The Senate Executive Committee is forming a subcommittee to consider a new online communications system designed to allow senators to voice their opinions virtually while maintaining compliance with the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
Joseph Yun, the manager of campus information technology relations, gave a presentation at the April 8 SEC meeting on a pilot system being used by Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services.
The system, called Ideascale, is commercially available and gives people in large organizations a way to comment and communicate on specific issues or proposals. The system has the capability to rank popular or "liked" postings.
"This is quite popular across organizations," Yun said, noting that CITES has yet to make the service available to the campus. "The first group we wanted to approach was the Academic Senate."
Senate leaders have investigated ways for senators to discuss important topics freely without holding a meeting subject to the IOMA.
The current communications system, the seldom-used senate listserv, is designed to send out announcements, not function as an internal forum, said SEC Chair Matthew Wheeler, a professor of animal sciences.
Sen. Nicholas Burbules, a professor of education policy, organization and leadership, said that problem was most recently evidenced through a long string of back-and-forth conversations among senators concerning campus unionization efforts.
"I think we need to find another solution outside of the listserv," he said.
The committee will further study the system, determine its usefulness and make recommendations on what available features might best serve senators. Features discussed at the SEC meeting included the ability to rank comments and to moderate discussions.
The committee, to be appointed by Wheeler, also will determine how the use of the system may be affected by IOMA guidelines.
Sen. William Maher, a professor of library administration and university archivist, expressed concerns over the moderator feature and whether it could be developed without limiting speech.
Yun said the cost for licensing the service to the entire campus would be under $20,000 - and much less to serve only the senate's needs.
- Burbules shared a draft set of rules being proposed by the General University Policy committee, which he chairs, governing the process of submitting agenda items to the Senate Executive Committee, which prepares the senate meeting agenda.
The current practice is to submit agenda items at 5 p.m. on the business day prior to the regular SEC meeting, generally the Friday before a regularly scheduled Monday meeting.
While that practice will continue if the rules are adopted, a new rule will prevent senators to use an agenda "placeholder" if the text of the proposal or related documents under consideration isn't finalized by the deadline. In the past, the placeholders were offered to senators who sought a place on the agenda but had not finalized a proposal.
Burbules said the change is to discourage "last-minute" resolutions that leave SEC members unprepared when the matter does come before them.
Wheeler recommended the draft rules be referred to the University Statutes and Senate Procedures committee prior to senate consideration.
Additional rule changes include giving the SEC the authority to recommend revisions, to send a proposal to the appropriate senate committee for further consideration, to delay a decision for a month in order to allow time for revisions and to add the SEC's nonbinding recommendation onto any proposal that goes forward for consideration of the full senate.
Sen. Gay Miller, a professor of pathobiology, said she thinks the rules will be effective in preventing last-minute proposals.
"This has been an issue frequently over the years," she said. "I think it's bad for the senate and it wastes our time."
Maher said the rule changes also may require changes to senate bylaws.
- It was announced that senate meetings next year would be held at locations other than the Levis Center, where the meetings are now held, and would include the Illini Union. The change was prompted by a fee-based structure adopted by the managers of Levis.
- It was announced that the new online voting system for senator elections is now being tested and will be administered this semester. The election and organizational meeting will be April 22.
- Barbara Wilson, the executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, reported on behalf of Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise, who was traveling, that administrators are working on a new campus strategic plan in time to meet the June deadline set by President Bob Easter.
While that deadline may be pushed back, Wilson said the update is overdue.
"We needed to do this anyway," she told senators, adding the old plan had expired.
She said information gathered from the chancellor's Visioning Future Excellence initiative and the Listening and Learning Tour will be a foundation for the plan, which will be reviewed by a faculty advisory group and by deans and other campus leaders.
Results from Visioning Future Excellence and directions for the future will be shared by Wise and Ilesanmi Adesida, the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, at the April 22 town hall meeting.
"Their goal is to provide a brief overview of what they've learned and announce a strategic set of actions going forward," Wilson said.
She said the Provost's office seeks feedback for ways to streamline internal campus procedures, much like the process that led to revisions last year in the campus hiring process. She is being assisted by Stig Lanesskog, the associate dean of the MBA program and the associate provost for strategic planning and assessment.