Syracuse University Magazine

A Faculty Perspective for the Board of Trustees

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As chair of the SU Board of Trustees, John H. Chapple '75 pledged to make the board more accessible to campus constituencies. He proposed faculty representation at board meetings as a first step in that direction and, with support from Chancellor Nancy Cantor, the board voted unanimous approval. The University Senate responded by designating English professor Harvey Teres, director of the Judaic Studies Program, as its representative. "When I was approached about it, I was astonished to learn there had never been a representative of the faculty on the board," says Teres, whose new book, The Word on the Street: Linking the Academy and the Common Reader, will be published later this year by the University of Michigan Press. "I was even more surprised to learn that most university boards around the country still meet with no faculty member present."  

Syracuse University Magazine associate editor David Marc asked Teres a few questions about his new role:



How did the University Senate choose you for the job? 

Eric Spina, the provost, asked the Senate Agenda Committee to make a selection. The committee, which is chaired by Eileen Schell of the Writing Program, decided it would be appropriate to look for someone with knowledge and involvement in a wide range of academic affairs.  I think they considered several members of the Senate Academic Affairs Committee in consultation with the committee chair, Larry Elin [’73].

How were you received by the board?

I was heartily welcomed. Most, if not all, of the trustees thought it was a long time coming. It’s very consistent with what the board members want: more involvement, more inclusion, and more accessibility. They want to get closer to students, faculty, deans, and the University community in general, and this is a sort of natural and normal way to start cementing some of those ties and connections.

How would you define your responsibilities?

I’m there to represent the interests of the faculty, that’s one side of it. At board meetings, I focus on academic issues and supply information and perspectives as needed. For example, I’ve raised concerns about classroom space, faculty salaries, corporate initiatives and social justice, and the needs of the library. I’ve also discussed publicly engaged scholarship under the broader rubric of Scholarship in Action. My other major responsibility is to help the board communicate to the faculty and the wider University community. Here I hope to work on initiatives to give the board a more open, public face at SU—panel discussions, open sessions, etc.  

What is your impression of the board at work?

A lot of the discussion has to do with fiduciary responsibility. The trustees look very closely at budgetary concerns and at future projections; they’re very concerned with the economic health of the institution. This is a pretty steep learning curve for me because I have no experience in the business world, or in economics or finance. I’ve really admired the extent to which the board members “bleed Orange”—they really take the best interests of the University to heart. They discuss how the board can become more visible and communicative with the wider community.

How would you like to make the board more a part of campus life?

In a brainstorming session at a retreat, board members expressed their ideas about creating more interaction and more visibility. As I mentioned, I suggested a series of open meetings or panel discussions on campus, at which several trustees could talk about themselves and their lives, what they do as board members, and what the board itself does—just to get some conversation going. There’s a long tradition of inaccessibility and elitism in American higher education. It has been typical for boards to keep themselves separate and not seek interaction. One of the extraordinary things about Chancellor Cantor and [board chair] John Chapple is that they are trying to diversify the board and make it more open and visible to the community. I strongly endorse that.