Faculty senate elections

The faculty senate has been at work during the winter break to elect new members for leadership positions, such as president-elect, secretary, the members-at-large for the Executive Committee, the members of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics and the members of the Faculty Governance Committee.

“The faculty senate basically is a forum that provides an official space for communication between the faculty and the administration of the University. It’s a way to ensure that the faculty are informed and involved in the important decisions that happen on campus,” said María Elena Soliño, associate professor of Spanish literature and film and new president-elect.

The senate is made up of faculty members elected from every college and the library to represent their constituency to the administration.

“For example if a professor changes the prerequisite for a course, before it goes to the course catalog, we look at it to see if it’s OK.”

Soliño will serve as president-elect until Jan. 23, 2014 when she will become the president of the faculty senate, a position now being held by Steven Wallace, director of the School of Theatre and Dance. At the start of her presidential term, Wallace will become the most recent past president and a continued member of the leadership committee. Soliño’s win comes pleasantly to the soon-to-be-president Wallace, he said.

“As the incoming president, you are an active part of this election. You have discussions with individuals that you think are in-line with your thinking and someone you feel like you could work with. Maria was one of those,” Wallace said.

“She represents a lot of really, really strong women on campus and in the Senate. Frankly, I’d like to see more women involved, a much more diverse population in the Senate. She sort of leads that in many ways, so I’m excited about her being president-elect.”

This year will be particularly demanding because of expected budget cuts from the Texas legislature, said Miranda Bennett, head of liaison services for collection and research support for the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library and secretary for the faculty senate.

“I think we’ll deal with uncertainty around the budget and what kind of money may come to the University from the State of Texas. That’s always an issue of great interest and (it’s) always very challenging, of course,” Bennett said. “Just staying on top of all the things as the University of Houston evolves this quickly.”

Only 20 percent of UH’s funding comes from Texas, Wallace said. Its focus needs to be in part on the 20 percent but with major attention on where the other 80 percent will come — fees, donations, the private sector and tuition.

“A lot of focus, I think this year, will be, at least in the early months up until May, on what’s going on in the legislature,” Wallace said.

“There will be really, really high severe cuts that affect education in Texas across the board. That’s going to take a lot of focus. That’s going to determine what we’ll do for the next part of the year,” Wallace said.

“How much funding is available from the state? How much funding does the University have to raise?”

Wallace said UH’s ties with the Houston are critical to the University and its future prosperity.

“You start thinking of a university more as like a business. It is a business in the end. Our product is education, and we want that to be a superb product,” Wallace said. “It’s that difference in money you need to raise that is the difference between an average university. I call it the ‘margin of excellence.’”

“The ‘margin of excellence’ is the difference between the funding you receive – through tuition and through the state through regular sources – and the funding you receive or you go after from people who want to support the University because they see the value of it, particularly in this city.

While the connections between city and college may be in the focus for Wallace, another issue will turn the University’s focus toward the national or international: finding a new provost for UH.

“I think the first challenge right now is that we have an interim provost, and Dr. (Renu) Khator is starting to put a committee together to search for a new provost,” Wallace said.

“The provost is and represents the academic vision and leadership of a university. In particularly, in pushing toward Tier One, that is a crucial, crucial position. I have no doubt that Dr. Khator will be doing a national — maybe even an international — search looking for the next academic officer.”

While the next term presents challenges, an achievement the faculty senate participated in last term helps motivate Soliño and further her passion for female representation, she said. Working with the University Commission on Women and previous UH provost John Antel, the faculty senate was able to pass legislation to allow female faculty members to take a semester to work at home.

“As president-elect, I become a member of the University Commission on Women and that is a very important organization for me because what it does is oversee policy that makes recommendations and decisions on all aspects concerning women on campus,” Soliño said.

“Female professors who have babies will now be able to do work from home for the semester after they have the baby. There is no maternity leave in the state of Texas.”

Khator’s leadership has helped the faculty senate, Soliño said.

“I think President Khator has brought a whole new sense of energy to this University, and I think she and her team are very receptive to including the faculty in important decisions, which is the most important part of the senate: making sure the faculty have a voice in running the University.”

For more information about the faculty senate, visit

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