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Faculty Senate Meeting 

November 2, 2011 

Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall 



I.      Call to order, announcements

II.     Speaker’s report

·         Working Group for Non-Tenure Track (NTT) faculty formed

·         Membership approved for Working Group for Research and Scholarship

·         Discussions with President Leebron regarding V2C conversations, including motion

III.      Report from the Working Group on Communication in the Curriculum


Senators present:  David Alexander, Randy Batsell, Kate Beckingham, Carl Caldwell, David Caprette, Marcia Citron, Danijela Damjanovic, Rebecca Goetz, Jane Grande-Allen, Shirine Hamadeh, Mikki Hebl, Michael Kohn, Anatoly Kolomeisky, Scott McGill, Susan McIntosh, George McLendon, Helena Michie, Fred Oswald, William Parsons, Matteo Pasquali, Brian Rountree, Stan Sazykin, David Scott, Robin Sickles, Yizhi Jane Tao, Ruth Lopez Turley, Moshe Vardi, and James Weston.

Senators absent:  Ramon Gonzalez, Illya Hicks, David Leebron, and Ruth Lopez Turley.


PROCEEDINGS (To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email senate@rice.edu.) 

I.       Call to order, announcements 

Speaker Susan McIntosh called the meeting to order at 12:00 p.m. and asked if there were any announcements from the floor.  Provost McLendon announced that a Rice Initiatives Energy Workshop will be held on November 18 and 19, 2011. In addition, a related seminar on current trends on energy research will be held November 15.  For more information, please see this email from Vicki Colvin, Vice Provost of Research. 

II.      Speaker’s report 

·         The Executive Committee (EC) has approved the formation of a working group on non-tenure track faculty, initially focusing on voting eligibility issues for this group. Working Group chair Dave Caprette has been asked to write a charge for the working group and to suggest members for approval by the EC.

·         The membership of the previously-approved Working Group on Research and Scholarship, chaired by Moshe Vardi, has been approved by the EC. The membership and charge for this group can be viewed on the Senate website.  

·         The EC has approved a proposal to hold faculty-wide conversations entitled “Rice 2032: Building the Vision in Changing Times.” The plan is for the Senate to sponsor a series of conversations in collaboration with President Leebron in 2012, with the format to be determined by the EC.

After a few questions, the Senate unanimously approved the motion shown below:


The Faculty Senate will host, in collaboration with the President, a series of faculty conversations during 2012 on issues central to the continuing and successful implementation of the V2C over the next two decades of rapid change in higher education. The Senate Executive Committee will design the format and develop the topics in consultation with faculty constituents.  


III.                Report from the Working Group on Communication in the Curriculum  

McIntosh provided historical information to the Senate regarding writing instruction at Rice. She stated that for a long time, Rice undergraduates were required to take a writing course. In 1969, the requirement was changed; the students who passed the Writing Composition Exam were exempt from taking the course. Rice’s commitment to writing thus shifted towards remedial instruction. Until 2008, Rice had a Writing Lab which was staffed by trained student tutors, and from 1998-2008, the Cain Project in the Engineering and Natural Science schools was oriented towards the broader issues of communication instruction. Since 2008, several factors have contributed to an impetus for change, including: dissatisfaction with the remedial stigma of COMM 103, interest from the Dean of Undergraduates to move to another model, the large number of non-native speakers in graduate programs and the increasing percentage of undergraduates with need for English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, and the success of the communication instruction in Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering  and in the School of Natural Sciences.

In Fall 2010, the first Working Group on Communication in the Curriculum issued a report which articulated the need for an integrated approach to communication that served all students, both undergraduate and graduate, in a broad program across the campus.  In Spring 2011, external reviewers from MIT, Rutgers, and Northwestern conducted reviews of Rice’s current writing program, with participation from the Faculty Advisory Group, administrators, graduate students, and undergraduates.  As noted by one consultant, “Rice has no existing program to dismantle; it can start from scratch!”

In Fall 2011, a second Working Group on Communication in the Curriculum was formed to “develop final recommendations that address the immediate-term problems with COMM 103 within a framework of longer-term changes that will provide Rice students with the means to develop their writing and communication skills at a level that is competitive with that at peer institutions.” McIntosh noted that the new working group was formed in September 2011 and has already produced its report for the November 2 Senate meeting.

McIntosh thanked profusely the original and the new working groups, as well as the Faculty Advisory Group.  McIntosh also thanked the assembled Senators for contacting their constituents on this matter, especially on such short notice. For more information on both working groups and the Faculty Advisory Group, please see the Senate website.  To view the working group report from Fall 2010, the reports from the three external reviewers, and the working group report dated October 27, 2011, please see the Senate wiki space.  The wiki space is available to current Rice faculty and the appropriate net ID is required.

