Rice University logo

Faculty Senate Meeting - Senate Meeting Minutes: December 6, 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)


I.   Announcements

II.  Bylaws Issues - Jim Young and Duane Windsor
      a.  Promotion and Tenure Committee resolution
      b.  Voting procedures
      c.  Voting faculty definition

III.  Nominations and Elections Committee Elections

IV.  Discussion with the Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Program - Chandler Davidson, Chair

Submit Feedback


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

December 6, 2006

Total Attendance: 35

Senators present: Jose Aranda, Randy Batsell, John Casbarian, Marj Corcoran (Speaker), Christian Emden, Deborah Harter (Deputy Speaker), John Hempel, Matthias Henze, Brian Huberman, Ben Kamins, Tom Killian, Phil Kortum, David Leebron (ex officio) (late arrival),Eugene Levy (ex officio), Peter Mieszkowski, Nancy Niedzielski, Dale Sawyer, David Schneider, Gautami Shah, Evan Siemann, Michael Stern, Randy Stevenson, Joe Warren, James Weston, Duane Windsor, James Young

Senators absent: Yildiz Bayazitoglu, Michael Deem, Rebekah Drezek, Anthony Pinn

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

President David Leebron was traveling but planned to arrive in time for the latter half of the Faculty Senate meeting proceedings.

Corcoran asked Senators to check out the Registrar’s website to view information about online course evaluations and the competition between the residential colleges.

Jim Pomerantz, Professor of Psychology and co-chair of the United Way campaign, encouraged faculty to give during Rice’s campaign. Rice University figures very prominently in the Gulf Coast United Way, and, while giving last year was higher than the year prior, it was lower than Rice’s giving ten years ago.

Lindley Doran, Assistant Dean for Student Health Programs, spoke briefly about the state of student health insurance. Rice requires all students to have health insurance. Most undergraduates are covered under their parents’ plan, but a significant number of graduate students must purchase a plan that Rice puts together. The costs for students are considerable, and graduate students feel that health insurance subsidies are a major factor in graduate student retention and recruitment. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies has worked to increase the subsidy as costs increase. Students asked Doran to make sure that faculty were aware of the issue and to encourage faculty support for continued subsidies.

Corcoran announced that the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum approved an interdisciplinary minor in Financial Computation and Modeling. The proposal will be considered at the January meeting of the Faculty Senate.

II. Bylaws Issues:Jim Young addressed three Bylaws-related issues before the Senate. 

Senate Resolution on the Promotion and Tenure Committee: In spring of 2005, the Rice faculty adopted a proposal creating a permanent university committee on promotion and tenure. That proposal defined committee membership, but it did not define election procedures or who was eligible to vote. The Working Group on Bylaws recommended approval of an updated resolution specifying these details.

The proposal was moved and seconded. The resolution was approved unanimously.

Voting Procedures for Use by the Faculty Senate:Young provided a background brief on voting systems. The Working Group on Bylaws recommended that the Faculty Senate use the approval voting system for the elections it administers. The Hare preferential ballot was used by the Faculty Council.

Randy Batsell generally liked the approval system; however, he thought that the current use of the Hare system was preferable. He recognized that no system is without flaws, but believed that the current system collected more information. An ordering of preferences provides better information than a simple “yes or no,” and such a system is no more onerous to administer than an approval system.

Corcoran pointed out that the Faculty Senate had not adopted the current system, but had used it because the Faculty Council used it. She recommended that, in order to reflect a conscious choice of system, the Senate adopt a resolution specifying voting method regardless of the final outcome of the discussion.

Young agreed that a ranked preferential ballot provides more information than an approval ballot, but the real question is how often that preferential information is used in the voting process. Only the rankings on ballots for eliminated candidates are used. In the preferential ballot system, even if every voter indicates one individual as second choice, that candidate could be eliminated in the first round and his/her second place votes never counted. A candidate with a very high approval rating would thus be eliminated. 

Young believed that the approval system better matched the reality of faculty elections. When voters receive their ballots, they may or may not be familiar with the candidates listed. Without campaigns or advertisements, most individuals do not have a strong ordinal preference. The approval process is very simple to understand and very transparent, and does not eliminate any candidates in the process of identifying the winner.

Susan McIntosh, Professor of Anthropology, asked whether a vote-count, such as a simple majority, is required for an election-winner to be declared. Young answered that only a plurality is required. As Chair of the Elections Committee for three years under the old governance system, McIntosh had found that the old system was very easy to administer and eliminated the need for runoff elections. She could not recall any instance in which a plurality was so divided that a second place candidate was widely agreed upon.

Young explained that the question of voting methods arose because of a case last year in which the candidate who was eliminated during the first round had to be determined by lot. Had the selection by lot resulted in the elimination of a different candidate, the outcome of the election could very well have been different. Mike Stern pointed out that, in the case of a tie in an election utilizing the approval method, the outcome also would be decided by lot. However, in that case, Young pointed out that the decision by lot would select between candidates who have all been equally approved. Corcoran believed that the chances of a tie were much less with the approval method.

