Faculty Senate Hears Merten; Passes Nondiscrimination Resolutions

Posted: April 8, 2010 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: April 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

By Robin Herron

At its monthly meeting on April 7, the Faculty Senate heard comments from President Alan Merten and debated nondiscrimination resolutions.

Merten discussed “weathering the storms” — the snowstorm that closed Mason campuses for nearly a week and the financial “storm” caused by the current recession.

After thanking the faculty and commending the University Police, Sodexo and Facilities workers for “pitching together” to cope with the snow, Merten discussed the recently concluded session of the Virginia General Assembly. Saying that this was the year to “play defense, not offense,” Merten noted that the university’s efforts were geared toward preventing such things as three consecutive years of furlough days and “the heist of the week,” as the legislature looked for sources of revenue to balance the state budget.

“These are tough times, but I think we’re getting through them,” Merten said, as he enumerated some of the drastic measures other states are taking to deal with budget shortfalls. Merten added that the university’s strategy going forward will be to get to know the newer legislators and to work with members of the governor’s cabinet, many of whom are well known to the university and vice versa.

Merten also commented on President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Mason’s Patriot Center and said he is often asked why Obama has been to Mason so often. Merten said, “He enjoys being on campus, the Secret Service works well with our police and we handle the media well.”

Merten was asked about a commission on higher education that the governor intends to form. Merten said that Mason has made recommendations for its membership and expects to have opportunities to speak before it.

The senate passed two nondiscrimination resolutions drafted in response to the Virginia attorney general’s advisement that the university’s policy 1201 dealing with inclusivity and nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was not supported by state law.

One resolution proposed by the senate’s Executive Committee specifically “encourages the Virginia General Assembly to add ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ to Section 2.2.-3900 B.1. of the Virginia Human Rights Act.”

The other resolution was presented by the senate’s Committee on External Academic Relations. The resolution upheld and reinforced the Board of Visitors’ previously passed resolution on nondiscrimination. The committee’s rationale was that supporting the BOV’s resolution demonstrates a sense of unity within the university community and that “explicitly including language regarding specific classes of individuals may dilute our message.”

The committee also recommended that faculty members so inclined sign an online petition developed by Equality Virginia and/or write their state senators and delegates expressing their support of nondiscrimination. The committee’s entire packet of information related to the resolution will be sent to all faculty members.

In other business, the senate voted to recommend emerita rank to assistant professor Lucille Boland, who retired in February from the School of Nursing after 30 years of service to Mason.

Kris Smith, associate provost for Institutional Research and Reporting, gave a report on online course evaluations versus paper evaluations. Following a lengthy discussion, Smith was asked to return to the senate’s next meeting to continue the discussion. Smith suggested that in the meantime, those with questions forward them to her.

Brian Walther, senior associate university counsel, and Corey Jackson, assistant to the president and director of Equity and Diversity Services, also asked the senate for endorsement of a proposed policy regarding consensual relationships. Because of time constraints, the discussion will be continued at the next senate meeting.

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