McIntosh then introduced Working Group chair Helena Michie.  Michie welcomed the working group members to the Senate meeting and also thanked them. She spoke of the process used in preparing the report and recommendations. Michie said that the group met multiple times for two hours at a time, they consulted with approximately 30 additional people at Rice, and they contacted people at various writing centers across the country. Michie said that the working group’s report was revised at least 32 times.

Michie then presented and discussed a series of slides to outline the working group’s recommendations. 

The presentation began with outlining the current situation of communication instruction at Rice:  the “bad news” is that we are seriously out of step with our peer institutions, 15 out of 16 of which have required first year programs, 7 of which have writing/communication in the discipline requirements, and all of which offer writing intensive classes at the upper level.  All of these institutions also have active Writing Centers. The “good news” of our current situation is that we have multiple initiatives in various departments and other academic entities that address all three aspects of communication: written, oral, and visual. These, Michie argued, need to be brought together, given shape, and made visible in a coherent writing and communication program.

In presenting that program, Michie began with a set of principles about the importance of writing and communication, the wide variety of disciplinary communication practices, and the need to integrate writing and presentation skills for graduate AND undergraduate students, as well as ESL learners in both categories.

Michie then presented the proposal for the Program in Writing and Communication (PWC) with its three elements:  Required First-Year Writing Seminars (FWS); an active Center for Written, oral, and Visual Communication, to support writing and communication efforts by undergraduates, graduate students and faculty; and a future requirement for communication in the disciplines. She noted that the proposal recommends implementing the program in stages: that the FWS and the first [phase of the creation of the Center should be targeted for Fall 2012, while the later stages of Center staffing and the communication in the disciplines component would be targeted for 2015, after discussions between the PWC director, the faculty advisory board of the PWC, and departments and schools. This would also allow for time for fundraising for the program so the burden of the second requirement would not fall on departments.

After briefly outlining the administrative and reporting structure of the program, which would report to the provost and include a faculty advisory board with representative from every school, Michie turned to specifics of each component. She noted that the implementing the first and third would put us in the same ballpark as our peers, but that we could become leaders in national conversations through our Center for Written, oral, and Visual Communication: we could, with the appropriate support have a top-tier Center second to none.

First-Year Writing Seminars would be topic-oriented, capped at 15, and offered in all disciplines. Some school would probably offer more than others. They would be taught by a combination of tenure-track faculty, contingent faculty (many of whom are already working for COMM and teaching COMM 103), and graduate students. She estimated (and the Provost agreed) that the new FWS program would probably involve hiring 3-4 new contingent faculty. We would need 66 courses per year.  ESL students would, as is now the case with COMM 103, be required to take an additional course before taking an FWS. Crucially, FWS would count for distribution, so students who took them outside their field would not need to take any additional courses than they do right now.  Students could also take courses in their planned field; it would be up to departments whether these would count for the major.

Tenure track faculty buy in is essential to the program. The proposal includes incentives, training, and support for faculty wishing to teach FWS. Faculty who feel they need help with writing pedagogy would have graduate assistants; other faculty would get research funds as an incentive to participate in the program. Michie noted that the proposal worked with a model requiring the participation of 16 faculty a year—by all accounts a fairly modest number.

The Center for Written, Oral, and Visual Communication would offer workshops, short courses, as well as one-on-one tutoring. The first two would be offered by professionals and might include dissertation boot camps, workshops on plagiarism, argumentation, the use of new presentation technologies, active listening, answering and asking questions, etc.  The third tutoring component (and the only one we offer currently, although even this in a limited way) would be staffed primarily by undergraduates and graduate students.

The   Communication in the Disciplines requirement would necessarily be very flexible; departments and schools could design the requirement in the way that made most sense for the discipline. It could involve offering a communication course required of all majors, or offering several courses with a communications-intensive component. Courses could be offered at the school or department level, or both. These offerings would evolve out of three years of discussion that could include bringing in visiting speakers or holding workshops through the center.  

The presentation ended with an implementation timeline that brought the program from November 2011 to 2015, and made room for the incremental development of the PWC.

At the end of the presentation, Michie addressed several comments which had been received prior to today’s meeting from faculty members.  First, regarding a request for clarification of the program’s details, Michie said that some details are given in the report, but some of the specifics will not be known until the program is in place.  Second, regarding the comment that different disciplines have different concerns, the working group asks that the dean or another faculty member from each discipline serve on the committee that will appoint the contingent faculty. Third, regarding available resources, Michie stated that Provost McLendon would address this question. However, Michie noted that the report includes lists of items for every component that would cost the university at the end of each section of the program description in the report.  In addition, she stated that several people have independently come up with the same budget for the FWS program:  $600,000.

