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Faculty Senate Meeting - Senate Meeting Minutes: September 27, 2006

Meetings of the Faculty Senate are open to all members of the University community, but may be closed at the discretion of the Senate.

Meeting time 12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. in Founder's Room, Lovett Hall (Entrance B)

Agenda

I.   Announcements

II.  Discussion from University General Counsel Richard Zansitis regarding complaint filed against Rice University with the Office of Civil Rights

III.  Discussion with Registrar David Tenney
      a.  Course evaluations
           1.  how to improve response rate
           2.  more general issues with evaluations
      b.  Online grade entry
      c.  Final exam schedule

IV.  Make-up and charges of working groups
      a.  Bylaws
      b.  Non-tenure-track faculty
      c.  Teaching Evaluations
      d.  Athletic Admissions

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Proceedings

Proceedings from the Faculty Senate meeting will be posted once approved by the Senate.

September 27, 2006

Total Attendance:  Approximately 40

Senators present: Jose Aranda, Randy Batsell, Yildiz Bayazitoglu, John Casbarian, Marj Corcoran (Speaker), Michael Deem, Rebekah Drezek, Deborah Harter (Deputy Speaker), John Hempel, Brian Huberman, Ben Kamins, Tom Killian, Phil Kortum, David Leebron (ex officio), Eugene Levy (ex officio), Peter Mieszkowski, Nancy Niedzielski, Anthony Pinn, Dale Sawyer, David Schneider, Gautami Shah, Evan Siemann, Michael Stern, Randy Stevenson, Joe Warren, Duane Windsor, James Young

Senators absent: Christian Emden, James Weston

A verbatim recording of the proceedings is available by contacting the Faculty Senate at 713-348-5630.


Faculty Senate Speaker Marjorie Corcoran called to order the Faculty Senate meeting at 12 noon.

I. Announcements

In accordance with the Bylaws, Corcoran nominated Matthias Henze, Watt J. and Lilly G. Jackson Associate Professor in Biblical Studies, to fill the vacant seat for a representative from the School of Humanities.   This would be a one year appointment, and the seat will come up for election again in the spring. The proposal was moved and seconded, and Henze’s appointment was approved unanimously.

Corcoran announced that work on the Faculty Senate website is still underway. Sections titled “Actions of the Senate” and “Working Groups” are under development.

Additionally, the PRES-FAC listserv is under construction. Last year, serious gaps in list membership were discovered. A system is being devised by which the large majority of tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty will be subscribed automatically and given an option to unsubscribe. Responsibility for maintenance of the listserv membership will be transferred from the Office of the President to the Faculty Senate.

Rebekah Drezek introduced the ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program and distributed copies of the program abstract to the Faculty Senate. The program will be funded by a $3 million institutional transformation grant awarded by the National Science Foundation. The types of changes that ADVANCE will be addressing will intersect, in some cases, with areas of Senate responsibility, particularly university committees and potential policy clarifications. The first big event is a national workshop on “Negotiating the Ideal Faculty Position” scheduled in October.

Corcoran also noted that she was working on the text of condolence letters to the parents of two freshman students who died this year. The letters would be sent soon.

II. Discussion with University General Counsel Richard Zansitis regarding complaint filed against Rice University with the Office of Civil Rights:Corcoran invited Richard Zansitis to address the Senate about a complaint that had been filed. Dave Schneider has agreed to serve as Senate liaison to the committee drafting the university’s response to the complaint. Other committee members include: Chris Munoz, Vice President for Enrollment; Julie Browning, Dean for Undergraduate Enrollment; Bonnie Rogers, Acting Director of Student Financial Services; Robin Forman, Dean of Undergraduates; Carlos Garcia, Associate General Counsel; and Richard Zansitis, General Counsel.

