For the first time, the UW Board of Regents has a voting faculty member in its ranks. In October, Gov. Jay Inslee, ’73, selected Professor Alexes Harris, ’97, to serve a three-year term on the University’s highest governing body.
UW faculty and others have long advocated to add a faculty member position to the boards at UW and Washington State University. Rep. Gerry Pollet, ’83, D-Seattle, the primary sponsor for the bill to create a faculty regent, pointed out that the state’s research universities are built upon a model of shared governance, but that “we have not fully shared governance.” What’s lacking is a voice for the teaching and research missions of the universities, he said in 2021, when he introduced the legislation.
The time is right, said Jake Vigdor, an economics professor who testified in support. The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a time when universities will face existential threats to their financial viability. Those that survive and thrive will have to be nimble and responsive, he said. When a Board of Regents decision conflicts with the faculty’s stewardship, “we play a game of telephone,” he said, from chair to dean to provost to president to the regents. A faculty regent can provide “a direct line.”
Harris, a first-generation college student, grew up in Seattle just a few miles south of campus. She discovered her love of sociology as an undergraduate and pursued a doctorate in the field at UCLA. As a scholar, Harris researches issues of inequality, poverty and race in the U.S. systems of justice.
She joined the UW faculty in 2004 and became a full professor in 2016. In 2019, she became the faculty athletics representative, a position that helps ensure the athletics programs align with the educational mission of the University. In 2021, Harris became director of the faculty development program, which reports to the provost. “I seek different opportunities to learn more about how a university works, how decisions are made and how to be informed,” she says.
All of those things make her an ideal person to join the nine citizen regents and one student regent, says Gautham Reddy, chair of the Faculty Senate and vice chair for academic affairs and faculty development in the School of Medicine. “She brings the perspective of someone who has been here in many different roles—as a student, as a mentor, as a teacher and as a scholar.” But it’s important to remember that she is on the board to represent the people of Washington, he says.