the way they treat others. 

Another issue is the phase retirement package for faculty. Specifically, for tenured faculty, they are able to access a retirement plan that provides them with safety in the future. Over half of the faculty is tenured. However, over 100 individuals are not tenured and are instead on long-term contracts. These contracts do not provide these individuals with the same rights as tenured faculty members, and these individuals do not have a retirement package set in stone for them. A goal is to get retirement equity for all of Brandeis faculty. 

The Faculty Senate is attempting to create alterations in the faculty because a diverse faculty is “better at responding to a diverse student population.” In addition, the faculty should be trained at responding to mental health concerns of students. Training has been implemented for faculty; however, it is currently voluntary and would eventually be mandatory. There is also a CARE report form that faculty can use to report a student in crisis. To continue, in the context of the recent stabbings that occurred on campus, individuals need to communicate regarding campus safety, and the faculty needs to be trained to respond to emergency situations. 

Currently, 25 percent of the faculty are unionized. Christensen believes that many changes need to be made in order to provide a better environment for the faculty. He explains that “If you don’t have equity in part of the university, you can’t get anywhere… our policies should be aligned with values.” Christensen was asked to run for the Faculty Senate chair after volunteering for the Senate, and he eventually won. He is very passionate and explains, “I talk too much, and I speak out too much.” He believes that his experiences at other institutions have allowed him to be successful as the faculty senate chair. He reveals, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it.” In the future, Christensen would also like to address the topic of religious holiday equity by having days off for holidays such as Ramadan, Diwali or Chinese New Year. Overall, modifications need to be made in order to make the Brandeis faculty, and the community in general, a more inclusive body of people. 

Editor’s note: Celia Young contributed to reporting.

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