This spring, for the second time since the start of the pandemic, the University faculty will hold its regular elections, marking the end of five years as Dean of Faculty for Prof. Charles Van Loan, computer science.
Originally elected to a three-year term in 2016, Van Loan opted to stay an extra fourth year because of unfinished projects — the dean is allowed a maximum of two years beyond their original term, provided the Faculty Senate and Faculty trustees approve. Van Loan delayed his resignation again in 2020 due to the chaos of COVID-19.
“I just felt it was wrong to abandon the position when so many of my colleagues were making sacrifices… [and] there was so much to do,” Van Loan said.
Inside the Faculty Senate, the committees will be shifting too, as it has 35 openings for new appointments this year. Associate Dean of Faculty Neema Kudva said the committees oversee “every single part of a faculty member’s life at Cornell.” They also advise the University on policies that affect finances, academic programs, tenure, online learning, athletics and even musical programs.
While the University’s departments will each vote internally to fill their 35 openings, the University Faculty Committee and Nominations and Elections Committee will also get two and four new members, respectively, who will be elected by all academic employees.
Kudva said the elections currently do not have a scheduled date. When they occur, it will be by ranked-choice voting, and after a forum with the Faculty Dean candidates, the newly elected members will assume their posts on July 1 for three-year terms.
Slates of candidates are currently being assembled, but conflicting priorities of faculty and other logistics complicate the process, Kudva said. As associate dean, she and her team take a prominent role in candidate outreach, “coming up with names” and “reaching out to people who’ve been nominated, asking them to stand.”
Although the dean’s job is part-time, Van Loan said the workload makes it hard to attract candidates. This led Van Loan to dedicate a large amount of time in 2020 to developing a website and documenting office processes to make holding the position as an active researcher and professor easier.
Kudva said campaigns among the faculty tend to be uncontentious, due in part to a broader lack of faculty interest in shared governance, expressed in the elections’ low voter turnout.
“A lot of faculty feel like it doesn’t represent them, and they don’t want to be part of it,” Kudva said. “It feels like a pain.”
Twenty-five individuals have served as Dean of Faculty since 1872, but only eight have been from the humanities or social sciences, and none have been women or people of color. As the Faculty Senate grows more diverse, Van Loan said he hopes the candidates will reflect the increased diversity of the faculty.
With the transition to online meetings, attendance has increased to roughly 130 to 140 people per meeting, prompting the senate to consider keeping some meetings online permanently. Meetings have also increased their frequency, changing from a monthly to biweekly schedule during the pandemic, often with full agendas.
While the work has been intense, Kudva sees a silver lining as the senate has provided a venue to lift up and support her fellow Cornellians during the pandemic.