Randy Stevenson said that, given the nature of this type of election and the quality of the candidates, all methods will produce more or less the same result. The method used should maximize the experience of voter participation and the perceived legitimacy of the election. In a very low information election where voters may not know all of the candidates, asking a voter to assign rankings may provide a less-positive experience than asking a voter to mark all candidates who are reasonable choices.

Joe Warren supported Stevenson’s position. Warren generally determines which candidates are qualified for the position, but he does not usually have sufficient information to do a fine scale ranking of the candidates. Tom Killian believed that a voter might approve of several candidates, but have a strong preference for a particular candidate. With the approval system, the voter would not have the option to express that preference.

The proposal was moved and seconded. The resolution passed with a split decision. Corcoran reminded the Senate that the decision could be revisited if the voting system does not work as expected.

Definition of Voting Faculty: The voting constituency for each Senate seat is defined in the Constitution of the Faculty Senate; however, the general term “voting faculty” is referenced but not defined in the Constitution and other university documents. Youngnoted that the question of who comprises the voting faculty would arise if faculty members wished to obtain the signatures of fifty “voting faculty” in order to convene a plenary session of the faculty to question a decision of the Senate.

Last year, the Nominations and Elections Committee reverted to the definition of voting faculty last used by the Faculty Council. That definition restricts a faculty member’s right to vote based on categorization of position, percentage of appointment, and years of service. Since that time, types of faculty positions have been added at the university. Young explained that the Senate must decide whether to utilize that definition of voting faculty or to adopt an updated definition.

Young provided sample definitions of voting faculty ranging from extremely inclusive to very exclusive. The Senate must decide where the definition of voting faculty should fall within the range of possibilities. The Working Group on Bylaws discussed the issue with Gautami Shah (Senate representative for non-tenure-track teaching faculty) and Ben Kamins (Senate representative for the Shepherd School of Music). Based on those discussions, the working group recommended that voting faculty be defined as those faculty members who vote for a representative on the Faculty Senate and who are benefits eligible. Benefits eligible was determined to be a straightforward designation that also provided a certain measure of commitment between the university and the faculty member.

Young found that restriction of voting on particular matters by certain categories of faculty was unwieldy. Everyone the working group consulted believed that there is no operational value in restricting the issues on which faculty can vote, and consequently the working group recommended eliminating any such restrictions.

The working group also recommended that the definition of voting faculty be added to the Constitution of the Faculty Senate in the section that defines faculty plenary meetings. A two-thirds vote of the Senate will be required in order to make this change. Corcoransaid that if the Senate could agree upon the ideas to be incorporated in a definition of voting faculty, the working group would propose a constitutional amendment at the next Senate meeting.

Duane Windsor highlighted the fact that “benefits-eligible” is a floating notion. The working group has in mind a very specific definition reflecting the 2006 policy. One issue to consider is whether the wording in a constitutional amendment should contain that specificity or remain fluid.

Young outlined the current terms under which faculty are benefits eligible: all tenured and tenure-track faculty are benefits eligible; research faculty basically must hold half-time status to be benefits eligible; and teaching faculty on contracts must have a one-year contract and teach at least three courses per year to be benefits eligible. In essence, faculty must hold at least half-time positions, but that status is defined differently for each type of faculty appointment. Windsor reiterated that the working group was considering including a definition of “benefits-eligible” in the constitutional language so that it would not float with changes in administrative policy. Dave Schneider saw an advantage to specifying language in the Constitution rather than referring to an old policy.

James Weston asked how many benefits-eligible faculty are not tenure-line faculty. Gautami Shah did not have exact numbers of benefits-eligible non-tenure-track faculty, but the Senate could infer information from the data she did have. In 2004, Rice’s total faculty numbered 660. Of those faculty members, 176 (17%) were non-tenure-track faculty. Sixty-one of the non-tenure-track faculty were full-time faculty, and thus would be benefits eligible. Some of the part-time non-tenure-track faculty would also be benefits eligible, soShah guessed that the benefits-eligible non-tenure-track faculty would number between 12% and 15% of total Rice faculty.

Weston thought the working group’s proposal struck a very nice balance based on the discussion that occurred during the last Senate meeting.

Young said that, while one question was whether benefits eligible was the right level at which to enfranchise faculty, he also hoped to hear discussion on whether voting restrictions should be imposed based on the subject matter of the vote. From Young’sperspective, such restrictions applied to very few faculty and only complicated matters. Additionally, he believed that the distinction between research and teaching faculty will continue to become more blurred as research experience is required of students.

Windsor asked for a count of research faculty. Shah reported that between 2001 and 2004, the number of research faculty would range from 12 to 18 faculty members. Young added that the number of research faculty is limited as a percentage of the tenure-line faculty in each department, and thus the number will never be extremely large.

