BGSU Faculty Senate chair leads with compassion and humor
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Staff Writer
Saturday, 18 January 2014 08:20
The Faculty Senate is a serious institution that grapples with serious issues.
|Sheri Wells-Jensen. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
No more so than in the last few months as the union representing Bowling Green State University faculty and the administration have battled over the loss of 30 non-tenure track positions.
That's drawn harsh rhetoric from those opposing the cuts.
Sheri Wells-Jensen, who chairs the Faculty Senate, hasn't let that stymie her sense of humor.
"You guys are rowdy today," she playfully addressed the senate as it convened Tuesday. "I feel like a high school gym teacher."
Not that she makes light of the work ahead for the university. The humor is one tool as she strives to do her part to foster the collegiality and intellectual work of the university.
"We're here to run this place together," she said of faculty and administration in an interview this week.
While the two sides may dispute those cuts and other issues, their goal is the same: "the bottomline is we share a desire for students to succeed and the university succeed."
To do that, "we need to trust one another," Wells-Jensen said. "That's what collegial means. It means we argue passionately for what we believe is right... at the same time we all want the university to do well."
In presiding over the senate, she has adjusted the agenda to allow for ample time for the senators and President Mary Ellen Mazey and Provost Rodney Rogers to engage in dialogue over the issues of concern.
It's not that Wells-Jensen doesn't have her own opinions on the issues facing the university. Addressing the university trustees in December she said of those faculty members who will not be given contracts for next fall: "They are not people we can trim away and still be a great university."
This week, she said, she was "dismayed" by the cuts. "This is who we are. Those people losing their jobs, that's us, not fluff. It is dismaying to see really good people who are essential to our mission are losing their jobs."
The administration has maintained the cuts are needed because university is facing financial strains because of a decline in enrollment, cuts in state funding and a need to upgrade faculty salaries. All matters of dispute.
Wells-Jensen's concerns are rooted in her love of the university.
A member of the English faculty she teaches those studying to be teachers of English to speakers of other languages. Her research includes working on efforts to preserve a language from the Solomon Islands and how those who use Braille process language.
Blind since birth, she relies on Braille, even in a world in which computers can read to her. These innovations are still a marvel to her, and she uses them extensively, but they can't replace reading.
She said she is currently studying Mandarin. She said she couldn't imagine just learning it aurally.
Braille, she explained, is a way of writing down language. Using the same six dots there are separate systems to express all languages including math and music. A system eual to Wells-Jensen's broad interests.
The 1981 graduate of Bedford High School, she grew up in the Toledo area, the daughter of a tool and die maker. She originally wanted to study physics and astronomy. "I love that stuff. It's magic to me."
But she feels that being blind and female worked against her and she was steered away from it. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from Adrian College. It was during a stint in the Peace Corps that she found her academic calling.
She was fascinated by the language instructors, and decided that's what she wanted to do.
Wells-Jensen served in Ecuador. There she put her musical talents - she studied classical guitar - to work going out to villages with other volunteers to teach and entertain.
She was blind she said because her mother was exposed to pesticides when she was pregnant. Those chemicals are now banned in the United States, but still used abroad.
The village women would be fascinated by this "blind gringa," and Wells-Jensen would get to tell her story. Later a government official would come by the hammer home the warnings.
Wells-Jensen is still active in music both in the praise band at Peace Lutheran and most recently in a ukulele quartet that includes her husband, Jason.
Wells-Jensen joined the faculty of Bowling Green State University in 2000, moving her from Puerto Rico, pulled back to Northwest Ohio by the desire to be close to family.
Wells-Jensen said the time seemed right for her to take on a leadership role in the Faculty Senate. She has tenure, but is still a few years from seeking promotion to full professor. "I felt it might be a good time for me to step up and do some of the work of moving things along."
It is also "a fascinating time," she said. "We are in a period of transition."
With a new faculty union in place the administration, Faculty Senate and association have to work out "how are we going to do this in a joint, compassionate way (that's) best for students and research agendas."
"The thing that has delighted me about this role is the opportunity to meet my colleagues across campus," she said. "There are people here on the cutting edge of everything... It's about people who have followed their dreams to this place. It's miraculous in many ways."