Richard Zansitis began by providing historical context to the situation. The complaint challenges the legal question of when race and ethnicity can be considered among factors in admission. In 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Texas,Louisiana, and Mississippi, ruled that colleges and universities could not consider race or ethnicity among plus factors used to achieve diversity among their student populations. This decision ran contrary to law in the rest of the country, which operated under a previous Supreme Court precedent known as the Bakke decision whereby such consideration was appropriate. Rice traditionally looked at plus factors such as geographic location of applicants, family background, overcome factors, and whether a student was a first generation college student, but now was precluded from looking at race or ethnicity as plus factors.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court came down with decisions in two cases filed against the University of Michigan, both of which reexamined this issue. In these cases, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bakke decision still applied and outlined some guidelines on how colleges and universities must approach the issue. The Court ruled that diversity could be a valid educational goal for a college or university and a compelling interest that would survive the highest level of constitutional scrutiny, but that any program a school uses to consider race or ethnicity among plus factors in admission to achieve a diverse student body must be narrowly tailored. Diversity must not refer just to racial or ethnic diversity, but to a broad range of factors that the institution believes should be present among its students in order for the university to best accomplish its educational goals. Additionally, periodic review would be required to evaluate the need to continue use of race and ethnicity as plus factors in order to achieve diversity. Schools must make a good faith effort to examine race neutral means of achieving the same goals.

In light of the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision, President Malcolm Gillis established a working group to reexamine undergraduate admission at Rice and to determine if there was a basis for restoring race and/or ethnicity as plus factors in the admission process. In mid-November 2003, the working group presented its report and recommendations to President Gillis, and he agreed that race and ethnicity should be resumed as plus factors for undergraduate admission.

Shortly thereafter, an advocacy group from Virginia filed a charge against the university with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education. The charge argued that the percentage of African-American students in the undergraduate population at Rice was roughly comparable to that at the University of Michigan Law School and the percentage of Hispanic students in Rice’s undergraduate population was three times that at the University of Michigan Law School; therefore, Rice had achieved diversity using race neutral means and it would be illegal for Rice to consider race or ethnicity as plus factors in admission. In an initial conversation with the OCR, the point was made that such an argument compared a law school in Ann Arbor, MI to an undergraduate educational experience in Houston, TX and, consequently, did not make a lot of sense. Each school can determine what level of diversity is important for it given its mission, location and history.

Zansitis explained that it is not necessary for there to be an aggrieved individual in order for a charge to be filed with the U.S. Department of Education. The OCR accepted the advocacy group’s charge and, in February 2005, notified Rice that it would be investigated. The OCR sent an extensive data request and Rice responded in February 2006 with a 20-page position statement and several thousand documents. To date, Rice has not received an official response from the OCR. Zansitis did not expect to hear official news any sooner than December, after the mid-term elections.

Zansitis wanted the Senate to know that Rice is aggressively defending the matter.  When the decision was made to reintroduce race and ethnicity as plus factors, the plan was to reevaluate the decision three years later under the periodic review provision of the Supreme Court decision. In addition to responding to the charge, the committee will examine whether the university is making progress in its diversity goals and how to document the processes and thought behind any decision to continue or discontinue the use of race and ethnicity as plus factors. If the university is subsequently challenged, or if the government would like to view the university’s reevaluation of the process, the basis for any decision will be documented.

Upon completion of the committee’s work, Zansitis expected to report the results to the Senate in order to obtain feedback. In the meantime, he asked faculty to share any thoughts about how to best gather faculty input.

Jose Aranda asked Zansitis (1) whether he could provide a political reading for why the complaint has progressed this far and (2) what would happen if the OCR should decide to pursue the complaint further. With the caveat that he is an attorney rather than a political scientist, Zansitis thought that internal debate within the Department of Education was probably affecting the course of the complaint. In the past, the U.S. Department of Education has generally provided guidance within one year of major Supreme Court decisions; however, in this case, no guidance is available three years after the decision. 

In response to Aranda’s second question, Zansitis explained that most cases never reach a courtroom. If the OCR believes that there has been a violation, it enters conciliation discussions with the institution and, in most cases, institutions agree to modify their practices. If the OCR rules that Rice can not consider race or ethnicity as plus factors and Rice refuses to modify its practices, the OCR could either (1) seek to cut Rice’s federal funding or (2) refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice to bring suit. Should it become necessary, there are remedies beyond the Department of Education.