Stern pointed out that the proposal under consideration would remove the stipulation preventing non-tenure-track faculty from voting on tenure matters. Young reported that, to his surprise, the only statement he found in Faculty Council records on faculty voting rights restricted the issues on which research faculty could vote but did not contain any statements about the issues on which non-tenure-track faculty could vote. The only policy in which a specific reference is made to voting restrictions is in Rice University Faculty Policy 201-04, and this restriction applies only to Professor of the Practice. Neither Windsor nor Young could see any rationale for maintaining exclusions.

Ben Kamins recalled the meeting at which the Faculty Senate was created. When it came time to vote, many faculty were unsure whether they could vote. Kamins appreciated the clarity this definition would bring. Young added that, under the new rules, any faculty vote would be by paper ballot sent to the voting faculty.

Corcoran emphasized that adoption of a definition of voting faculty will not affect eligibility to vote for a Senate representative. This definition would only be used in the rare case that an issue had come before a faculty plenary meeting.

Evan Siemann asked whether an expansion of the definition of voting faculty would make a plenary session more likely. In theory, a plenary session could be called without the support of a single tenure-line faculty member. Windsor also reminded the Senate that a plenary vote can override the Senate, so defining the voting faculty is a significant decision.

Corcoran acknowledged that, in principle, fifty non-tenure-track faculty could take an issue to plenary session, but any vote would take place by paper ballot sent to all voting faculty. If tenure-line faculty were divided on an issue and split their votes, then the non-tenure-track faculty might determine the outcome of that particular vote.

Corcoran asked for a straw vote on whether the working group should move ahead to craft suitable language for a constitutional amendment. The Senate unanimously agreed that the working group should come forward with an amendment based on the “benefits eligible” concept discussed.

III. Nominations and Elections Committee Elections:Corcoran reminded the Senate that, at the last meeting, the Senate voted to change the membership of the Nominations and Elections Committee. The Senate must elect five members from the floor. Corcoranopened the floor to nominations.

Dave Schneider nominated Randy Stevenson and Phil KortumDeborah Harter nominated Matthias HenzeMarj Corcorannominated John CasbarianDuane Windsor nominated Yildiz Bayazitoglu. No further nominations were put forward, andStevenson, Kortum, Henze, Casbarian, and Bayazitoglu were elected to the Nominations and Elections Committee.

IV. Discussion with the Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Program: (For a full accounting of the discussion, please refer to records of the Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Program or request to borrow the verbatim recording of the Senate meeting.) Chandler Davidson, Chair of the Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Program, reported that a number of forums had been held to gather input from invited constituencies He explained the charge of the committee and then proceeded to conduct a mini-forum with the audience present at the Faculty Senate meeting. Davidson initiated discussion by asking: What is most distinctive about the Rice undergraduate experience – good and bad? Faculty responses included:

Residential College System: The system fosters a strong sense of community, though it also promotes an insular student perspective. The social importance of the colleges is not fully appreciated; the social support structure is one of the reasons Rice students can handle the high academic demands. The colleges sometimes get in the way of students identifying with the intellectual culture surrounding their major. Increased faculty association and intellectual activities within the colleges are desirable. Alumni mention the college system as the way in which they came to understand the experiences of students in other fields.

Small Student Population and Tight, Cohesive Community: Rice allows undergraduate interaction with world-class faculty. The open-door policy of almost all Rice professors is quite different from that at other institutions.

Diversity: Certain student groups feel excluded from the community life. Limited diversity of faculty affects the opportunities for representation and role-modeling on campus. A lack of certain bodies of knowledge, such as African American Studies, affects perceptions of and experiences at the university. The small size of the university means that a strategic and comprehensive commitment to diversity will not require a large number of people in order to have significant impact.

Intellectual Culture: It is difficult to get students to identify with their majors and the intellectual cultures surrounding the major. Students are willing to work hard in class, but to conduct research outside of the class is another matter.

Science versus Humanities: There is a cultural divide at Rice between Science/Engineering and Humanities/Social Sciences, and this creates a feeling of inferiority among students studying the Humanities. Rice needs to work to rectify this imbalance—to demonstrate adeeper commitment to the intellectual importance of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the world and for the students. Humanists work differently than scientists, and Rice needs to show that it values the more creative sides of work.

Core Curriculum Concept: Students need exposure to the tools and ways of thinking that characterize both Science/Engineering and Humanities/Social Sciences. Given current demands on student time, however, requiring courses in general education will be a challenging goal. Scientists and humanists have a great deal to learn from each other, and such exchanges are facilitated in discussions surrounding core course education. Students need to understand the path of discovery and should be instructed in the tools needed to make informed decisions. It is in core courses that students often gain those tools. Students need more than knowledge; they must also learn to assess the quality of knowledge to which they are exposed in order to be better world citizens.

The Senate decided that further discussion with the Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Program was warranted. Corcoran agreed to arrange a special meeting of the Faculty Senate devoted to a conversation about the undergraduate program.

V. Adjournment: The meeting was adjourned at 2:04 pm, with the next Faculty Senate meeting scheduled for January 24, 2007.