Building Relationships Priority for Kotarba

February 8, 2007

Joseph KotarbaFor 26 years, Joe Kotarba has taught and mentored students at the University of Houston. Now, the sociology professor is expanding his focus to help bolster relationships between UH and its faculty.

Kotarba is the new president for the UH Faculty Senate. A six-year senate veteran, he has worked on many of its committees and devoted time to a host of faculty activities. As the spring semester is under way, Kotarba knows that 2007 will be a busy year for him. Still, he is eager to lead the senate and provide additional support to the university and its professors.

Kotarba recently found time to discuss his goals as president and the skills he brings into this office.

Q  What are some of your goals as Faculty Senate president?

A   First of all, it goes without saying that there are a number of ongoing initiatives that must be continued. For example, the senate strongly supports the administration’s decision to expand the size of UH faculty. It also supports the university’s overall design to grow into a first-rate research university. Nevertheless, we cannot forget the faculty we already have who have worked hard to make UH the great university it already is. Put differently, it’s time to focus on the quality of life and quality of work for our existing professorate by enhancing resources for scholarship, teaching and service. These resources are also important for faculty retention. I will lead the Faculty Senate in working toward several specific goals such as helping secure additional travel funds for faculty to attend conferences and other academic events. I’d also like to help secure more short-term and small grants. A second goal is to strengthen the relationship between faculty and the UH Athletics Department. This relationship can be enhanced by greater communication with faculty regarding the issues facing that department and how they operate. Last year, I was active in getting more faculty involved with the Faculty and Staff Recognition Day when the UH football team played Grambling State University at Robertson Stadium. We even invited our colleagues at the other UH campuses to join us, and a number of them took up our invitation. As a university that is striving for Tier 1 research status, we can look around at the institutions we emulate and see that they typically have strong athletic programs. I think we can learn from their experiences, but we can also learn how we can do it better. The bottom line is that faculty should work closely with the Athletics Department because their athletes are our students.

Q   What motivated you to seek the Faculty Senate’s presidency?

A   When I chaired the senate’s Scholarship and Community committee two years ago, I had an idea to establish an event that would celebrate the faculty’s commitment to the university. With UH President Jay Gogue’s gracious support, we held a memorable faculty recognition dinner at the River Oaks Country Club. After the dinner, I received many calls from invited faculty who told me they finally really felt appreciated for their hard work and dedication. Since then, I have wanted to continue to enhance the relationship between faculty and the university, so professors will not feel like they’re just employees but, rather, professionals and scholars.

Q   What kinds of leadership skills do you bring to this position?

A   I like to think of myself as a bit of a coach. The leader of the Faculty Senate is a person who has a great range of talent available to him or her in the form of faculty. A big part of my job as Faculty Senate president is helping faculty do their best as scholars and teachers, but also as people who can contribute to the university in other ways. To discover potential leadership and to get them involved in UH activities such as Faculty Senate is important. What I’ve done so far is bring several new faces to the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, young faculty who bring a fresh energy to the table. Also, I believe I have a good feeling for the variety of faculty concerns across colleges and departments. In my own work, I conduct scientific sociology in my research on professional athletes’ injury risk and management, and humanistic sociology in my research on popular music.

Q   What are some of major issues currently facing UH faculty?

  We’re still too small a group. We need to increase our numbers to maintain livable teaching loads and to grow new research initiatives, and we need additional resources to do our work well. Increased faculty and faculty resources are also critical to enhancing faculty retention. These issues are not unique to this university. All research universities are facing this challenge. We need to do everything we can to enhance the quality of work for our faculty. There are also issues concerning the university itself that impact our faculty. For example, there is a lot of talk about UH growing as a residential campus. It’s important for faculty to provide input into this discussion. For example, what does faculty want out of an expanded urban university? Do we want to live on campus? Do we want to have a campus that we want to return to on weekends because of activities and events that are taking place? How can we make this campus more amenable for visiting scholars? These are questions that beg more discussion and new thinking.

Mike Emery