Grassroots faculty group looks to gain recognition from University leaders

Media Credit: Sam Johnson | Hatchet Photographer

Faculty Association President Andrew Zimmerman said he hopes the group gains traction with University administrators after its leaders address the Faculty Senate for the first time this week.

Updated: Oct. 14, 2014 at 4:29 p.m.

The leaders of a rival faculty group are looking to prove their legitimacy to GW’s top officials when they address the Faculty Senate for the first time this week.

The Faculty Association, which formed last spring after professors said their views weren’t being represented well enough by the senate, has struggled to gain recognition from the University. But when they speak about governance and transparency in GW’s budgeting process at the meeting, President Andrew Zimmerman said he hopes the spotlight on the organization will give it more weight among professors and officials.

“We’d like to have an administration that takes faculty organizations seriously, and faculty voices seriously. We’d want the Provost to say that it’s wonderful the faculty are organizing to improve the University, to make their concerns better,” Zimmerman, a history professor, said.

In the spring, Lerman said he probably would not meet with the group, although he has met with individual faculty members who have joined it.

The organization’s 141 members are from several schools and began meeting monthly this year. Members have donned “GWUFA” pins to spread the word about the group as they try to grow membership.

The Faculty Association formed after founding members circulated a petition that asked the University to increase its contribution to employee health care funds. Tyler Anbinder, a history professor and one of those founding members, spoke at a senate meeting in May, pushing faculty leaders to ask GW to increase how much it puts toward health insurance for employees.

A handful of members were also voted into the Faculty Senate last spring, which Katrin Schultheiss, an associate professor of history, said would strengthen the association.

“We see that tie as critical, both at a practical level to make sure that information is shared, and that there’s clear communication so people aren’t misinformed about what various groups are doing,” she said.

Charles Garris, chair of the Faculty Senate executive committee, said the Faculty Association helped jumpstart debate about employee benefits across campus this year, and that the senate’s executive committee thought the group’s members raised important points that more professors should hear.

“We regard them as a highly respectable group that has important ideas on things and has done their homework very carefully,” Garris said. “We’re very impressed with the work they’ve done on the health care issue.”

GW introduced a new health care plan this fall, offering a less expensive plan and avoiding a costly new tax under the Affordable Care Act. Still, the University’s contribution to health care costs stayed the same, while Faculty Association members wanted GW to increase how much it pitches in, and out-of-pockets costs for employees increased.

Zimmerman said he and Garris speak regularly, and that Garris has attended some Faculty Association meetings.

The University finalized health care costs last month, but Zimmerman said the group is looking to get more involved in the Board of Trustees plans to revise the Faculty Code and hopes to increase transparency in the University’s budget process this year.

“We want to be able to speak meaningfully about the priorities of the University as we can read them in the budget,” Zimmerman said.

Last year, GW did not publicly release line items of its operating and capital budgets. It also did not release information about the amounts of funding that specific construction projects would receive for the year.

The group hopes to make faculty more knowledgeable of how the process works, as well as more involved in that process.

Zimmerman said he’ll also express concerns about the “top-down nature” of GW’s administration.

“Usually universities are run with shared governance between faculty and academic administrators,” he said. “It’s not like a business model where there’s like a CEO and then managers and then employees, we’re all managers in some ways or none of us are managers.”

This post was updated to reflect the following clarification:
The Hatchet reported that GW stopped releasing its full operating and capital budgets to the public last year. The post was updated to include more details about how the publicly released information differed.

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