Meet Michael Benedik: Benedik earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University. He has served on the Texas A&M faculty on two occasions, first as an assistant professor of biology from 1985 to 1989 and then later as a professor of biology in 2004. In the interim, he was on the faculty of the University of Houston and a visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health. He has also worked as a staff scientist for DNAX Research Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Palo Alto, Calif. He is currently a professor of biology and genetics with a research focus on microbial biotechnology, is the Speaker of the Faculty Senate and serves as the Faculty Ombuds Officer for the university.
What is the Faculty Senate, and how does it work?
The Faculty Senate is a representative body of the faculty empowered to speak and legislate on matters that concern faculty. There are many types of issues that come before the Senate ranging from policies on governance of faculty, student issues, as well as curricular matters. Many people don’t realize that the curriculum of the university is officially in the hands of the faculty, and every substantive course change is reviewed and approved by the Senate. This may number in the hundreds over a typical year.
The Faculty Senate often operates through committees that conduct most Senate business with final approval taking place at monthly meetings of the full Senate. Senate meetings occasionally appear sedate because the difficult topics were dealt with in committee, but on occasion they can get contentious depending upon the issue at hand. No blood has yet been shed this year.
Why is it important for faculty to participate?
The Faculty Senate is the appropriate route for shared governance to incorporate the voice of the faculty. Changes to university rules that affect the faculty are reviewed by the Senate or its Executive Committee or in some cases are initiated by the Senate.
There are many committees that are part of the Senate; this allows Senators to participate in those issues that most interest them – stemming from diversity to curriculum to research and scholarship to governance issues and so on. The Senate Executive Committee also selects faculty members, Senators or not, to serve on numerous university committees. There are many opportunities for faculty to participate in governance of the university.
I learned more about the university and how it operates from my six years on the Senate than my entire (much longer!) career before. It is an amazing opportunity to meet colleagues from all over campus and to participate in the decision-making process. I encourage all members of the faculty to serve at least one term on the Faculty Senate and ensure the faculty voice remains strong on this campus. We also have occasional good parties.How would someone interested in participating become involved?
Fulltime faculty members of Texas A&M University are generally eligible to be part of the Faculty Senate. This includes both tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty. Many Senators are quite new to the university while others have been here for decades. Any faculty member is welcome to run, and the term for a Senator is three years. Senators are elected from each college based on the number of faculty in that college. It would be great to see many new faces running for a position on the Senate.
The Senate elects its own officers and members of the Executive Committee. They serve for one year except for the Speaker, who first serves as the Speaker-elect for one year and the Speaker of the Faculty Senate the next year. This past year that I have served as Speaker has been a remarkable experience to be allowed to promote the faculty role in governance at the university. It has been an honor.
When are elections?
The nomination process begins soon, at the end of February. Elections are held soon afterwards in March. During the Faculty Senate election, representatives to a number of elected university committees are also chosen at the same time, this is a once a year faculty-wide election. I encourage any member of the faculty to run for Senate and also for some of the other important governance committees.
When are the meetings and can anyone attend?
The Senate meets once a month normally on the second Monday of each month at 3:15 p.m. in Rudder Tower 601. The meetings are open to the public, and all members of the university community are welcome to attend. Senate meetings are also broadcast on TTVN. Senators from the branch campuses in Galveston and Qatar also participate by TTVN. Cookies and coffee are free (although not by TV).