Written by Ann Zaniewski for The University Record – August 30, 2021
Allen Liu, associate professor of mechanical engineering, recently began his term as the 2021-22 chair of U-M’s central faculty governance system, which includes the nine-member Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, 74-member Senate Assembly and the Faculty Senate. The Faculty Senate has about 4,300 members and includes all professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans.
Liu has been a university faculty member since January 2012. He runs an active research lab and teaches both undergraduate and graduate students.
Looking forward to the coming academic year, Liu provided the following answers to questions about topics ranging from his top priorities to what he sees as SACUA’s role in the university’s decision-making processes.
What are your priorities for SACUA in the coming year?
I would like to improve communication between SACUA and Senate Assembly, and between SA and the units they represent. I think this will make our faculty governance structure more effective. Given the participation of last fall’s Faculty Senate meeting, we are seeing increased interest in faculty governance. As a result, SACUA will be looking at the issues related to representation of non-tenure track faculty in the Faculty Senate. This will likely be an issue that will involve a lot of discussion and input from various stakeholders. SACUA will also continue to pay close attention to the implementation of policies and the development of a university-wide statement of shared values and desired behaviors in how we deal with sexual misconduct on our campuses.
Describe your leadership style.
I consider myself a democratic and strategic leader. Whenever possible, I collect as much input as possible from each team member and analyze the problem and potential solutions strategically. I always try to make sure we aim for win-win situations. As I have been running a decent size research lab, I see my role in the lab as a coach that I try to nurture the strength of each individual to enable the team to work better together. I take the same approaches to my work in SACUA.
What should SACUA’s role be in developing and guiding university policy?
My philosophy of faculty governance has always been to build shared vision, shared engagement, shared mutual respect, shared information, and shared risk, which to me is the foundation for creating better university policies. As many of the policies have direct impact to faculty, SACUA’s role is to bring the voice of faculty in guiding university policies.
What are the primary issues for faculty in dealing with U-M’s continued pandemic-related challenges?
I want to acknowledge the pandemic has been really challenging for many people, regardless of whether you are a student, faculty or staff. I recognize the challenges of making pandemic-related decisions as there are many factors to consider and no decisions will please everybody. As this is the worst public health crisis we have faced in recent history, we should do everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our instructional faculty and our campus community. I am hopeful with the right measures in place, and vaccination and indoor masking requirements that we will have a much better fall semester than a year ago.
How do you view SACUA’s relationship with the administration?
There has been increased frequency of communication between SACUA and the administration. Both the president and the provost have been responsive to SACUA’s input. In my opinion, whether SACUA and the administration agree or disagree on a particular topic is less important than having a robust discussion so that we understand each of our concerns and are able to communicate our commonalities and differences. I do look forward to SACUA’s continued engagement with the administration on important issues.
How do you plan to engage more people in faculty governance?
I believe if our faculty governance has meaningful contributions to university policies, this will serve as a great motivation to faculty. I know faculty are busy and it’s important that our time is well spent. We have many dedicated and excellent faculty at our university who want to contribute. Having more collaborations between the administration and the faculty will also help faculty become more engaged as well. We all share a common goal of wanting U-M to be a better place for all. The more faculty get engaged, the better we will move toward this common goal.
What does SACUA do well, and what are some areas that need improvement?
The strength of SACUA is people. Everybody on SACUA is dedicated to faculty governance and committed to serving our faculty. I have always been impressed by our discussions, as they have been insightful and people bring different ideas to the table, whether we are in agreement or not. The nature of the work in SACUA forces us to be more reactive as we tend to deal with matters that arise more than having the time to focus on larger issues that are of faculty’s interests and seeing into the future. Another area that we could improve on is to figure out how to converge on an optimal approach to a problem. As individuals, we all approach problems differently even if we desire a common outcome.