Serving as President of the Faculty and Staff Senate is a significant leadership role above the daily responsibilities of University roles, but Kristine Vernon and Melinda Fischer truly wanted to positively impact their respective communities.
A professor in the Animal and Veterinary Sciences Department, Vernon served on various committees at Clemson before being drawn to the Faculty Senate. Fischer, a Grants Administrator in the College of Education, decided to take the opportunity to join the Staff Senate after seeing senators in action as a member of the Staff Development Program (now CU Grow).
“Seeing representatives from all aspects of Clemson’s staff population come together and discuss concerns impacting their constituents all over the state was all it took for me to decide I needed to be part of this change-making organization,” Fischer said.
Having started their terms following former presidents who faced the challenge of governing during the COVID-19 pandemic, both embraced the challenges of guiding their representatives into the “next normal.” For Vernon, it presented an excellent opportunity to align the goals of the Faculty Senate with the University’s new strategic plan.
“Within the Senate, we’ve been able to direct our agenda items to help improve processes, Inclusive Excellence and ensure that faculty feel heard and represented,” Vernon said.
“As a University, we have been able to focus more on the new strategic plan and make more proactive changes to improve the institution. I am excited to see the outcomes of reports and resolutions that will move us forward in the future.”
The pandemic heightened many challenges within Staff Senate, but Fischer credits its representatives for pushing for positive change despite the obstacles presented.
“Each of our outstanding committee members rallied together to ensure staff at Clemson have as many of their needs met and issues addressed as possible,” Fischer said.
“During our term, we highlighted inequities in compensation and compression of salaries, advocated for social justice policies to be enacted, and continuously sought out speakers from our Executive Leadership team to present at each Senate meeting to promote transparency and understanding of major initiatives and policies amongst the broader staff audience.”
Fischer also credits program coordinator Erin Fall, who joined in September 2021, for keeping Staff Senate running smoothly during all the changes at Clemson.
“Erin (Fall) has been instrumental in keeping our committees aligned and informed of actions and initiatives happening across all committees. This ensures issues are placed with the appropriate committee and acted upon effectively and efficiently,” Fischer said.
During Fischer’s term, Staff Senate awarded 15 $2,500 scholarships to eligible staff members’ children attending Clemson as part of their Endowed Scholarship, hosted four blood drives and progressed on their Strategic Plan initiative.
Faculty Senate also progressed in adopting resolutions for the faculty manual, which Vernon thinks will be vital in improving the University.
With guidance and assistance from William Everroad, Director of University Faculty Governance, and Kelsey Wylie, Program Coordinator for the Faculty Senate, the Senate increased its social media presence, university engagement and overall effectiveness. Faculty welfare was among several key University initiatives advanced this year.
“We want to continue clarifying the language in the Faculty Manual, promoting best practices, and helping move our Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence forward. One thing is for sure, Faculty Senate is a very dedicated group of faculty who truly want to make a difference,” said Vernon.
“Committee work is the heart of the Faculty Senate, and each committee has made huge strides in addressing issues that faculty face when meeting our teaching, research and outreach missions. Without the hard work of these committee members, we would not have accomplished the proposed Faculty Manual and Constitutional changes.”
Moving forward, Fischer wants to continue strengthening collaboration between both senate chambers. She also would like the Staff Senate to tackle the community’s food insecurity after having the Staff Senate partner with Clemson Community care this past semester. For the Faculty Senate, Vernon wants to continue addressing faculty welfare and other initiatives like the Faculty Manual.
As both Senates move forward with their respective partnerships and initiatives, Vernon and Fischer have established a strong succession plan and know their work and progress as senate presidents will be in capable hands when their term ends.