III.  Discussion with Registrar David Tenney:David Tenney, Registrar, began by announcing his goal to provide more transparency in the work of the Office of the Registrar and invited faculty to come by his office.

Course EvaluationsTenney distributed a document listing Course Evaluation and Instructor Evaluation Questions as well as response rates for course evaluations (not instructor evaluations). He explained that the questions used for the new online evaluation format are essentially the same questions used on the old paper evaluations. Should the Senate Working Group on Course Evaluations propose changes to the questions, those changes will be relatively simple to make.

Tenney next distributed statistics on the response rates for course evaluations (not instructor evaluations) by School. The overall university response rate last spring was approximately 48%. Tenney did not have an exact response rate for the paper process previously used, but he estimated that the overall response rate was approximately 50% to 60%. He noted that some departments experienced an increased response rate after the move to online evaluations; others experienced a significant decrease.

Corcoran pointed out the low response rate for the Shepherd School of Music and asked Ben Kamins whether that rate was normal for the Shepherd School. Kamins responded that while he did not know the reason behind the low response rate, students were asking why evaluations could not be done in class like they were done previously. He did note that the three professional schools exhibited the lower response rates, and the professional schools also have a higher percentage of graduate student enrollment versus undergraduate enrollment. Kamins suspected that population balance might influence response rates.

Tenney reported that students found the time frame for completing evaluations, which fell during the last two weeks of the semester, to be a terrible time of year. They asked for more time to complete the evaluations since the submission period fell during the time in which students are studying for examinations and preparing for recitals.

Tenney then explained some of the reasons for moving to the online system. The President of the Student Association told Tenney that a lot of students, particularly those in smaller classes, were really concerned about handwritten forms where an instructor could recognize an individual’s handwriting. In addition, the paper evaluation process required the Office of the Registrar to send out roughly 27,000 to 30,000 pieces of paper to faculty. About half of those surveys would be returned, and those that were returned were scanned in a process that was subject to a large margin of error. Faculty members commented that, with the paper system, students were only given one opportunity to complete an evaluation and thus might miss the opportunity to provide input.

As a means of improving the response rate, Corcoran thought that, for small classes, instructors could borrow laptop computers and allow students to fill out the evaluations in class.

Randy Stevenson asked whether, technologically speaking, students could be required either to fill out their evaluations or to actively opt out of completing their evaluations before receiving their grades. Tenney replied that the option had been considered before the current system was rolled out, but he had discovered that students could work around the system by running a copy of an unofficial transcript.

Randy Castiglioni, Associate Vice President for Administrative Systems, said that a hold could be placed on student accounts to prevent students from seeing their grades or requesting transcripts, but such an action would also prevent registration and other necessary business. Gautami Shah presented Yale University’s system as a possible model: the university places a hold on the student’s account for one month, during which time a student can fill out evaluations or actively decline to complete them. Upon completion of one of those two actions, the hold is released for that student. Holds for all students are released after one month. This system provides an incentive based on the students’ unwillingness to wait one month for their grades.

Tenney said that he would be glad to meet with the working group and to discuss what would be possible, but, based on what he heard from students, he thought that extending the time frame during which evaluations could be completed would improve the response rate dramatically.

Mike Stern recommended consultation with students in order to get their buy-in on any system involving a hold on their grades. Randy Batsell thought that a hold system would provide a demonstrated improvement on the quality of data collected and that consultation would not be necessary as long as students were also given a means by which they could opt out of completing the evaluations.

Harter reminded the group that, while both paper evaluations and online evaluations both might provide a 40% response rate, the populations electing to complete each type of evaluation might be very different. She believed that students who fill out evaluations online will be predominately those students who had strong feelings about the course, whereas students who fill out paper evaluations in class represent a broader cross-section. She wanted a system to ensure that faculty receive feedback from a representative population.

David Leebron asked Tenney whether students who completed the online evaluations generally filled out one evaluation or completed all of their evaluations. He pointed out that if students complete evaluations for one or two of their courses, bias might be an issue. But, if most students fill out evaluations for all of their courses, the chances of bias are much less.

