Syracuse University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) was recently created through a merger of the Office of Institutional Research and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. The streamlined operation, located at 400 Ostrom Avenue, serves all members…
Chancellor Syverud Updates University Senate on Benefits Process, Proposed Changes to Senate Bylaws
Chancellor Kent Syverud addressed University Senate at its meeting today. His remarks were as follows:
Thank you, Professor Reed. I am going to be brief. There are just six days left in the fall semester. My brief updates are on the University’s benefits process, which Professor Reed already talked about; saying a little bit about the proposed changes to the Senate Bylaws; and then a little bit more about the impact of events in the Middle East on campus.
On benefits over the last week, we really made significant progress to stand up a new system that will allow input early and often from faculty, staff, and the University Senate on proposed changes to benefits. That includes the establishment of the Employee Benefits Assessment Council that has membership from across the campus, part of which Professor Reed just discussed. These members have been selected. They include:
- Four faculty members elected by the Senate;
- Four staff members who were self-nominated and selected by Council Chair Professor Tom Dennison and staff members from the Senate, and
- Three additional members that have been selected by the chair of the council with input from me.
The committee will meet for the first time this month. I’ve already deferred one proposed change from administrators in benefits to the council. I am waiting for the outcome of today’s and next Senate meeting’s bylaws discussion to formalize the connection between the council and Senate governance, but we’ll be doing that early in the coming semester.
On the bylaws more generally, I think there’s been heroic work this fall by the Ad Hoc Bylaws Committee and Professor Kira Reed. I know the committee is going to present its initial recommendations for discussion, which I’m going to listen to carefully. I’ve heard a lot about it. I expect that I will support the outcome of the process, and I think I’m going to support that because I think the changes will help the Senate and its committees function more effectively in the future and will incorporate more diverse perspectives.
I do believe in shared governance. I believe it’s important. Over the course of my more than 30 years in academia, I’ve seen a slow yet steady decline in involvement in shared governance at most universities. I think part of that decline is because many college administrators don’t value it. But I think some of the decline simultaneously is because fewer faculty members show up and do the work for many reasons, one of which may be the perception that administrators don’t value it. But at this University, shared governance remains vital to our success and some of the challenges we’ve come through in recent years. I am grateful to all the Senators, including the faculty, staff, and students who are attending today’s meeting and who are engaging in and contributing to the Senate’s work through the committees. That includes the work to strengthen the governance by revisiting and consolidating the Senate’s structure.
On the Middle East, it’s continued to be a difficult semester at Syracuse and in the world in part because of events in Israel and Gaza. There have continually been concerns coming in, at least I’ve been seeing concerns continually coming in from all sides—from students, from faculty, from staff, from alumni, from trustees, from parents, from the community—and most recently from a raft of elected officials, arising partly out of events in Washington in recent weeks. What I’d say about all those concerns is that there isn’t much that everybody agrees on, except the belief that most universities have handled things really badly.
For me, the safety of Syracuse University students must remain a top priority in all this. And what I say next, I don’t say lightly. I think sometimes we must prioritize the safety of our community above academic freedom and free speech. Since our Senate meeting last month, when I talked about this, I’ve received a lot of questions about the definition of “safety,” including from our AAUP leadership.
Again I must emphasize that when I say we sometimes must prioritize student safety, I’m not talking about being safe from disparate views or being safe from uncomfortable perspectives or from language which some may disagree with or find objectionable. By safety, I mean actual threats that may be reasonably perceived as resulting in physical violence or the real risk of physical violence, including even when the speaker may believe they don’t intend to actually incite or encourage violence.
What I want to say to you today is, folks, there really are crazy and extreme people out there, and some of them are violent and will be incited to take things out on campuses, particularly when egged on by extremist messaging or certain triggers. They are rare, but they are a real concern to me, and to many in our community.
Many of you have shared with me that while you understand this, you are also concerned that safety and this threat will be coopted as an excuse to erode free speech and academic freedom. I think those concerns are fair and merit vigorous debate. I believe the time is right for our university community to develop a shared statement on free speech and academic freedom. Over the break, I will confer with the appropriate stakeholders on campus to explore charging a working group with initiating this important work. I will provide an update on that at the next Senate meeting on Jan. 24.
Over the last three weeks, the University has sponsored three faculty panels and an online forum to discuss topics related to academic freedom and free speech. The Academic Affairs team has hosted training sessions for faculty and teaching assistants on navigating contentious topics in the classroom, especially with regards to events in the Middle East.
Provost Ritter will speak to that and the importance of this kind of discourse in a moment.
It remains a challenging time. I know that. I know these are difficult and deeply divisive topics about which many of you feel passionately, and which have a true human impact, including on many of you. I do think that the vast majority of our community has responded to these issues with grace and empathy for one another. I am particularly proud of how our students have conducted themselves. For example, the Student Association passed a resolution last week that called for peace. I think the Student Association articulated their position on the merits of the issues, while demonstrating real maturity, compassion, and care for all those in our community impacted by these really horrific events. I thank the students for their leadership.
I am going to take questions after the provost speaks. I wish you a good final week of the semester and a refreshing break. Thank you.