Faculty Senate to allow internal referendums

Stephanie Markham, News Editor

The Faculty Senate voted 12-1 Tuesday to establish its ability to send polls and referendums to gauge faculty opinions on issues and actions that should be taken at Eastern.

The senate was already required to send referendums if 20 percent of faculty petitioned them to do so, but because of some confusion on whether or not the senate could send them on its own accord, members voted to revise their constitution to clarify that it could.

Senate member Jeff Ashley said he reached out to other public universities in the state, and their senates indicated they did not have the power explicitly stated in their constitutions but considered it an implied power.

John Allison, an English professor, said when he was chair of the senate he was involved in drafting Article 13 to the constitution which made it so the senate had to send referendums when prompted by 20 percent of the faculty.

Allison said the article was the result of backlash when the senate refused to carry forward referendums from faculty.

He said the senate voted down a motion 11-4 for a referendum on strategic planning, and then 33 percent of faculty came forward with a petition for the referendum.

“The Faculty Senate operates according to Robert’s Rules of Order,” Allison said. “Robert’s does by no means exclude deliberative bodies from presenting referendums.”

Gary Aylesworth, a philosophy professor, also helped to draft the article when he was on the senate.

“It was past practice until that point for the senate to regularly canvas the faculty to allow the faculty to take positions on various issues before the university, and the fact that the senate refused to do it in a particular instance prompted Article 13,” Aylesworth said.

Senate member Jeff Stowell said he did not see why the senate could not poll the faculty when seeking information, and he said referendums should come with an explanation and context as to why one would vote one way or another.

Other senate members questioned the difference between polls and referendums, with some making the distinction that referendums imply action will follow.

Senate chair Grant Sterling emphasized that the senate only advises the president even when passing unanimous resolutions.

“Part of the problem is we don’t take any actions,” Sterling said. “We are an advisory body.”

Ultimately, the senate voted to include both polls and referendums as part of their authority to be added to the constitution.

The senate also voted to have an election to select new members of various committees following its April 7 meeting and to discuss amendments to its constitution in a separate meeting.

Senate member Jeannie Ludlow said the original deadline for nominations was March 13, but it was extended to Friday because eight crucial positions are still without nominees.

Aylesworth added that the issues of faculty participation and referendums were related, and he remembers elections being highly contested when he was on the senate.

“Participation in votes and referenda were high because faculty did that regularly and offered many opportunities; competition to get on the senate was high,” he said. “It’s healthy to have the senate operate on that level. One of reasons interest has slackened is the senate itself has slackened and not been as involved.”

Senate member Minh Dao said he would logically think people seeing a less active senate would make them want to run for positions and fix things, but he believes people would respond to referendums.

“At the end of the day, if the issue is of critical importance, people will vote,” Dao said.

Sterling said he does not foresee the referendums being used very often, but he does hope to start sending surveys to faculty each year asking what issues on campus they think are most important.

The next senate meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 7 in Room 4440 of Booth Library.


Stephanie Markham can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].