Diane Havlinek, Director of Enrollment Administration, reported that when she sent emails to students to remind them to fill out their evaluations, the vast majority of those emails were sent were to students who had not filled out any evaluations. In general, students had either completed all of their evaluations or none of their evaluations. Leebron pointed out that this data countered the rumor that students are being selective in which courses they evaluate.

Tenney reiterated that the deadline for evaluations could be extended very easily. Corcoran thought that extending the period for submission of evaluations was a very non-controversial idea. She asked if anyone saw a problem with that change. Batsell said that the submission period should not start too far before the end of the course, and then a decision must be made on whether evaluations need to be submitted before final examinations and the release of grades in order to prevent grades from influencing the evaluations.

Havlinek pointed out that if the Senate decides to place a hold on student grades for one month to encourage completion of evaluations, then the response period must extend beyond the date when grades become available. As the system currently stands, the evaluation period starts two weeks before the end of classes and ends at 9 a.m. on the day final examinations begin. With this schedules, students are not influenced by their grades or their final examination experiences.

Shah suggested testing the one-month hold incentive with the upcoming fall course evaluations. Stevenson thought that such a decision was premature. Evan Siemann pointed out that, for the fall, such a system would be complicated by the fact that students need to know their grades in a timely fashion in order to know whether they are on academic probation. Because placing a hold on grades seemed somewhat controversial and potentially complicated, Schneider suggested that the Senate approve a one-time extension of the submission period and see whether that change improves the response rate. That data could be used by the working group to decide what system to institute for spring evaluations.

Phil Kortum asked whether the current evaluation system provided students with the chance to opt out of completing the evaluations. Havlinek replied that students can scroll through the evaluations without answering the questions, but there is not an “opt-out” check box for students to mark. Kortum was concerned that students who were forced to go through the system might be punitive in their ratings. Stern thought discussing these ideas with students would prevent long term troubles.

Stevenson identified a variety of relevant policy and technical issues about which the Senate needed to be informed. He believed that the entire issue would be addressed most appropriately by a full proposal from the working group that included all of the necessary supporting information and data.

Yildiz Bayazitoglu suggested an incentive or reward system for students who completed their evaluations. Havlinek reported that last semester more than one hundred $50 gift cards and ten iPods were given away, and she did receive feedback indicating that these items were an incentive to complete the evaluations. Since this was the first time the online evaluations and incentives were attempted, Bayazitoglu thought, given more time, students might adapt to the new system.

Corcoran proposed that the Faculty Senate recommend to the Registrar an extension of the deadline for submitting online course evaluations. Tenney liked the idea of extending the submission period from two weeks to at least three weeks. Michael Deempointed out that a deadline extension required additional thought; the original decision on deadlines was made for particular reasons. He recommended that evaluations be due before final examinations. Given the debate, Stevenson suggested that the Senate ask the working group to come forward quickly with a recommendation on this particular issue after discussing potential scenarios.

Online Grade EntryTenney reported that the online grading system is currently being rolled out. Faculty should expect to receive correspondence about the system from the Office of the Registrar in the next couple of days. The correspondence will include a course roster and PIN number, along with instructions on how to enter grades online.

Final Examination ScheduleTenney said that the final examination schedule will be posted on Friday. Corcoran asked whether future final exam schedules would be available in a timelier manner. Tenney replied that the Office of the Registrar can not build the final examination schedule until after the add period has ended. The schedule is complicated by the policy adopted last year which governs the number of examinations a student may take in a given period of time. Corcoran thought that the idea was to assign examination time periods to class time periods; a mechanism for resolving conflicts was written into the policy.  Tenney restated that the conflict rule complicated the scheduling and he would welcome the opportunity to address the Faculty Senate about final examinations at another time.

IV. Make-up and charges of working groups:Corcoran updated the Senate on the status of the working groups proposed for the year.

BylawsCorcoran announced that Jim Young had volunteered to work on the changes needed in the Bylaws and asked for an additional volunteer to work with him.

