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Minutes of the Faculty Senate of Rice University

Wednesday, August 29, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

Shell Auditorium in the Jones School

Agenda

I.               Announcements

II.              Election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker

III.             Election of the Executive Committee

IV.            Update from Working Group on Course EvaluationsRic Stoll

V.              Presentation on Evaluations from Spring 2007-- David Tenney, Registrar

VI.             Updates from ongoing working groups

VII.            Discussion of possible new initiatives

 

Senators present: Marj Corcoran, Deborah Harter, Mike Stern, Randy Stevenson, Jim Young, James Weston, John Casbarian, Steve Cox, Randy Batsell, Dave Schneider, Ben Kamins, Brian Huberman, Gautami Shah, Yildiz Bayazitoglu, Duane Windsor, Philip Kortum, Meredith Skura, David Leebron (President), Eugene Levy (Provost), Tom Killian, Nancy Niedzielski, Matthias Henze, Robert Raphael, Matteo Pasquali, Rebekah Drezek, John Hempel, and Evan Siemann.

Senators absent: Ed Cox, Dale Sawyer, Christian Emden, Peter Mieszkowski, and Michael Deem.

Total attendance: approximately 40

Proceedings

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

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I. Announcements

Marj Corcoran (Speaker 2006-2007) called the meeting to order at 12:00 p.m. and read the agenda aloud. Corcoran then asked each Senator to state their name and department for the record. Corcoran announced that Dave Schneider has decided to retire from the Faculty Senate and he was thanked for his outstanding work over the past two years in the Senate.

Rebekah Drezek asked that the Environmental Health and Safety Committee be officially removed as a Senate-recommended committee due to compliance and legal issues. It was so removed. Kevin Kirby will now handle appointments to this group.

Corcoran stated there were no Executive Committee actions over the summer to report.

The outgoing Executive Committee suggests that John Cornwell, Vice President for Assessment, be invited to address the Faculty Senate at the September meeting, as well as    someone from the Jones School to present the new Ph.D. program that was approved by the Graduate Council. This new Ph.D. program requires approval from the Senate. In addition, the Academic Calendars for the next several years (with the exception of next year) need to be decided, especially the early versus late start in January. This is the Senate’s responsibility, in conjunction with the registrar’s office and the president’s office. For the October meeting, it is recommended that Chris Del Conte, the Athletic Director, be invited to give the annual report on the athletic department.

II. Elections of Speaker and Deputy Speaker

Corcoran stated the first order of business was the election of the Speaker of the Faculty Senate. She announced that Deborah Harter had been nominated in the Spring and opened the floor for additional nominations. There were no new nominees, and thus Harter was elected Speaker for 2007-2008.

Harter thanked Marj Corcoran for her great work as Speaker, and for the pleasure it had been working with her as a team. She then announced that for Deputy Speaker, Mike Stern had been nominated in the Spring, and opened the floor for additional nominations. There were no new nominees, and thus Stern was elected as Deputy Speaker for 2007-2008.

III. Election of Executive Committee

Harter read the slate of members nominated for the Executive Committee as well as presenting it in written form on the screen, with new members in italics:

            Speaker

            Deputy Speaker

            Ben Kamins (Shepherd School)

            Nancy Niedzielski (Assistant Professor)

            Dale Sawyer (Natural Sciences)

            Gautami Shah (Non Tenure Track Faculty)

            Meredith Skura (Humanities)

            Randy Stevenson (Social Sciences)

            Duane Windsor (Jones School)

            Jim Young (Engineering)

No alternative slate was proposed, and thus the above slate was approved for 2007-2008.

IV.  Update from Working Group on Course and Instructor Evaluations

Ric Stoll gave a short update on this group’s ongoing work stating that he plans to have a finished report soon including a study of how the questions in the evaluations are answered. James Young stated that he will be hosting a workshop on evaluations October 16, 2007, which will feature Dr. Felder and Dr. Brent, noted speakers on this topic.

V. Presentation on Course and Instructor Evaluations from Spring 2007

David Tenney began with a history of evaluations used at Rice. Course and instructor evaluations were completed on paper by students through Fall 2005. As of Spring 2006, the evaluations are now completed online. Tenney highlighted two exceptions to the process: very small classes (less than four students) are only evaluated upon request, and the Jones School is not included as it has its own system for evaluations.

The response rate for Fall 2006 was 37%, and the response rate for Spring 2006 was 48%.  To improve the response rate, a competition between the residential colleges was begun, but only one college qualified for the prizes that were offered. Tenneystated his office then came up with five point to improve the response rate: 1) the questionnaire was redesigned to make it easier and quicker to complete—it now fits on one page, 2) students were able to view their peers’ comments, 3) the prizes could now be won by individuals (a photo of prize winner Daniel R. Weidman was shown with the grand prize of a Sony Play Station), 4) the evaluation period was extended to six weeks, and 5) students were prompted to the evaluation page before they viewed their grades. Results: students reported they liked the new evaluation forms better for both the course and the instructor, and the response rate climbed to 92%. (Detail is available by classification and by school, although the response rate was pretty consistent across the categories.)

