Serving as president of Clemson University’s Faculty Senate is a significant responsibility in normal times but being tasked with the role during the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges no Faculty Senate president has faced before.
John Whitcomb, professor in the School of Nursing, learned many lessons during his term as president during the past year, but he said the critical importance of effective communication is at the top of the list.
“Accurate and timely communication is key. Whether it was preparations for classes, support of colleagues or individuals reaching across colleges for help and advice, I have seen tremendous leadership at all levels,” Whitcomb said.
“Faculty Senate president is a unique role that provides many opportunities for growth, both personally and professionally,” he said.
Replacing Whitcomb as Faculty Senate president is Thompson Mefford, associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Mefford has served in the Senate for two years and also served as the faculty representative to the Board of Trustees and other representative committees across campus.
“The faculty representative role gave me the opportunity to work across campus to better relay the faculty experience to the board, explore the inner workings of the University and gain an appreciation for what it takes to make important changes,” Mefford said.
“I was also fortunate to serve on ad hoc committees for lecturers and senior lecturers, diversity and inclusion, and on the finance and facilities committee, where I gained a great appreciation for the potential of the Senate.”
During Whitcomb’s term, the faculty saw progress on many fronts, including the confirmation that online course materials are intellectual property and the formation of a pandemic planning committee to discuss topics regarding teaching, faculty welfare and accommodations. The pandemic planning committee was instrumental in disseminating accurate, real-time information during the quickly evolving pandemic.
Also last year, the Caregivers Task Force was created to focus on the well-being faculty and staff who were caring for others during the pandemic. A virtual Women’s Resource Center was also launched with assistance from the Women’s Commission.
“The key for us in the Faculty Senate will be to apply the lessons learned over the past year to make us more resilient and focused on our central goals as an institution of higher learning,” Mefford said.
Goals for Mefford’s term include a continued focus on inclusion and equity and faculty welfare. He credits the faculty and staff for their hard work through difficult times, but knows preparations are key as Clemson continues moving toward a return to normalcy in the Fall semester.
“While I cannot foresee the future, I do know that we need to keep striving toward creating an enticing community to both work and live, addressing issues of inequity amongst the faculty, and foster an environment where the best ideas rise to the top.”