Chairs of Faculty Senate, Staff Senate review activities from academic year

Brian Railsback (right), chair of WCU’s Faculty Senate, presents a copy of a proclamation honoring the “inspirational legacy” of WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and wife Susan Brummell Belcher to them during a meeting of the Board of Trustees. Approval of that proclamation and other resolutions was included in the activities of the Faculty Senate this academic year.

The chairs of both Western Carolina University’s Faculty Senate and Staff Senate are reporting numerous checkmarks on their respective group’s “to-do” lists as the spring semester comes to a close, with an emphasis on initiatives aimed at providing financial assistance to help WCU students successfully complete their degrees.

Topping the accomplishments of WCU’s 51st Faculty Senate is the creation of the Faculty Senate Student Support Fund, with more than $10,000 raised to assist financially independent students with short-term financial emergencies, said Brian Railsback, the chair of that group who will turn over his leadership position to Damon Sink, assistant professor in the School of Music, in July.

Railsback completed a 345-mile bike ride from Cullowhee to Raleigh in March and April to raise awareness about the financial difficulties faced by some students who lack financial support from their families, and that effort culminated in a meeting with Gov. Roy Cooper.

“I was thrilled to learn recently that the governor, inspired by our faculty’s efforts, will be proposing a $20 million ‘Finish Line Grants Program’ in his proposed state budget to help students complete their degrees when facing unforeseen financial challenges,” Railsback said.

WRAL-TV in Raleigh addressed the governor’s proposal in this report.

Two other Faculty Senate initiatives aimed at helping students with the cost of their educations include WCU’s first Graduate Tuition Scholarship Program, which is funded with $100,000 from university administration, and WCU’s first Needs-Based Undergraduate Student Fund, which the Office of Financial Aid will use to cover aid gaps to help recruit and retain students. Administration has agreed to provide $100,000 for that effort for 2018-19, Railsback said.

On the Staff Senate side of the coin, fundraising has continued to boost the Staff Senate Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to children of WCU staff members, with a goal of the fund becoming self-sustaining to provide four student scholarships annually, said Mandy Dockendorf, chair of that group.

“Through numerous fundraising efforts, including holiday ornament sales, percentage nights at Zaxby’s and Frosty Bites, the ‘I Love WCU’ campaign and regular contributions from payroll deduction, the Staff Senate Scholarship Endowment will reach nearly $90,000 at the end of this fiscal year, with a goal of reaching $100,000 by 2019,” Dockendorf said.

As the scholarship fund heads toward being self-sustaining, the Staff Senate is continuing its efforts to provide assistance to current WCU students. Scholarships of $1,100 each currently are being awarded to three children of WCU staff members for the upcoming academic year, and those recipients will be announced soon, she said.

Other action by the Faculty Senate was aimed at joining students in their efforts to improve the climate for diversity and inclusion on campus, with several members of Faculty Senate taking lead roles in organizing a “March for Equity” during the spring semester to show support for students of color and other underrepresented campus communities. The Faculty Senate also supported a unity event last fall.

Also related to diversity and inclusion, Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling on the Liberal Studies Committee to create inclusive excellence classes with relevant learning outcomes for WCU’s Liberal Studies Program, and Railsback worked with several colleagues on the new “Inclusive Excellence” directive in the revised “2020 Vision” strategic plan, elevating diversity to the highest level of strategic planning priorities. The group also passed a strong resolution condemning racism at the university, Railsback said.

Other resolutions passed by the Faculty Senate were targeted at creating a new promotional pathway and providing more consistent salaries for nontenure track faculty, and creating a new professional development fund for those faculty members, Railsback said.

Through another resolution, the Faculty Senate has asked WCU’s administration to study and implement a plan to retroactively grant tenure-track faculty promotion increases at the 2018 level to systematically ease salary compression and inversion among tenure-track faculty, he said.

For the Staff Senate, other action included the completion of the Staff Senate survey last fall, with an excellent staff participation of 43 percent, Dockendorf said. Related to the survey results, Staff Senate is working with the Office of Human Resources and Payroll to identify staff members affected by salary compression and inversion, and to develop a plan to eliminate that compression or inversion as financial resources are identified; to encourage the creation of career progression plans; and to create an inclusive flex scheduling policy and identify barriers to staff in accessing flex schedules, she said.

Nineteen members of Staff Senate also participated in a variety of community service events totaling 83.5 hours, Dockendorf said.

A retreat is being planned for members of the group to develop new initiatives for the upcoming year. Dockendorf will be stepping down as Staff Senate chair and that position will be filled starting in July by Natalie Broom, executive assistant in the office of the chief information officer.