Tenney then showed what the evaluation form and comments looked like on ESTHER. He noted that cross-listed courses were identified and the data combined to protect the privacy of the respondent. The graduate and undergraduate courses were not combined. “Report A Concern” is an option that the student respondent can choose, which will send his/her comment to the registrar’s office. The president of the Student Association appreciated this option and recognized it as a privilege. The registrar’s office did minimal censoring of any comments, only omitting profane words if they were directed at an individual. There is also a one-time option for the instructor to respond. For example, if several students were to comment that the instructor was often late for class, the instructor could post a one-time comment that this tardiness was due to his/her schedule from by the registrar’s office.

Tenney then asked for questions from the group. He was asked why the classes with fewer than four students are not routinely evaluated, and the response was that in the future, all classes will be evaluated.

Ben Kamins stated that if a student had called him an unspeakable word on the evaluation, he would like to know it. He would prefer the registrar’s office did not censor it. Tenney replied that only the most profane words are censored, and in fact, there was only one evaluation that had to be censored. In the future, there will be a disclaimer which will remind the students that Rice reserves the right to remove comments from view. (They are not deleted; they are just removed from view.) Harter and Kamins reiterated that they felt most instructors would wish to know the comments of unhappy students. Tenney was asked if a notation is shown such as “Comment Removed.” He replied that this was considered, but currently such a notation is not made. Randy Stevenson said he’d prefer to remove the disclaimer and leave the results unaltered, with profane comments placed elsewhere. Tenney said that many universities do that sort of thing; Stanford even out-sources this work so that it is not available on the university server. At Rice, if an instructor would like to see such a comment, the registrar’s office could easily get it to him/her.

Randy Batsell expressed concern that if students are warned against certain kinds of responses before completing their evaluation, this could have a negative impact on student response. Tenney then showed the disclaimer and read it aloud. He was asked for elaboration on the motivation for the disclaimer. Tenney replied that there is concern when a person takes a harassing, attacking tone, and he was advised by Rice’s attorneys to acknowledge in a disclaimer that Rice has the right to remove such comments. Harterobserved that the group showed quite a bit of interest in this issue and wondered if it should be examined more fully. Tenney reiterated that only one comment had to be censored. Harter clarified that the concern is that students may be reluctant to comment openly due to the disclaimer. Tenney agreed that this is a valid concern. It was suggested that a more positive approach be taken in the wording of the disclaimer.

Tenney then showed actual comments on the screen. He chose a cross-listed course to use as an example, and showed that the dates and times of the comments are indicated. If desired, one may choose the “Printer Friendly” option and get a printed copy of the comments. Mike Stern asked if this information (viewing actual comments) is available to anyone with an ESTHER account, and Tenney replied that is correct.

Tenney explained there are different ways to view the information—by course evaluations or by professor evaluations. The button for a reply from the instructor will be available under the “Printer Friendly” option button. This option is available for instructors since they have logged on with their ID number. Gautami Shah then stated that since the system can identify who is viewing the information, perhaps a second button could be available for instructors only which will allow them to see any comments that were censored. Tenney indicated interest in this idea and thanked the Administrative Systems office for their hard work on the online evaluations system.

Stern asked if the “Report a Concern” button is next to each comment, and it is. He then asked where these concerns go, and what action is taken? Tenney’s reply was that these concerns go to the registrar’s office, and this will be their first semester to receive them. The action taken will depend upon each situation. Harter indicated that she’d like the faculty to have a voice in any action that might be taken as a response to a concern. Tenney was then asked whose idea it was to add the “Report a Concern” feature, and the response was that it might have come from students. This feature is found on I-tunes and other interactive systems. Corcoran added that she was very impressed with how responsible the students were during the process of designing these evaluations, and she suggested they be trusted; try the process as is for now. Tenney agreed and noted that the Thresher reported last year, “Way to go, registrar’s office!” Finally, Harter reminded the group that the Senate took bold steps with this evaluation process and much has been achieved.

VI. Harter then moved to the next topic: updates from on-going working groups and other issues the Senate must address this year.

1)      Ben Kamins has requested there be a review of the ecological status of existing buildings on the Rice campus.

2)      The Senate must approve a model for future academic calendars.

3)      The Working Group on Course and Instructor Evaluations (Ric Stoll, chair) is nearly finished and should be able to present their full report at the next meeting.

4)      The Working Group on Email Privacy (Joe Warren, chair) gave its presentation to the Senate last semester, andWarren expects to bring a final report to the Senate very soon for the Senate’s approval.

5)      The Jones School has proposed a Ph.D. in Management and this will be up for a vote at the next meeting.

