Faculty senate reveals agenda for upcoming semester

Sam Houston State University’s Faculty Senate is focusing on certain issues in the New Year such as the family and medical leave policy, same-sex spousal benefits and the non-smoking policy, according to Senate Chair Nancy Baker.
Baker, the original voice behind the proposed changes to the family and medical leave policy, explains why she thinks this issue is vital for faculty.
“Currently, the university only offers the federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid leave to all new moms,” Baker said. “That’s problematic in a number of ways.”
According to Baker, it’s not only financially burdening for faculty members, but it can take a toll on students, too.
“It can be really tough for families to do without an income of one of the earners for 12 weeks,” Baker said. “It’s also a case where, if someone has a baby… the students in a class that she’s teaching… [are] suddenly going to have a different person in front of the room, so that can cause a lot of chaos in people’s classes. There’s no reason the students should pay the price when someone has this happening in their personal life. We don’t want the student experience to be made less consistent because of somebody’s private life.”
In addition, according to Chair-Elect Lisa Shen, the lack of personalized policy could cause SHSU to lose potential faculty members to other universities that offer stronger benefits.
Baker proposes adding four weeks of leave to the state mandated 12, thus giving new mothers a whole semester of paid leave. Both Baker and Shen predict multiple road blocks in their path, the biggest of which would be funding.
“It’s going to cost money,” Baker said. “It’s new, it’s different, it’s a change. That always means trying to persuade people that it’s not going to cost them something. We’re hopeful, we’re [staying] cautiously optimistic.”
The second item on their agenda: full same-sex spousal benefits for SHSU faculty members. This issue is going to be more challenging, according to Baker and Shen.
“It’s been made abundantly clear to us that this Texas State Legislator is going to be one of the most fiscally conservative we’ve ever seen,” Baker said. “To add benefits to a whole category of people, particularly a category of people whose marriages aren’t recognized by Texas state law, let’s just say the Vice Chancellor [of the Texas State Legislator] said it’s not going to happen.”
Despite the state’s response, SHSU Faculty Senate is planning to propose any benefits they can.
“Smaller possible benefits could be added, such as allowing someone’s same sex spouse to use the gym or attend sporting events in the same way that a heterosexual’s spouse would be able to do,” Baker said. “Those are smaller benefits, but it’s something.”
A third item on the senate’s agenda is to make adjustments to SHSU’s smoking policy. The university must declare itself as a tobacco free campus under the Texas State University System, but that doesn’t enforce much, according to Baker.
“It doesn’t seem to be working in that some people are smoking in locations that are causing health problems for faculty in certain lab spaces,” Baker said. “We’re going to be looking into this and find out what we can do to help the faculty who are being impacted and how can we better manage this policy as a university.”
Both Baker and Shen agree these policies will be time extensive but remain hopeful that legislation can be drafted by the end of the semester. Faculty Senate meets every other Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in Austin Hall.

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