Equitably Advancing Faculty Voice: GSSW’s Faculty Co-Chairs Model

May 2, 2021

Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

By Shannon Sliva, Ph.D., MSW, Assistant Professor | Faculty Co-Chair and Stephen T. von Merz, MSW, LCSW, Clinical Associate Professor | GSSW Faculty Co-Chair, Family Systems Practice Concentration (Coordinator)

In the Graduate School of Social Work, we use a collaborative structure to support faculty governance and representation. Administrative responsibilities are held by Assistant and Associate Deans, along with Program Directors who manage the day-to-day operations of four MSW programs. Historically, the GSSW Faculty Chair has been elected by the faculty to set the agenda and lead “Faculty of the Whole” meetings, manage voting on governance and curricula, and initiate the nomination process for elected committees. In 2019, our faculty appointed – for the first time – two faculty co-chairs as designated spokespersons and representatives of the Faculty of the Whole. The Faculty Co-Chairs organize and facilitate faculty meetings in consultation with the Dean and Directors of the School, oversee the maintenance and amendment of the faculty governance document, and engage in mediation and troubleshooting related to faculty concerns. Perhaps most important, the Faculty Co-Chairs consult regularly with the faculty to elicit their views and recommendations regarding the School’s operations and bring these issues forward to the Dean and the School’s Executive Advisory Committee, the Faculty of the Whole, and the whole school community.

The Faculty Co-Chairs are elected by the Faculty of the Whole, via majority vote, and serve two-year staggered terms. One Co-Chair is always a tenure-line faculty member, while the other is always a clinical professor of the practice, or research-line faculty member. This model supports equitable representation of the interests of both tenure-line and professional series faculty in the operations of the school and in faculty governance. In addition, it allows the co-chairs to share the workload, consult together on confidential needs and concerns of the faculty, and collaborate on how to equitably represent the faculty’s interests. The Co-Chairs serve staggered terms in order to support the development of the incoming Co-Chair and the continuity of leadership responsibilities. Collaboration always introduces some coordination costs: the Co-Chairs connect weekly via email or Zoom to discuss needs, organize, and strategize about upcoming meetings and policy changes. However, for GSSW, the Co-Chairs model has been a net positive, allowing the faculty to live into our values of participation, inclusivity, and equity.