The UA Faculty Senate met for the first time this semester, kicking off the new year with an update on sexual assault resources and diversity initiatives, as well as changes to general education, senate structure and employee health care.
Public efforts to bring a nonprofit Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Center to Tuscaloosa first began through a GoFundMe page after the death of Megan Rondini in February 2016, a former student at the University who died by suicide after she was allegedly raped by T.J. Bunn Jr., the son of a local construction mogul.
Since its official opening in 2018, a SAFE Center representative said the center has continued to build collaborative relationships in the community, such as Turning Point, law enforcement, DCH Regional Medical Center and the Women and Gender Resource Center. Currently, the center has 12 SAFE-trained on-call nurses and has received accreditation from the Alabama Coalition Against Rape.
“We are proud of our relationships,” Brenda Maddox, SAFE Center program director, said. “We work with fantastic people here in Tuscaloosa. The University of Alabama is a wonderful partner monetarily and in so many other ways.”
The center serves anyone in Alabama who is 14 years old or older. Maddox noted that this year, the center wants to focus on placing awareness initiatives in Bibb, Fayette, Hale, Greene, Lamar, and Pickens counties, as well as other places outside the West Alabama region.
After receiving medical care, patients are given the option to report sexual crimes to the police department. For Maddox, full disclosures are important, as they help prevent rape from happening again. This year the majority of patients opted to fully disclose reports, while only 18% sought out anonymous disclosure and as few as 13 patients opted against filing a report at all.
“We think that number is good because the only way to stop rape is to identify and incarcerate the rapist,” Maddox said, noting that 74% of patients opted to fully disclose reports.
The SAFE Center also received a $245,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Victims of Crime Act Program, a dedicated source of funding for crime victims programs, which will help fund two mission services staff members and an increase in services to patients.
To increase funding and campus outreach, the Faculty Senate announced the launch of a student government-sponsored SAFE Center Committee, which was spearheaded by Brooks Payne, the SGA Vice President for External Affairs, in November.
Payne said the 10-student committee will go through “know the signs” bystander training and will be conducting bystander accreditation to all SOURCE organizations, fraternities and sororities. They will also work closely with director Pam Jones on projects and initiatives.
“This committee is one that I am excited to have created, and I cannot wait to see what all they do to help educate and inform the campus,” Payne said.
Moving forward, the center’s main goal is to expand services, starting with a full-time development staff person and a full-time medical and court advocate, as well as an increased focus on pediatrics. The SAFE Center also offers volunteer opportunities such as medical advocacy, office help and special events.
Find out more about the SAFE Center’s services and volunteer opportunities at tuscaloosasafecenter.com.
The general education committee is currently creating models for a general education overhaul next year.
The committee has received feedback from student focus groups to assess classroom environments. Particular attention will be paid to how many students are actually showing up to class, as well as high-impact practices, such as living-learning communities, study abroad, First Year Experience, internships and co-ops.
According to November meeting minutes, Secretary Barb Dahlbach requested faculty headcount data, noting that elections were impeding in committee assignments. That’s because up until recently, Senate elections were held in late March after these assignments had taken place.
“That nomination process and election together in four weeks was very problematic, and some of the colleges did not even hold elections until after the survey committee had been sent out,” Dahlbach said.
To help solve this issue, the nomination process will go out to the respective faculty after data is gathered for a faculty census. Senators and alternates will place their ballots within those two weeks so that when all the results come back, the general census will elect the senators.
Furthermore, the senators would elect their committees instead of being placed in one. As the nomination process is not addressed in the constitution, the Senate would be allowed to change the process to allow more choices for senators and alternates.
Rainer Schad of financial affairs announced that the University is changing health insurance options: Faculty and staff can choose between the traditional, flexible spending account or a new, high-deductible plan. One faculty member took issue with the entire benefits process, remarking that the University was a self-insured institution and should take responsibility for providing benefits to its employees.
Rona Donahoe, the president of the Faculty Senate, responded that the University doesn’t have the staff or resources to manage health benefits for its employees.
“It sounds to me like you answered my question, by saying that they don’t want to spend the money that it will take to provide benefits and manage those benefits, processes,” the faculty member said. “They are self-insured. They are doing this to save money. The fact is, I’ve been at four different universities in my career and I’ve never had as much trouble then as I’ve had at this institution.”
Donahoe, a member of the HR Transformation team, encouraged him and other faculty members to send feedback to the new taskforce.
Following the resignation of the former dean of students, the Faculty Senate met in October to form a Taskforce to Transform Campus Culture and has since formed several affinity groups for diverse faculty and staff.
According to November meeting minutes, the task force has been focusing on conducting town hall meetings for the spring semester, along with setting up a reporting station, facilitating drop-in meetings, conducting surveys and creating a web page linked on the Faculty Senate’s site. Invitations will be issued to stakeholders to attend meetings and review other strategies.
Over the past semester, affinity groups have been formed for the Jewish and Latino faculty and staff groups, which have met and elected officers. The committee is now working on the formation of four other affinity groups for Asian, Middle-Eastern, veteran and disabled faculty/staff groups.
To learn more about these associations and their goals, students can meet at the CrossRoads Center at the Ferguson Student Center on Feb. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
The next Faculty Senate meeting is on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 3:30 p.m. in 1018 North Lawn Hall. For meeting minutes, bylaws and other resources, visit facultysenate.ua.edu.