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FAS to Consider Formation of Faculty Senate Planning Body Over Online Ballot

Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences meets in University Hall. The FAS will hold an online vote on whether to elect delegates to a planning body for a Harvard-wide faculty senate.
Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences meets in University Hall. The FAS will hold an online vote on whether to elect delegates to a planning body for a Harvard-wide faculty senate. By Charles K. Michael
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated May 19, 2024, at 10:53 a.m.

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences will hold an online vote on whether to elect delegates to a planning body for a University-wide faculty senate, delaying a final decision on the proposal until the summer during a special FAS meeting Tuesday.

Tuesday’s discussion saw a slightly muted, though still contested, variant of the debate from last week’s faculty meeting, when the proposal was first introduced. The proposal — which would be the FAS’ first concrete step toward Harvard-wide faculty governance — overcame multiple attempts to stall it led by University Professor Ann M. Blair ’84.

Should the proposal pass, the FAS will elect 12 representatives to discuss the desirability and design of a faculty senate that would span all nine of Harvard’s faculties. Before the proposed planning body is complete, however, each faculty would have to pick its own representatives.

Although discussions are underway at all of Harvard’s schools, some faculties will not vote on whether to elect planning body delegates until the fall semester, if at all.

That the vote would be held electronically was something of a foregone conclusion. German Literatures and Languages professor Peter J. Burgard, a leading opponent of the University-wide senate proposal, and University Professor Danielle S. Allen — the proposal’s top defender — had reached an agreement prior to the meeting to endorse the motion for an email ballot.

At the meeting, Allen told attendees she thought that a vote open to the entire FAS — not just those who were able to make it to the special meeting — would be most consistent with the spirit of the proposal.

The consensus, however, did not stop Burgard from first calling for a quorum — an unsuccessful attempt to delay the planning body resolution until the fall.

Burgard, who unsuccessfully moved last week to delay discussion until the fall, wrote in an email that he opposed the faculty senate proposal as it would dilute the importance of the FAS as the University’s central faculty. He said he had explored the idea of creating a faculty senate in 2012, though his proposed body would only have included members of the FAS.

During the meeting, faculty decisively approved an amendment by Allen to tweak the phrasing of the resolution and make it less committal toward a faculty senate. Faculty also rejected two motions by Blair: one to refer the discussion to the 19-member Faculty Council, and another to dramatically broaden the scope of the resolution, further deferring the process of considering a design for a senate.

The second amendment, defeated by a narrower margin, called for a planning body to consider “options for various ways faculty across the University could improve communication with the leaders of the University and with the members of the Corporation” — opening the door for the FAS to endorse an alternative to a faculty senate while watering down the language of the initial proposal.

The meeting concluded with Burgard and Allen’s compromise amendment, which passed with 90 percent of the vote. Secretary of the Faculty Susan L. Lively told attendees that voting faculty will receive their ballots and instructions within the next week.

Clarification: May 19, 2024

This article has been updated to clarify that Peter J. Burgard specifically opposes the current University-wide faculty senate proposal, but does not oppose the general idea of a faculty senate.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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