Thinking Small               March 20, 2013

By Leonard Zwelling

                At the Faculty Senate meeting last evening, a new chair-elect was named. He is Gary Whitman of Diagnostic Imaging. I do not know him myself, but his videotaped address before the voting was extremely polished and well considered. It was highlighted by his simple, succinct message:

                “Faculty first and small victories”.

                I am not sure I could have stated the problem any more clearly.

                Since I became a senator in September of 2012, I have been shocked at how accurate his words were in describing the Senate. The group focuses on itself. I have seen little evidence that it does the kind of retail politics necessary to actually determine what the rank and file faculty members are thinking and how best to represent the interests of all of the faculty to a rather non-receptive administration. The administration’s lack of receptors also explains the Senate’s being willing to settle for small victories such as a separate and clearly not equal committee called IFAC that supplanted its representation on the more highly regarded institutional clinical and research leadership groups. I guess this is their idea of a small victory in the shared governance arena. Small is right!

                The one clear example that the Senate has of an assessment of the mood of the faculty, the faculty morale survey, has once again, as it has twice before, shown a growing discontent with the leadership. Once again, the original proposal to the Senate by those performing the survey was to send the results to the leadership and pray for something to happen. I think they have confused our leadership with miracle workers or people with a great deal of self-awareness.

                Fortunately, the survey results were sent to Austin. Yesterday we learned that the outgoing Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs will follow with interest as the same non-receptor bearing group of leaders reacts to another lousy vote of non-confidence. I wonder what will happen or is the letter back from Dr. Shine the new Senate leadership’s idea of a small victory?

                I am sure this all sounds very bitter and tinged with sour grapes. Perhaps it is for I was extolling a far more activist approach to the faculty’s burdens, particularly those borne by the clinical faculty every one of whom I have spoken to is unhappy with the degree to which they are pushed to increase their volumes without a consideration for their ability to deliver the quality care for which we are supposedly number one.

                I don’t get it.

                If this is all about money, let’s see all the numbers. I am not interested in how close to budget estimates we are. Are we in the black or red? It’s a black and white issue.

                And if the issue isn’t money, then what the heck is going on that has generated such a series of negative faculty morale surveys?

                To me it is not faculty first. It is patients, mission, funding agencies including the State of Texas, and regulatory agencies first. Their interests trump ours.

                I also believe in big victories. All of our presidents have extolled the virtues of thinking big and making no small plans. Why then does the Senate insist on playing small ball?

                Let’s hope that the absence of the newly elected chair is not a harbinger of his relationship with his faculty constituency or with the administration. I have been impressed that the current Senate leadership has been absent in this regard (and the chair was not there last night, interestingly enough).

                A Senate is a political body. The game is politics and it is a hard ball, major league sport. Small victories? Not interested! Make no small plans!

Leonard Zwelling