Getting involved in U governance
Professor Will Durfee talks about his experiences with governance at the University of Minnesota
December 13, 2013
As the University Senate enters its second century of shared governance at the University of Minnesota, representation of faculty and staff from colleges and programs is more important than ever. By serving on committees, faculty and staff can take an active role in shaping the University.
Mechanical engineering professor Will Durfee, the Faculty Consultative Committee chair and a long-time participant in U governance, talks about why it’s important to get involved.
Q&A with Will Durfee
Describe your history with University governance. How did you get your start?
One of my research areas is assistive technology for people with disabilities, and I wanted to learn how disabilities issues were handled on the University of Minnesota campus. So I started by volunteering to serve on the Senate Disabilities Issues Committee. I served three years on that committee, including chair for one year.
Why did you get involved in University governance?
For two reasons. First, I see it as part of my obligation as a faculty member. An excellent university requires that faculty drive its academic and research mission, and the governance system is one way that the faculty voice is heard. Second, I am curious about how a large, $3 billion academic institution operates behind the scenes, and University governance is a great way to satisfy that curiosity.
What has been its role in your career path at the U?
Knowing how the University operates … means that when I need to get something done, I can generally find the most efficient path. I also know when something is not going to happen and can cut my losses and bail out early when necessary.
What has been most meaningful about the experience?
Being able to influence the direction of the University and being able to represent the voice of faculty.
What do you like most about it?
Interacting with faculty colleagues from all corners of the University, including colleagues from the non-Twin Cities campuses.
What do you see as the value of the University Senate, of serving on a committee?
The value of serving as a senator is to bring fresh eyes to issues that sometimes spend a little too much time in committees, and the ability to vote on policies and resolutions that are significant to faculty.
The value of serving on a committee is being able to discuss issues in depth, as well as getting to drive the agenda.
What’s been key to your experience?
Approaching issues with an open mind. While I may have my own opinion, many issues have more sides than what I might see with my narrow faculty eye. Enabling all views to come out is particularly important.
What is something unexpected to come from your experience?
I suppose it should not be unexpected, but seeing that University stakeholders, including faculty, staff, students, administrators, and regents, care passionately about the University and recognize how important it is that the U continue its high quality in all its endeavors.
How has the experience changed you?
I now have a much better understanding of how the University operates. I also have gained a tremendous respect for senior University administrators who make this place run. They have the best interests of the University in mind as they do what are exceptionally complex jobs.
Any advice for someone considering serving in the U Senate?
Go for it!
Committees are the critical point at which University policies and decisions on intellectual property, tenure, grading, evaluation of instruction, the budget, allocation of indirect cost funds, athletics, electronic privacy, salaries, secrecy in research, health insurance, and many other matters important to the U community are debated and resolved.