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Linda Bisson assumes senate leadership

By Dave Jones on October 6, 2006 in University

Professor Linda Bisson has two crushes to deal with this fall: the grape crush at the Department of Viticulture and Enology, and the crush of business in her role as the new chair of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate.

Bisson sat down for an interview with Dateline last week in her senate office in Voorhies Hall, and a few hours later she was observing students in her wine production class in the Enology Building and pilot winery — awash in red grapes.

"We advised the students to be prepared to get wet and dirty on the first day," Bisson said. The annual scene can be chaotic, but the microbiologist described herself as "good at managing chaos."

She joined the UC Davis faculty in 1985 and quickly became active in the senate. She has led the Oversight and Appellate subcommittees of the Committee on Academic Personnel, and also has served on the Committee on Research, the Committee on Courses of Instruction, and the graduate and undergraduate program review committees.

Now, as chair of the Davis Division, Bisson said she aims to strengthen the senate's role as a "co-manager" with the administration. She said the senate must become "timely in our own procedures — faster and more effective … not so excessively ponderous," and must be proactive, "instead of waiting for them (the administration) to come to us."

Law professor Dan Simmons, the outgoing senate chair, said he thinks that Bisson will be a "terrific" chair. "I'm pleased to leave the operation in her hands."

Besides her effort to bolster the senate's co-management role, Bisson said her other main goal this year is to get the word out about how great UC Davis is — what she called the "prestige factor."

She said the senate is seeking money to support a lecture series in which faculty would gear their talks "toward the general public, not their colleagues." She said she hopes to see the lectures recorded for presentation on television and the Web.

"We are coming up with ways to reinforce the value of a public institution," she said.

Leadership is part of that equation, and last year the senate found itself evaluating Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. A senate petition led to a vote of all the members — asking if they had confidence in Vanderhoef.

The vote came amid the controversy over an agreement that Vanderhoef forged in the spring of 2005 with Celeste Rose. Under the agreement, she resigned as vice chancellor of University Relations, and received a two-year appointment — through June 30, 2007 — as senior adviser to the chancellor. The agreement, which did not specify Rose's duties, came with an annual salary of $205,000 plus benefits, and $50,000 for transition expenses.

The no-confidence vote drew 1,054 valid ballots, with 70 percent rejecting the no-confidence bid. Even had the balloting gone the other way, Vanderhoef would have been under no obligation to step down; the senate has no power to force a chancellor out of office.

The June 1, 2005, agreement with Rose did not become public until a newspaper report in December. Vanderhoef subsequently explained that the university decided to go with the agreement after Rose alleged that she had been a victim of gender and racial discrimination, charges that the chancellor vehemently denied. Some within the senate believed that the chancellor should have fought Rose in court.

Today, Bisson said there are lingering concerns within the senate about the administration's performance. "That's why I am pushing the concept of us being effective co-managers," in accord with the UC system of shared governance, she said.

The senate did not know what was going on with the Rose case, and that was "unfortunate," Bisson said, "because it led to all this angst.

"Senate members felt that they had no voice, no choice and no other option."

As co-managers, Bisson said, senate members aim to build an environment where they can focus on the faculty's historic mission: teaching, research and public service. They do not see a place for administrative tasks, and yet, Bisson said, in recent years the powers-that-be have added such duties as lab management and grant paperwork, and course and conference organizing — jobs that administrative assistants formerly handled.

"This obviously has taken time away from the other three, and they already made for a full-time job," she said. "The administration needs to let faculty get back to what they really want us to do."

For Bisson, that means public service like serving as science editor of the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, and membership on the advisory board of the American Viticulture and Enology Research Network.

It means research, like exploring the carbon and energy sources in yeast, which she described as a perfect genetic model.

It means teaching wine production and the biology of yeast, and, for advanced graduate students, a course on reviewing scientific manuscripts.

"I cherish teaching," she said. And with that, she headed off to the winery and two new crops: one of grapes, fresh from the campus vineyard, and one of new students.


The Davis Division of the Academic Senate does much of its work in committees. Their recommendations go to the Representative Assembly, comprising an elected faculty member from every department. The Representative Assembly is scheduled to meet four times in 2006-07:

  • Thursday, Oct. 12
  • Monday, Feb. 5
  • Monday, April 2
  • Thursday, June 7

All meetings are scheduled from 2:10 to 4 p.m. in the Memorial Union's MU II.

Agendas are posted online about two weeks before the meeting date, at

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,