McSweeney eyes efficiency, simplification, faculty issues

In its ongoing efforts to improve efficiency, the provost’s office is also taking advantage of world-class talent to better handle faculty issues. Frances K. McSweeney, a professor of psychology at Washington State University, was named vice provost for faculty affairs, effective Jan. 1.

McSweeney will lead the evaluation of current faculty policies and practices to include reviewing such areas as faculty development, salaries, hiring, mentoring, performance reviews, sabbaticals, and tenure and promotion procedures. She believes she was chosen because with 29 years at WSU, she has broad “university” experience.

“Fran McSweeney will bring to this position a strong tenure of work in faculty leadership positions. I look forward to her counsel in efforts to support faculty needs,” said Robert Bates, academic vice president and provost, who made the appointment.

“Where appropriate, I expect that her efforts will result in the updating of our administrative procedures, development of new or revised programs and benchmarking with faculty affairs of other similar universities,” Bates said. “In addition Fran will be a member of the Council of Deans and serve as a liaison to the Faculty Senate.”

She will continue her research and work with graduate students while assuming the half-time position. She expects to hold the position for at least a year and half.

Processes in review

She has no “package” plan in mind, one where she can declare “it’s done” after a certain length of time. Instead, she sees the job as an ongoing review and then suggesting revisions or perhaps new procedures. She would also like to see cross-university communication improve, which is an activity that always needs attention.

How she will accomplish all of this remains to be worked out. “I plan to do a great deal of listening,” she said.

In her goal to simplify policies and procedures, she intends to monitor what other universities are doing in faculty affairs and develop a system of “best practices.” However, she does not believe that a fundamental revision of core university rules and policies is needed at this time.

“I want the procedures to be fair, simple and easy to understand,” she commented. “Revising the forms would be an easy, initial step. “But I also hope to be able to make some procedures ‘seamless,’ such as the annual review leading logically to the promotion or tenure procedure, when the review warrants it.

“Advising the provost on guiding the college deans could be another step. One day the faculty manual will have to be revised, with approval of the senate, and informing the deans about new or revised standards will be a regular duty.”

McSweeney says she is ready to take suggestions from anyone with an idea on how faculty policies can be improved. It’s a small, easy step that sets an example. She feels better professional communication is needed across the board, especially these days when research-grant agencies are calling for greater cross-discipline collaboration.

Salaries and sabbaticals

She won’t be deciding individual tenure or promotion. But she does want to knock down the internal barriers to promoting excellent faculty.

“I want to investigate how we might handle faculty promotion and tenure differently, even if there is no money at the moment for promotions.”

Concerning state budget problems, McSweeney says, “people outside the university don’t understand how serious the crisis is. We are losing top faculty, and once lost, that is something hard to rebuild. People want to stay at WSU, but for the sake of their families, they have to follow the best salaries.

“Existing faculty are struggling as it is,” she adds. “The resources available to them have been slashed, so much so that the cuts are interfering with their ability to do their jobs.”

She admits her efforts as a vice provost will be hindered if the state financial situation doesn’t improve, but she also declares her faith in President V. Lane Rawlins to have a positive impact on the situation.

“We have a president and provost who believe we need to have a world-class faculty to have a world-class university,” McSweeney said.

She also believes firmly in the practice of sabbaticals — paid time off to upgrade skills or performance and write papers — and intends to defend and maintain the existing system. Budget cuts could affect sabbaticals so she is serious about simplifying the procedure.

A veteran of excellence

McSweeney, a faculty member at WSU since 1974, is known for her fundamental work on behavior and reinforcement, which helps with the understanding of learning and other human behaviors. One of her discoveries is said to have broad implications for the study of learning, motivation and animal behavior that may cause theories of complex human behavior to be modified.

She is a former WSU Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Psychology and recipient of the 2002 Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Research, Scholarship and Arts. A past chair of the Faculty Senate, McSweeney also received the Samuel H. Smith Leadership Award for 2001. She is a Smith College graduate and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.

How busy can one person get? When asked if her new assignment could cut into her tennis time, she laughingly admitted that it would.

“But I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t feel good about it” she asserted. “It’s another opportunity to learn new things, something I love to do. I’ll be working with really great people and I’ll get a chance to make some new acquaintances. And I hope to be able to make a real difference in the lives of WSU faculty.”