Op-ed: Let research faculty participate in University governance

Lara Cartwright-Smith is an associate research professor of health policy & management in the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Since 2013, the Board of Trustees has been considering revisions to GW’s Faculty Code. These revisions would permit “specialized faculty,” including research professors, to participate more fully in university governance, such as being able vote on key issues or serve in the Faculty Senate.

Some members of the Faculty Senate have opposed these reforms. They have asserted that research faculty are not fully engaged in teaching, service and research, are only employed in positions of a “short-term and highly-contingent nature” and are unlikely “to engage in robust dialogue.”

I believe that many do not understand research faculty’s commitment to the academic mission of the University. In an effort to clarify the issue, I want to explain to the GW community what I do as a research faculty member, and encourage support for the Board of Trustees in this reform.

I am an associate research professor and have been on the faculty since 2008, hardly short-term. Though I am research faculty, I am also highly engaged in teaching and service. I teach core courses for our graduate students, co-direct the practicum program that assures students get “real world” experience and have advised dozens of students over the years.

Contrary to the assumption that research faculty do not engage in service to GW, I serve on departmental committees, including the curriculum committee and the recruitment/admissions committee. We make significant decisions regarding the academic programs of the department.I spent many uncompensated hours this past spring as a fully engaged (though non-voting) member of the search committee for a new chair of the Department of Health Policy & Management. In recognition of my extensive experience in teaching, advising and service, I was recently appointed program director for the Master of Public Health program, an important position in our department.

At the same time, I maintain a substantial research portfolio, supported by grants from foundations and the federal government. My research and public health practice inform my teaching. My projects also keep me connected to what’s going on in the world of health policy – which, as you can imagine, is pretty dynamic these days – which supports my academic advising.

Moreover, my research portfolio funds hourly positions for students to join in research, giving them valuable applied research and writing experience alongside their classroom education. The ability to interact with faculty members engaged in research and policy is a key reason that many of our students chose GW.

I am highly committed to GW – in fact, I am also an alumna. Shouldn’t I count? Why should I be denied voting and governance rights because of a “research” label? Why should I not have a vote if the faculty are deciding on the selection of a new member? If the faculty of my school wanted to elect me to serve as their representative to the Faculty Senate, shouldn’t they be trusted to elect the representative they think will best serve them?

I am not unusual among research faculty and know many others with substantial achievements in teaching, service and research who are fully committed to GW’s academic mission. I thank the Board of Trustees for addressing this issue and urge the GW community to support their efforts to recognize research faculty as equal members of the faculty.

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