President Asa S. Knowles formed the Faculty Senate in 1961 as an advisory and review body to provide the faculty with a forum for involvement in the administration of the University. The Senate originally consisted of 24 faculty members, including faculty members who proportionately represented the academic colleges, the Provost, and seven members of the administrative faculty appointed by the President; today there are 30 members. The Provost serves as chair. The Faculty Senate initially included three standing committees: Agenda, Academic and Research Policy, and Faculty Policy. The Senate Agenda Committee serves as an executive council and its chair is Vice-Chairman of the Senate. The current standing committees are Academic Policy, Admissions Policy, Agenda, Faculty Development, and Financial Affairs.
In its early years, the Faculty Senate focused on determining its own structure and reviewing tenure, sabbaticals, and benefits. In 1965, President Knowles sent a proposal to the Senate to establish the College of Criminal Justice. This was the first time the Senate was involved in approving a degree-granting program, a task that became a central responsibility of the Faculty Senate in later years. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Faculty Senate played a role in mediating conflicts between students and the administration, seeking ways of keeping the atmosphere of the campus peaceful. In January 1970, S.I. Hayakawa, then President of San Francisco State College, came to Northeastern to speak. Several student groups protested Hayakawa's appearance, accusing him of racism. The event led to a confrontation between students and Boston Police. In the wake of this, the Faculty Senate distributed a petition asking faculty members to affirm the rights of any speaker, regardless of his or her views, to speak on campus if invited by a legitimate student, faculty or administrative organization. The petition was signed and returned by many faculty members and led to the passage of a senate resolution assuring freedom of speech for guests to the university.
By the mid-1970s, the focus of the Senate had returned to the working conditions of the faculty. In 1978, a report by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges found that the Senate was "focused too narrowly on faculty benefits and prerogatives and not enough on academic standards, curriculum coordination and development, and critical reviews of old and new programs." The Senate took the criticism seriously; while it continued to support issues regarding faculty working conditions (such as the professional travel allowance policy approved in 1979), it also focused on academic issues. In 1978, it formed the Library Operations Committee in order to put pressure on administration for a new library.
The Senate became involved in the debate regarding the merger of Boston Bouvé College and the College of Education. It participated in searches for new deans of the College of Nursing and the College of Arts and Sciences. The Senate also participated in the search for a new University President in 1988. Between 1984 and 1989, the Faculty Senate approved five new graduate level programs, including two doctoral programs. In 1989, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges once again issued a report on the Faculty Senate which noted "a marked increase in faculty participation in virtually all aspects of university life" and concluded that "the Senate seeks to address all academic issues today." The 1982-1983 academic year, however, saw a breakdown in the operations of the Faculty Senate. A conflict developed between the Senate Agenda Committee Chairman Samuel Bernstein, the Provost and Senate Faculty Chairman Melvin Mark, and the members of the Senate Agenda Committee. Because of the conflict, several meetings of the Senate focused on parliamentary procedure with little else accomplished.
The Senate was able to recover a collegial atmosphere over the next few years and once again concentrate on the business of the university. In 1993, the Senate concentrated its efforts on the university's Strategic Plan. The plan was approved by the Senate in December and approved by the faculty on February 7, 1994. The plan included new guidelines for tenure, promotion, and salaries for faculty.
In 2001, the Faculty Senate approved the University's plan to shift from a quarter-based to a semester-based academic year schedule, and from 2001 to 2005, the Senate worked on a revision of the Faculty Handbook. In 2002, the Senate created three more standing committees: Information Systems Policy, Library Policies and Operations, and Research Policy Oversight. In 2009, in a major restructuring of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Senate approved the formation of three new colleges: the College of Science, the College of Social Sciences and the Humanities, and the College of Art, Media, and Design.