After speaking with Jody Kreiman, professor of head and neck surgery, for any amount of time, one might experience a strong sense of calm. Her assuredness of tone and dry sense of humor signal that she’s got everything under control, which is no small feat during this historic return to campus. Even with the unknowns and being responsible for representing the interests of diverse group of faculty, Kreiman emits a sense that everything will be all right. That’s because the new chair of the UCLA Academic Senate is here to make sure things run smoothly for everyone on campus, channeling voices where they need to go.

Kreiman, who describes herself as “a lover of universities,” said that part of her aspiration to serve in university governance stemmed from her fond memories of academia as an undergraduate at Brown University. It also comes from her desire to repay UCLA for a fruitful postdoctoral experience and career.

“I showed up here as a refugee graduate student with my portfolio of books and some clothes,” said Kreiman, whose dissertation adviser at the University of Chicago left in the middle of Kreiman’s doctoral program, leaving her wondering what she would do next.

Kreiman finished her dissertation as a guest in the UCLA linguistics department and then did her postdoctoral work at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA before joining the faculty. She’s now a professor in residence of head and neck surgery with a joint appointment in linguistics.

Kreiman was formally ushered into her role during the Academic Senate’s “Changing of the Guard” ceremony on Oct. 20. The annual tradition honors the work of the 2020-21 Academic Senate committee and council chairs and of the immediate past chair.

Inspired by how the UCLA community helped rescue her academic career, once she started teaching Kreiman swiftly got involved with Academic Senate committees on campus and enjoyed being around a diverse set of academics working on real life solutions.

“We’ve got really smart people who are doing this because they care about campus governance,” Kreiman said.

Almost 30 years later, Kreiman is now leading UCLA’s Academic Senate, the vehicle through which faculty share in the operation and management of the university.

Kreiman said one of the biggest misconceptions about Academic Senate leadership is that it’s like a presidency. She says that along with her two closest associates, vice chair Jessica Cattelino and immediate past chair Shane White, senate consultation is an iterative process in which their trio serves as the way station of information. Faculty queries go through committees, to the executive board and leadership then back to the source — all to ensure informed and inclusive decision making.

“A lot of things work better at UCLA than at other universities because we have such a strong senate and such a strong tradition of shared governance,” Kreiman said. Notably, two senate committees — undergraduate council and graduate council — have decision-making authority regarding degree and enrollment requirements and program establishment, disestablishment and review.

Kreiman assumed the role of chair during a historic return-to-campus when about 20,000 students (twice as many as typical) arrived on campus for their first time as Bruins to start instruction from faculty whom have had their own host of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the biggest concerns of faculty: safety in the classroom and bracing for a potential quick pivot to remote instruction, should the need arise. UCLA issued a robust set of guidelines and or protocols addressing these concerns.

“We have been thinking about this nonstop for almost two years now, so we have the people and the knowledge to respond to things,” said Kreiman, who added that while the answers aren’t always obvious, the people coming together to answer them have the right combination of expertise.

"We have to provide students with as good of a learning experience as we can, so ensuring that policies and guidelines respect safety and fairness at the same time is the main thing,” Kreiman said.

Kreiman, along with the administration, are also making it a priority to undo some of the harm to research careers that has arisen because of the pandemic. Working with the Academic Personnel Office, Kreiman and her colleagues have been involved with the effort to award a large number of faculty grants to restart their laboratories and or scholarship. While some specifications determine who qualifies, Kreiman says criteria are a bit looser than usual to help those who have lost up to two years of work.

Kreiman’s aptness for the job that entails being a leader for more than 3,800 faculty and emeriti with at-times very different priorities and backgrounds comes from what she calls a strong ability to “herd cats,” which is pretty on brand for the professor who also happened to have a “Ceiling Cat” Zoom background for this interview.

She is quick to credit her colleagues for how well the senate has worked with the university to do what they could to make faculty feel safe as they return to campus. Kreiman notes a number of UCLA committees as playing a leading role, as well as the system-wide senate, all of which have contributed to important discussions about instruction for this fall.

Helping Kreiman navigate this discussion and others affecting faculty are Cattelino and White. Kreiman says that Cattelino, a professor of anthropology, has a strong working knowledge of UCLA teaching committees and a track record of addressing challenges facing women faculty. Kreiman foresees consulting with White, a professor of dentistry, because of his solid understanding of university policy and leadership experience.

Even with the challenges of returning to campus after more than a year of remote working and living, Kreiman said she’s optimistic.

“I’m good at listening and helping people reach consensus,” Kreiman said. “It’s such a balanced team this year and we're going to need that with the challenges that are before us.”