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Background Information on the Faculty Senate

Basic Description

The Faculty Senate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst is a legislative body of elected faculty members and ex officio senior academic line administrators who hold faculty rank.  The Senate is responsible for approval of courses and academic programs.  It develops, recommends and reviews policy on a broad array of issues that affect the faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students.  The opening announcement and question sessions of Senate meetings constitute the only public forum where the principal administrative officers of the campus and representatives of the Faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate student governance bodies regularly meet to raise questions and discuss matters of importance to the campus.  From time to time the Senate invites legislative and academic leaders to address Senate or General Faculty meetings on current issues.

As with all large legislative bodies, most of the work of the Senate is accomplished in a series of standing and ad hoc Councils and Committees whose members include faculty members, staff, administrators and undergraduate and graduate students.  Faculty membership on Councils and Committees is open to all faculty members, not only elected Senators.  The total membership of the Councils and Committees is about 500. This level of involvement ensures that matters that come to the Senate for action have engaged significant and relevant segments of the campus community.

Faculty Governance and Academic Quality

The academic quality of a college or university rests on the quality of its Faculty and the degree to which faculty members participate in the governance of the campus.  The Senate and its Councils and Committees, as in other nationally ranked colleges and universities, provide the means for Faculty governance.  Their actions are key to the maintenance of academic freedom and achievement of high academic quality.  The circumstance surrounding establishment of the Senate on this campus illustrates the linkage between effective faculty governance and academic reputation.

Prior to 1957, faculty participation in the governance of the campus was accomplished though meetings of the General Faculty and a series of standing committees and councils.  In September 1953 the campus Phi Beta Kappa Association, consisting of faculty members who had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa at other universities, applied to the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa for permission to establish a University of Massachusetts Phi Beta Kappa Chapter and for authority to elect qualified students to Phi Beta Kappa.

The application was reviewed by Phi Beta Kappa during the 1953-1955 triennial and was not approved.  In their report dated February 17, 1955, Phi Beta Kappa listed a series of specific institutional problems that needed to be addressed before the campus would meet its national standards.  Among the reasons given for their decision, the Phi Beta Kappa report noted, "Moreover, the Faculty as such had not until the time of President Mather's leadership really participated in the planning of the University's growth or the government of its affairs."

The report prompted the Phi Beta Kappa Association and the UMass Chapter of the American Association of University Professors to hold a series of joint meetings and to collaborate in drafting a proposed Constitution for a Faculty Senate.  Their draft called for a Senate comprised primarily of faculty members and carried over many of the Councils and Committees of the General Faculty.  While administrators had hitherto dominated the membership of these Councils and Committees, the new Senate proposal ensured that faculty members would comprise a majority.

University President J. Paul Mather put the proposed Constitution before the General Faculty for discussion and a vote in the spring semester of 1956.  The Faculty voted approval on May 3 and the following day President Mather sent the Constitution to the University Trustees who voted approval on February 28, 1957.  The first meeting of the Senate, including adoption of the first bylaws, was held on April 11, 1957.

As of the end of 1999 the Senate had held 572 regular meetings and each year a number of additional special and General Faculty meetings to meet the press of business or to address urgent issues.  All of the academic courses and programs, research, and campus life programs that form the foundation for the national and international reputation that this campus now enjoys have been the subject of Senate action and advice.  A significant debt of appreciation is owed to the administrators, faculty and staff members and students who have served and continue to serve in the Senate, its Councils and Committees.

The author wishes to express appreciation to the staff of the Archives of the W. E. B. Dubois Library for making available key material for this account.

Professor Joseph S. Larson

February 26, 2000





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