Internal communication is on the roster of priorities among faculty and staff at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and the school is in the midst of streamlining the process.
“Historically, I would say that’s been a weak point,” said Dr. Leonard Love, president of the Faculty Senate, in a Feb. 10 Zoom interview. “It has improved some under the new provost (Dr. Mohamed Abdelrahman). He’s doing a much better job there in terms of communicating.”
Love said interim President Linda Schott has expressed a desire to have more communication as well.
“I’m optimistic about that,” Love said. “I think it’s part of the process of us growing up as an institution. We haven’t had a lot of shared governance because we’re a startup, and early on, people did everything because things had to get done.”
Dr. Mary Kay Cooper, president of Staff Council and director of alumni engagement, said every “good, functioning organization” is always trying to improve communication.
“It’s an ongoing issue that you want to stay on top of,” Cooper said. “So we acknowledge that as well.”
Cooper is the co-chair of the Employee Engagement Task Force.
Cooper said the university has been working with staff and faculty since spring 2022 to survey employee engagement through focus groups.
“One of the things that came out in the survey … was that people really do want to make communication better on campus,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the task force found information sharing, communication and camaraderie was good at the departmental level, but could be improved between administrators and departments.
The task force found information sharing — keeping employees updated promptly on details about initiatives and outcomes — was among the feedback that stood out from the surveys.
“So critical campus events, requests from actions they needed to take, stuff like that,” Cooper said.
Cooper said feedback included requests to streamline online communication, particularly emails. There is also a divergence in the way some employees choose to meet virtually on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. And while Cooper said it is not ideal to force everyone into a single method of communication, it’s worth evaluating ways to train people to use all relevant channels.
Cooper said the task force is working on recommendations to improve communication. One of them is on a hub — an intranet — for employees. This would be separate from the official A&M-San Antonio website, Blackboard or JagSync, that could help centralize communication and improve ease of access to information. This could include newsletters.
No official plans have yet been brought forward, Cooper said, but it is a topic worthy of discussion with the university.
Jessica Loudermilk, the president’s chief of staff, and Dr. Jesse Pisors, vice president for University Relations and Advancement, are also cooperating, including recommendations to improve and push the Jaguar app, the university calendar and the university website.
Cooper said she hopes to have the first draft of recommendations ready, provided by Loudermilk, by the end of February. The Task Force will then revise and publish them for A&M-San Antonio employees.
Scott Gage, associate professor of English and president of the university chapter of the Association of American University Professors, said the provost shows a desire to improve communication. Efforts are there; however, they have been a mixed bag.
“I don’t think he (Abdelrahman) is entirely there yet, though,” Gage said in a phone interview Feb. 20. “Last fall, there was a lot of conversation about course caps … and there was just a lot of mixed messaging, contradictory messaging, and it created a lot of confusion among faculty as to what exactly had been decided, who had made the decision, how was the decision made — and those kind of questions are critical to shared governance.”
Gage said the conversations surrounded minimum and maximum course caps, as some courses took a minimum enrollment cap of 15 students — an increase from 10.
Gage said the course cap conversation was a good example of university administration still struggling to communicate with faculty because, ultimately, communication does not only come down to Abdelrahman.
“He’s not the sole person responsible for improving communication,” Gage said. “There’s deans, there’s chairs, and it’s kind of an ecosystem — an administrative ecosystem — that struggles to communicate with faculty. So yes, I would like to see provost Abdelrahman continue to improve, but I would also like to see better communication from our deans and chairs, as well.”
Abdelrahman was not available for interview by deadline.
Schott said she believes issues with communication are an endemic issue at any higher academic institution.
“No matter how much you communicate, and how many channels you use, there are some people who feel like you’re not communicating with them,” Schott said in a Feb. 10 interview. “So you just have to set up a good system, do the best you can.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 3:12 p.m. Feb. 22, 2023, to reflect that provost Mohamed Abdelrahman did not respond to an interview request by deadline.