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The face of the faculty

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Prof. Rebecca Lonergan navigates change as President of the Faculty for the USC Academic Senate

By Yulia Nakagome

When Professor Rebecca Lonergan was elected President of the Faculty by USC’s Academic Senate in May 2019, she landed in the middle of a historic administrative reshuffling and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lonergan says her experience as President of the Faculty has been "incrediby rewarding but also incredibly challenging."

“It's been a very steep learning curve,” Lonergan says. “I've essentially been the face of faculty during a time of great change at the university, which has been incredibly rewarding but also incredibly challenging.” 

Lonergan jumped into working with an entirely new senior leadership team, led by USC’s first female president, Carol L. Folt, and Provost Charles Zukoski. Lonergan helped them understand USC’s history and academic culture, and brought them up to speed on faculty views on key issues. 

Amid COVID-19, Lonergan adjusted her leadership approach accordingly. 

“When we’re making urgent decisions about the COVID-19 crisis — [such as] the recent decision about changing grading policies — there's no way I can consult all 7,000 faculty,” she says. “It's a lot of pressure to have to render the faculty opinion, and I try to consult as many as I can, but there are times when you just have to make the call.”

Lonergan’s previous service on the Academic Senate helped inform her decisions.

“When I think about what position the faculty president should take on an issue, I think about what I know from my past experience about generally held beliefs, values and policy positions of faculty at USC,” she says.

Lonergan’s experience as a lawyer positioned her well for the role. “Lawyers are trained to be advocates, and as president, a large piece of what I do is advocate to the administration for the things that the faculty want to see happen,” she says.

Despite the challenges of shared governance, Lonergan recommends all faculty get involved with the Academic Senate.

“It’s incredibly rewarding because it allows you to get to know all sorts of different people from across the university, and you can make a difference in their lives — you have a role in helping figure out USC’s future,” she says. 

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