A question-and-answer session followed Michie’s presentation, which is summarized below.

Question:  How many (credit) hours is the proposed Freshman Writing Seminar (FWS)?  Is this the best use of a student’s time?
Answer:  Three hours; if the course is structured as a one-hour course, it would be seen as remedial, or an “add-on”.  The course will not only teach communication, but will also be topic- and thus “content”--oriented. .  Faculty who want them will have assistants to help with the communication aspect of the course.

 Question:  Although an excellent proposal which will certainly provide benefits, I am worried about what the trade-offs might be; what we might have to give up. Shouldn’t the advanced writing courses should be taught by writing professionals? I am also concerned about having the resources to pay for all this.
Answer:  The provost will answer the resource question. If you are concerned about the time trade-off for departments, accreditation/assessment reports for many disciplines cite that communication skills are a problem with some of our students. There are many possibilities for structuring the later (advanced) classes. The reason the advanced classes are in the proposal now is that we do not want them forgotten after the first phase is complete.

Provost McLendon:  Among Rice’s peer universities, we are uniquely underserving our students; the others all have an advanced writing course. I do not necessarily expect the faculty to increase their workload; we are prepared to provide additional resources with trained graduate students. Current faculty would teach the same courses but would include more assignments that are communication-intensive, with help in grading them. It has been proven that once given a little help in communicating their strengths, students are helped tremendously with their interview skills and in obtaining better jobs. From the student’s perspective, this is time well spent. We do not know yet as to exactly what Phase II will look like. However, nothing is being mandated here; this proposal is being presented from faculty to faculty. We will have to approve the first things in the proposal quickly in order to begin in Fall 2012, but there is also time to figure out the later paths. I will probably teach one of the FWS, with the help of a teaching assistant.

Question:  What does the Senate need to decide today? The timeline looks as though things are planned to begin now.
Answer:  There is a motion from the EC to accept the working group’s report and start implementing the program; Senate approval is now sought. Do you have enough information to vote? If not, the vote can be delayed until the Senate meets next on November 30, but we must determine what additional information is needed in order to hold a vote on November 30.

Question: Will the (advanced) writing in the discipline courses be required? What if the student has a double or triple major
Answer:  Yes, the advanced writing component will be required. It need not be embodied in a single course. The student with more than one major would be allowed to choose the area he/she prefers for the advanced course.

Question:  The best programs are staffed by tenure-track faculty; will the director of our program be a tenure-track faculty member?
Answer:  Some of the directors of the centers at Rice’s peer universities are not tenure-track, some are.   While there is language in our proposal specifying that the director must be a faculty member, it does not specify tenure-track faculty.

Question:  Why can’t the English Department just take on this writing instruction?
Answer:    Communication is not the purview of one field or department; it happens everywhere across the curriculum, and it happens differently in different places.  In addition, English departments cannot simply be thought of as service departments for the rest of the university; they are also research and teaching departments with varied curricular and scholarly obligations. Like our peers, we do not have a department in rhetoric and composition where faculty research would be on the topic of communication. 

Provost McLendon thanked Michie, her working group, and the previous working group. He stated that Rice currently spends approximately $590,000 to provide first year communications activities, but this is inadequate.  McLendon said that one-third of the Rice undergraduates are required to take COMM 103 due to failure of the Writing Composition exam. Another one-third has scored a “low pass” on the exam, leaving only one-third of the undergraduates viewed as adequate in communication skills. In order to serve all students, a budget of approximately $1 million is needed. McLendon said that funding has been identified through unused reserves and other funding sources. If the Faculty Senate approves the proposed plan, Phases I and II could begin in Fall 2012. He said that implementation of the long term elements is not yet known and will depend upon the faculty. McLendon stated that the plan as suggested by the working group can be implemented for the next three years with a budget of $1 million. However, fund-raising will be required to make sure the program stays on in perpetuity, and approximately $10 million will be needed for this purpose. He said it could be promoted as a “communications/leadership” issue.

There was a request for clarification as to which portions of the organizational chart would be funded with the $1 million Phase I budget. The reply was that that all boxes on the chart would be funded—the FWS, the first part of the Center, the director of the overall program, and the Center director.

Michie suggested that the working group holding school-specific information sessions prior to the next Senate meeting. McLendon said that it is important that Senators get their questions answered prior to the November 30 meeting so that they are ready to vote. Moshe Vardi requested that McLendon prepare a summary as to how the proposed budget will be spent. McLendon agreed to write a summary and send it to Michie. McIntosh also requested that recommendations for members to the Faculty Advisory Board be sent to the EC. The motion was thus tabled until the November 30 Faculty Senate meeting.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.