Q&A with Gray Crouse >>

Why faculty engagement and shared responsibility are critical to Emory's future

By Kimber Williams | Standard | June 13, 2013

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Biology Professor Gray Crouse, 2012-13 president of the University Senate and chair of Faculty Council. Emory Photo/Video.

As Biology Professor Gray Crouse completes a term as president of the University Senate and chair of Faculty Council, he looks back upon a year filled with both change and challenge.

Crouse came to Emory in 1984 and took a role in university governance when he was elected to the University Senate in 2008. He has also served as a member and chair of GovCom, Emory College’s governance committee.

Emory Report catches up with Crouse as he reflects upon the 2012-2013 academic year:

You led two of Emory’s governance groups with themes of “shared responsibility” and “faculty engagement.” Why those themes?  

Last summer, as I was beginning to develop the series of University Senate-sponsored talks on “Shaping Emory’s Future: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century,” I spoke with a number of leaders in the study of U.S. higher education. In one of those conversations, I was struck by a statement by Bob Zemsky (professor and chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania), who felt that faculty should stop talking about “shared governance” and talk about “shared responsibility.”  

Many times “shared governance” is seen as the ability to say “no” to something. “Shared responsibility” implies a deeper level of engagement in which faculty take part ownership not only in a policy, but in its results.  If there is a problem to be solved, it is not enough to say “yes” or “no” to a solution. There has to be a commitment to stay with the problem until it is solved.

Gray Crouse on university funding

In the latest issue of the Academic Exchange, which focuses on the university budget, Gray Crouse writes about funding the university in changing economic times. Read his essay "Shaping Emory's Future."

Did you see growth in those areas?  

In University Senate and Faculty Council we did make progress in several areas. On an individual level, I have also been encouraged to see faculty who are willing to grapple with the important issues facing us as a private research university.  

One example is Jacques Galipeau, a professor of hematology and medical oncology and pediatrics. He began developing concerns about the environment for clinical research, not just at Emory, but peer institutions, too. As a result, he did a lot of comparative research in funding trends and organized a workshop last December consisting of both clinical researchers and administrators.  The outcome was the establishment of the Emory Sponsor-Investigator Association, which strives to improve the environment for translational research at Emory.  I think this is an important example of how individual faculty members can make a difference, if they are willing to be engaged.

You’ve mentioned this year’s series of University Senate-sponsored talks. For you, what were the important messages?

There seems to be agreement that tuition costs cannot keep rising faster than the cost of living and average family incomes. Tuition is the major source of funding for many of our schools. But if income is not going up, how can you address costs that are rising faster than the cost of living? Moreover, all of us want to see Emory get even better as an institution for teaching, research and scholarship.  How can you do that with a flat budget? There are, unfortunately, no easy answers and it is here that faculty engagement is crucial, for it is going to take creative solutions.

The first step is to realize that there is a problem, and I hope this series will help. (All talks from the "Shaping Emory's Future" series are archived online.) 

The second message has to do with the increased importance of financial aid, not only in our undergraduate schools, but in the professional schools as well. With the rising cost of higher education, the need for student aid has become ever more essential.

The third message is the problem with “administrative bloat.” Administrative costs have been rising faster than education costs for many years. Substantial sums may be recovered through increased administrative efficiencies. Yet many times, faculty are willing to reduce administrative costs only if nothing changes for them; the fear is that change will mean worse service and increased faculty workload.

It’s important to tackle administrative costs; the savings can make a big difference in the university budget.  However, making those changes will be neither easy nor painless. This is an area in which faculty engagement is crucial, both to encourage changes and also to ensure that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

This year, you introduced a Diversity and Community agenda item at University Senate meetings. Why did you do that and what do you hope will be achieved?

There was a lot of attention this year focused on President (James) Wagner’s essay in the winter issue of Emory Magazine. That was understandable, but I was frankly more concerned about the reaction I heard from members of the Emory community.  Many African Americans, for example, said that they had experienced racially insensitive remarks and actions and therefore viewed the president’s statement as just one example of many.

I found this profoundly disturbing. While I don’t consider myself as racist, I also recognize that I have cultural blinders that prevent me from seeing what may feel obvious to others. Given that the nature of a university community is to have thousands of new people joining each year, it is unrealistic to think that Emory would somehow remain free of the racism, or for that matter, the sexism, ethnocentrism and homophobia, that continue to afflict our society. 

The “Diversity and Community” agenda item was added to remind us that we need to remain vigilant about making our community as welcoming as possible for all Emory members.

What do you see as the key achievements and contributions of the governance groups this past academic year? What issues lie ahead?

The series of talks we sponsored (the "Shaping Emory’s Future" series) are serving to open conversations around topics that I believe are critical.  We will be dealing with these issues for years to come and it is crucial that we understand and don’t try to ignore them.

This year, we had several presentations in the Senate and Faculty Council by the Business Practice Improvement (BPI) office — our best hope for helping to get administrative costs under some control.  If that is to happen, it will definitely take both faculty and staff support.

As for governance, I believe we made progress on several fronts.  In the Senate, we received the report from the Task Force on Dissent, Protest and Community, and at their suggestion formed a Stage II Task Force to formulate University policies around issues of dissent and protest.  We expect recommendations from this task force in the fall.

The Committee on Class and Labor also presented its report on issues relating to staff. At the suggestion of that committee, we established a Senate Committee to oversee implementation of the report’s recommendations. Thus, the Senate is taking a role of shared responsibility — not just saying “yea” or “nay” to a policy generated elsewhere, but forming and implementing the policies.

Faculty Council has also begun work to revise the Faculty Handbook, the document detailing faculty life at Emory.  We want this to be a living document, one that is relevant. Revisions will be done in collaboration with the administration and the board of trustees, but I see our role as having “joint ownership” of the handbook.

As you can see, all of the activities I mention are in progress, so we will be dealing with them next year, in some form or another.  There will doubtless be new issues that arise during the year with which we will need to engage.