2009 Faculty Senate University Service Award: Robert Faaborg
Bob Faaborg has been a constant presence in service to the university for the last 40 years.
Date: 5/21/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Lisa Ventre
Even after 40 years at the University of Cincinnati, Robert Faaborg has not lost track of his roots that run back to the small town of Jefferson, Iowa, with a population of 5,000 residents.
“I am almost exactly what Garrison Keillor describes – I’m not from Wisconsin, but from Iowa, and I’m Scandinavian, and it’s just like how he describes it,” laughs Faaborg in trying to explain both how he feels about winning a 2009 Faculty Senate University Service Award and why giving so much of his time to university committees and causes has never seemed to him to be much beyond what he ought to be doing.
“People from that background tend to be pretty modest,” he adds, recalling the time he won a bible in Sunday school for correctly answering a question, but then having his father be disappointed in him when he returned home and made mention in front of his family of what he had won. “I don’t have a picture of myself as having achieved much. The role of chair or of serving on a committee is one of service – it’s not a plum or a prize.”
That modest approach shouldn’t, however, diminish how one views Faaborg’s service to UC. With the Faculty Senate alone, he has held at least 17 different positions over the years. He has served in a number of other roles within his home college, the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, and his department, philosophy.
Faaborg was the chair of the Faculty Senate and All-University Faculty from 2000-02, has served as a Faculty Senator for a grand total of 22 years, has chaired several standing committees and has served in a long list of roles within the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences and the Philosophy Department, including three separate stints as interim department head.
“Dr. Faaborg deserves this year’s award not only for his persistence and length of his service to the university, to his college and his department, but for the lasting impact his involvement and leadership have had,” says Daniel Langmeyer, the current vice-chair of the Faculty Senate. “I do not remember a time during my involvement in university service (since I think about 1989) where Dr. Faaborg was not likewise involved.”
Faaborg himself recalls the early days of his career at UC in the late 1960s, when faculty generally looked at their roles differently than they do today.
“A theme that I see is the change of the perspective of faculty in their responsibility to service. I think it’s just they have different goals now,” Faaborg says. “We saw ourselves (when I started) as professors not even just of the humanities, but professors of the university, and it showed in the kind of participation we saw. Under (UC President) Walter Langsam my first year, there would be 900 faculty at an All-Faculty event. It would be packed, and that’s out of about 1,800 faculty at that time.”
Similar events today, Faaborg says, are lucky to draw five percent of the faculty in attendance.
But Faaborg has continued to identify with the university, as well as his role as a professor of philosophy.
“Part of it is I just enjoy being with colleagues from all parts of the university,” he says. “I just relish the ability to exchange ideas and argue with people from medicine or the humanities. That’s the fun part in being in service, that you can deal with colleagues from outside of your field.”
He has done his best not just to serve, but to actively work to get others to recognize the value of service, as well.
M. Ann Welsh, the past-chair of the Faculty Senate, recalls getting to know Faaborg when she was a junior faculty member. He made his pitch about getting her involved, but she felt she couldn’t commit at the time as she worked towards promotion. If she made it, though, she said she would become involved, to which Faaborg said, “I’ll hold you to it.”
Not long after, she made tenure and ran into him again. A run for Faculty Senate representing the College of Business followed, and eventually, with his support, a successful run for chair of the Faculty Senate.
All along, she says, Faaborg was a constant source of support. “In cabinet meetings, he was a source of institutional wisdom, wit and goodwill. He was a great role model for how to engage with administrators,” Welsh says.
“During this time, I also came to understand why Bob was such a talented and effective leader. It might start with a seemingly random comment or anecdote, but he was able to guide discussion in a purposeful and constructive manner,” she adds. “He was careful to always recognize and remind us of the good things that were happening at UC. He brought an element of balance to our discussions and decision-making.”
Faaborg has also excelled in service, though, because he was willing to stand up for points he felt needed to be made. When he was a junior faculty member himself, he helped lead the Junior Faculty Association in a successful effort to force the university to make all UC salaries a matter of public record. He was also involved with a group of faculty that brought public attention to controversial whole body radiation experiments taking place at the UC Medical Center. He led a Faculty Senate committee that recommended in 1976 that UC abolish football as an intercollegiate sport.
Marla Hall, the current chair of the Faculty Senate, considers him a “tremendous colleague.” Says Hall: “He shows great passion and concern in working for the best interest of the university and the faculty of the university. He is one not afraid to point out what he sees as errors or problems, but because he is respectful of others and their opinions and ideas, he is effective in empowering fruitful discussion on those topics. He often has been a moderating influence when disagreements have arisen in committee discussions and thus has helped move things forward for better outcomes.”
Faaborg has shown a particular affinity for matters of finance and budgeting, another aspect that has kept him popular as a committee member. “I’ve just always found it hard to say ‘No’ when people ask me about serving on committees,” he admits.
The result has been a remarkable 40-year record of making a difference across the university.
Speaking as chair of UC’s Philosophy Department, John Bickle has warm praise for Faaborg’s spirit of service. “To higher administration, Bob Faaborg is the face of not only UC Philosophy, but of all of Arts and Sciences and the UC faculty. Fortunately for all of us, that face is cordial, professional, willing to speak truth to academic power and especially willing to donate his time to communicate faculty concerns. Bob sacrificed his own advancement in the profession, both here at UC and beyond, to play this part.”