Barry Balof, Associate Professor of Mathematics, will take over as Faculty Chair starting July 1 replacing current chair Professor Melissa Clearfield.
The term lasts for three years and allows the tenured professor holding the position to take course reliefs for most of the classes they normally teach. The decision to elect Professor Balof was made at a faculty meeting on October 25 of this year. No vote took place as Balof ran unopposed for the position. Prior to getting the nomination for Faculty Chair, Balof has served on the Strategic Planning Committee as well as leading the Tenure Track program which pairs new professors on campus with a tenured professor to act as a mentor. These experiences, specifically participating in the strategic planning initiative, are what motivated Professor Balof to accept the position.
“The biggest challenge [of being faculty chair] is also the biggest source of excitement for me, which is to continue work laid out in the Strategic Plan to reexamine and potentially re-envision our General Studies program, to include distribution requirements and the first-year experience,” Balof said. “Important work has already begun this year, and I am looking forward to furthering that work over the next three years.”
The position of Faculty Chair is a challenging one, as it involves balancing communication between the administration, faculty and trustees. The faculty chair is also responsible for advocating for the interests of the Faculty, often operating with more information than the general faculty have on any given topic.
Pat Spencer, Geology professor and faculty chair from 2005 to 2008, spoke about these competing interests on the time of the person acting as faculty chair.
“The faculty elect people for a reason, it’s because they have faith in them and trust their judgement,” Spencer said. “The reality is, in that position, you have one foot in the administrative world and one foot in the world of the faculty. You have to be able to bridge that effectively.”
Being able to bridge the gap between the faculty, trustees and administration can be difficult when the issues at hand will have a large and possibly controversial impact on the faculty and curriculum. Melissa Clearfield, currently Faculty chair and Professor of Psychology, spoke about how she navigates advocating for the faculty while attempting to meet the needs of the administration and trustees as well.
“We are dealing with some changes in staffing. You all have heard about the administration and trustees’ desire to reduce the number of faculty, and increase the student to faculty ratio,” Clearfield said. “I am trying to help them do it in a way that preserves as much as possible of our educational experience. That, I think, will be an ongoing discussion that Professor Balof will have to take over.”
A recent addition to the responsibilities of the faculty chair is a non-voting seat on the Board of Trustees, due to to the recent restructuring of the board. Professor Balof hopes that this will allow for more effective communication of the faculty’s needs, “It is my hope that this new structure gives a better defined faculty voice in the actions and decisions of the Trustees, and I am excited to be part of that voice.”
Spencer addressed these added responsibilities as faculty chair, and credits part of this change to the differences in leadership and pressing issues on campus over time.
“Nowadays, [the faculty chair] has a lot more responsibility, and I think a lot more involvement in the trustee and administrative structures as part of shared governance,” Spencer said. “If we’re all going to participate in the governance of these issues, then it’s not just the administration or the trustees that has a role in that, the faculty also has a role. The faculty chair is the mouthpiece. That’s not new, but I think the issues are making it much more of a challenge.”