Corcoran asked the Provost whether the Faculty Senate should draft Bylaws for the Promotion and Tenure Committee (P&T). To her knowledge, the only document governing P&T was the proposal from the Task Force on Governance. Gene Levy stated that, to a large extent, the work of P&T was governed by university policies. Corcoran pointed out that information about P&T is not posted on the web; she asked Levy whether P&T should have a separate website or whether that information could be posted on the Faculty Senate website. Levy thought that, as long as no one voiced an objection, the information could be posted on the Faculty Senate website.

Non-Tenure-Track FacultyCorcoran announced that Yildiz Bayazitoglu would join the working group that was formed last year.

University Standing CommitteesCorcoran asked for a volunteer to join the working group that began its wok last year.

Course EvaluationsCorcoran distributed a draft of the charge for comment. She noted that a lot of interest has been expressed in the topic by Senators and other faculty members. This working group will be a joint endeavor with some members of the Committee on Teaching, and Corcoran planned to have the group formed within the next week.

Athletic Admission PolicyCorcoran did not yet have a charge for the working group, but expected that the working group would rethink the 1996 policy on the admission of student athletes. This working group will operate in coordination with the President’s Office. Dale Sawyer and Nancy Niedzielski have already expressed an interest in the working group. Membership will also include a representative from the Athletic Department and a representative from the Office of Admission. The exact composition and charge are still under discussion.

Corcoran did not have any other agenda items for discussion. Drezek asked for a straw vote on the issue of holding students’ grades for a certain period of time as an incentive for them to complete their course evaluations. The straw vote showed a nearly even split on the proposal.

Brian Huberman asked when evaluations had been instituted at Rice. He had heard that they were introduced at a time when students were interested in participating with the forces in administration. He thought that students today might not hold the same interest.

Leebron stated that the option to move away from evaluations was essentially non-existent. Between the accreditors and the government, disposing of one of the few means for assessing what happens in the classroom is not an option. The university must be conscious of the environment in which it operates. At some point Rice will face full reaccreditation, and, even before that time, Rice will be asked to demonstrate achievements in many issues of measurement. Levy added that all universities are facing similar issues; he expected that, within the next two years, other requirements for evaluating what happens in the classroom will make this issue seem trivial. 

Batsell said that he actually found evaluations to be valuable. While he did not always find the evaluations to be right, they are useful to read. Measurement is a part of continuous improvement. Huberman asked why the new system could not operate as the previous system did: students who wish to complete evaluations do so and those who do not wish to complete them do not. Leebron summed up that a willful decision to not complete an evaluation is acceptable; pure laziness and inaction are not.

Young urged the working group to think about the types of surveys and processes that could be utilized to report useful information and to help faculty improve their courses and programs. With the amount of educational research available on the topic, the working group can study information that is already available and determine how it can apply to Rice.

Levy expounded upon that remark, pointing out that the evaluation of teaching has technically been thought of as a way to get information to use in a judgmental fashion. He thought it would be much more valuable to establish a system by which the information is gathered, but, at the same time, faculty interact as a group to improve the quality of teaching.  The charge to the working group could be expanded to think about the evaluation and improvement of teaching as a single activity, going beyond the completion of teaching evaluation forms. Levy encouraged the working group to thinking about peer classroom visits or a system of feedback through which faculty could help themselves improve teaching. Thinking about evaluations in a broader context would be a worthwhile exercise.

Schneider identified two sets of issues: one being how to make teaching better; the other being the issue of accountability. The notion of accountability continues to surface, and Rice could position itself ahead of the curve by developing an evaluation system and then promoting that system to the accreditation agency and the federal government.

Harter thought that the Senate would want to consider the issues carefully and then change the evaluation system as needed. She enjoyed completing surveys and thought others felt the same, but course evaluations previously were completed on faculty time and now students were required to use their own valuable time. Harter proposed that faculty allow class to start late once during the last week of classes or hold class in the Mudd Laboratory, both actions that would recognize the time sacrifice required for the evaluations. She encouraged the Senate to acknowledge the reality of student schedules and to think about ways in which the process could be made easier for the students. Corcoran agreed that course evaluations would never be a top priority for students at the end of the semester and that, put into that situation, faculty would feel the same way.

V. Adjournment: The meeting was adjourned at 1:20 pm, with the next Faculty Senate meeting scheduled for October 18, 2006.