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An Homage

One interesting property of the academic life is that, in addition to a faculty member being an “employee” of a work organization, they are asked to contribute to the management of the organization. The word “management” is foreign to the academy; we prefer the word “governance” most commonly. So, universities are proud to note that they support “shared governance.” The sharing exists between those who have administrators’ titles (e.g., deans, provosts, vice presidents) and those who have principally research and teaching duties as faculty.

Universities activities seem to work better when the sharing of governance exists widely. That is, when many faculty perform some governance or administrative duties at some point in their life and likewise, when administrators are drawn from the faculty ranks. In short, sharing is more effective when those holding roles of authority have rich understanding of how policies affect different parts of the university community.

Shared governance in most universities manifests itself in formal structures, commonly a faculty senate. Faculty senates are elected bodies chosen to represent different constituencies among the faculty – schools, departments, institutes, etc.

At Georgetown, we are experiencing a leadership change in the Faculty Senate, and this post is a note of praise for an extraordinary leader who is moving on to another phase of his life.

Wayne Davis is a professor of philosophy, with stated interests in the Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Language, Epistemology, and Logic; editor of Philosophical Studies; author of 10 scholarly books and scores of journal articles. He is a world-class scholar in his field. Georgetown is blessed with many world-class scholars, but Professor Davis is also an outstanding citizen of the institution.

He is the former long-term chair of the Philosophy Department; he has led the Faculty Senate Budget Committee for many years; he has served on many search committees for leaders in the University; he has been a member of many important strategic committees of the University. His devotion to service is exemplary.

While his research life will continue, his Georgetown service activities largely will not.

Wayne has refused a gala event to celebrate his work over the years. I figured that he can’t stop me from praising him in this blog, and I am willing to endure his dismay at my commendations.

Wayne has demonstrated a very rare form of selfless leadership – servant leadership, leading from behind – choose your preferred phrase. In the years I have been at Georgetown, I have attempted to attend all faculty senate meetings. Some have been contentious. Some have been scenes of extended discussions about the wording of a document and sometimes, even the punctuation in a sentence. In watching him, I’ve hypothesized that he finds each problem, no matter how minor, of potential interest.

In all of those meetings, Wayne has given each speaker equal respect. He has listened as members of the group disagree. He has demonstrated the wisdom of postponing resolution on an issue when consensus is not arising naturally. He leads so subtly most people don’t perceive his central role in the progress in a meeting.

Some of these meetings were filled with emotional speech. During these, Wayne displayed the rare skill of listening with great empathy without allowing emotion alone to dominate the deliberations. His demeanor is always forcing the group to attend to the problem at hand, allowing it to proceed with progress to the next puzzle.

Over the years, with such leadership, he has shaped a faculty salary plan that offers real security for tenure line faculty and goals for the Main Campus. He has revised key sections of the faculty handbook, including a new section of faculty responsibilities and conflicts of commitment. He has become the “data brain” on faculty attributes, to assure that the welfare of faculty is transparently disseminated across the university.

In addition to all his work in leading the Faculty Senate, Wayne has led the Faculty Budget Committee for some years. Georgetown, like many of its peers, experiences moments of very tight budgets, unexpected costs from deferred maintenance, and calls for spending constraints. Each of these events is a potential trigger for a crisis in shared governance. I have seen Wayne lead the group through complicated decisions regarding their recommendations to the University. He is consistently deeply informed about the financial features of the institution, asks well-informed questions, and seeks solutions to maximize the long run health of the organization.

The above are the public successes of his tenure as a faculty leader. There are even more successes, visible only to the faculty and administrators whom he helped in one-on-one conversations. I am one of these people. He has provided guidance and historical perspective to scores of deliberations that have arisen at the provost level. His judgment is so refined that it often shapes the final decision.

At this point in my career, I have known thousands of academics in hundreds of universities. A leader like this is not common in any organization. A leader like this is extremely rare in academia. Georgetown is a better university because it enjoyed Wayne Davis in key roles over the years. We are in his debt.

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Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202) 687.5103provost@georgetown.edu

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