After an unprecedented year, Laura Dugan stepped down as the University of Maryland Senate chair at the body’s meeting Tuesday afternoon. Chair-elect Ellen Williams will be taking her place for the upcoming academic year.

The transition occurs annually at the body’s last meeting of each academic year. The senate also named Rochelle Newman, the chair of the hearing and speech sciences department, as the new senate chair-elect.

Williams is a distinguished university professor and director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center. She is expecting a busy schedule as the university plans to transition back to in-person instruction for the fall semester.

“We, as a senate, have another challenging year ahead of us as we make the transition back to life on campus, which will surely represent a new normal,” Williams said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Dugan became chair last spring after the coronavirus closed the campus and shifted all classes online. She had plans to reinforce relationships with university administration and strengthen shared governance — but the pandemic shifted her focus as she was faced with handling senate operations completely online.
“It still was a huge priority for sure. But then the pandemic occurred,” Dugan said.

[UMD Senate approves revisions to clarify campus Title IX guidelines]

However, Dugan said participation went up because senators could tune in virtually. She said the senate is looking into a potential hybrid version of in-person and virtual meetings in the fall, but they haven’t made a decision yet.

“We’re thinking of perhaps having some of the meetings be through Zoom while the others are in person, so we’re trying to think of ways that we could get the best of both worlds,” Dugan said.

Under Dugan, the senate helped shape the spring pass/fail policy and finalized policy and procedures on sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct, among 40 other pieces of legislation.

“This year’s senate session has had the highest efficiency rate in at least the past decade, probably even longer,” Dugan said.

And senate director Reka Montfort said that, while costs have gone down since going online because there hasn’t been a need to reserve rooms, there’s still a significant difference between in-person and virtual meetings: the amount of collaborative experience.

Montfort said she thinks Dugan has done a fantastic job this year, even while being the only senate chair who has never been to an in-person senate meeting. 

“She has a really calm presence, like she doesn’t get flustered about things and she’s had to deal with a lot this year,” she said.

[Almost 80 percent of UMD students opted for at least one pass/fail class last semester]

Reflecting on her role as chair-elect last year, Dugan said the jump from chair-elect to chair is a big one. It’s overwhelming in the beginning and, with the position lasting only a year, the senate can’t afford to make early mistakes, she said. 

Likewise, Williams said she’s attended meetings alongside Dugan — whether it be a senate meeting or a conference with the provost, which has helped her prepare for the role. Dugan has very few concerns about the transition. 

“Ellen’s been involved in all those meetings and so she’s pretty engaged. So I’m not really worried about her,” she said.

And while Williams knows she will face hurdles, she’s still excited for the upcoming year.

“I’m sure I will experience challenges, and I’m prepared to take those on and put the time and energy into addressing whatever comes my way,” she said.