6)      Gautami Shah, chair of the Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Working Group, has indicated that this group has more work to do and will present its report later in the Fall.

7)      The Working Group on Athletic Admissions (Dale Sawyer, chair), will also report later in the Fall.

 

VII. Harter then addressed possible new topics the Senate might undertake this year, starting with the Senate response to the report from the Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Program (CRUP). Harter stated that Corcoran had emailed the report to the Senators and asked for their responses. The Senate needs to respond to this report as a group, perhaps with its own report or perhaps more casually. Harter was asked to clarify—was the Senate as a group to come to an agreement on curriculum reform? Harter’s reply was that Chandler Davidson had requested a response from the Senate, but the way in which the Senate should reply had not been determined. The entire faculty will respond at some point to this important issue. A task force may indeed be needed so that a thoughtful response/endorsement can be made. Stern added that the discussion on this topic was lively in the past. Corcoran stated that in her email (which contained the report) she asked the faculty to contact their Senators with their comments. If a theme presents itself, it should be noted. She added that it is early in the semester; this process may take some time. Dave Schneider indicated that he was not sure an endorsement is necessary at this time (perhaps just comments), and he feared that a task force might not report its findings until next May, at which time the second phase of the CRUP committee will be doing its work; a Senate response to this report must be timely. Harter said the important point is that the faculty have the final say when it comes to curriculum. Harter then asked the group to vote informally as to how they would like the Senate to respond to the CRUP report—formally with a task force or more casually, and the reply was that something more casual, and thus more timely, was preferred. However, it was suggested that the Senate wait until a few more comments are received before a final decision is made on how the Senate responds to the CRUP report.

Corcoran then spoke on the topic of undergraduate admissions as an item she would like the Faculty Senate to address, especially because of the push to increase the student body. She stated that many people in her department have the impression that the admissions office places a lot of emphasis on a student’s extra-curricular activities, but that such students are not always strong enough academically for Rice. She stated she does not know what the criteria for acceptance is at Rice, and she’d like the faculty as a whole to have a better understanding of this and even evaluate the criteria used. Corcoran suggested this process start with someone from the admissions office coming to a Senate meeting and explaining the criteria they use.

Tom Killian stated that although he knows choosing students is difficult, he agrees with Corcoran and has additional issues to bring up regarding the admissions process. He would like the faculty role in the admissions process defined. He has been told that the faculty members on the admissions committee are no longer looking at the application folders. He expressed concern about that change and asked what the regular interaction of the faculty should be, especially now with the growth of the university.

David Leebron stated that this conversation regarding admissions is appropriate at any time, but as the campus grows by 30%, a better understanding of the process is indeed needed and that much information is available. Chris Munoz has produced more data than ever before regarding Rice’s student body. Corcoran indicated she’d like to see the data; Leebron replied that Munoz would be happy to present the data to the Senate. He stated further that although the faculty can have an important role in the admissions process, their time is not best utilized by reviewing folders and interviewing individual applicants. His opinion is that the professionals in the admissions office are better suited to this task. Leebron added that the question is which students are the ones Rice will take chances on? He gave as an example the student with a terrific experiment or scholarship endeavor but lacking in some other areas. The faculty can be instrumental in making decisions on those individual students. In fact, the faculty will need to help recruit those students, as the Shepherd School of Music currently does. Several members replied that they’d be happy to recruit.

Meredith Skura stated she was happy to know that the administrators, trustees, and others across campus are interested in the admissions process, and she was happy to hear of the professionalism in the admissions office. She stated that the faculty at Rice was left out of the process in the past, and further stated that the faculty do have skills that can be valuable in the admissions process, such as reading and evaluating essays. Leebron said faculty members could participate in a different manner from reading essays. For example, the admissions staff might come to the English department for evaluation of an award an applicant has received.

Harter summarized that the issue is not whether faculty members should or should not read essays, but whether and how they can be involved in defining the priorities that lie behind the admissions process itself. Many faculty feel there is no real venue in which they might express their views on this.

Schneider stated he was on the admissions committee for a number of years, and that he read thousands of essays; he has respect for the admissions staff. It was rare, he said, for him to spot anything that the admissions staff missed. He stated that the change from having faculty members read each application was a good one. His work on this committee gave him insight on how the admissions office operates. He feels that the concern across campus is that perhaps the admissions office is not looking for the general values (in students) that the faculty wants. Also, a large part of a Rice education happens outside of the classroom, and it is hard to identify those who will succeed.

Killian stated that there are two distinct questions here: first, the general philosophy of the type of students we should admit, and second, the yearly process of how we choose these students. Leebron added that once Munoz presents the data, the Faculty Senate might have a better idea of how they want to participate in this process. Stern asked that the next step be that someone from the admissions office come to the Faculty Senate and discuss how students are selected for admission. Leebron said Chris Munoz is the person to decide who will address the Senate, and two items should be covered: 1) explain the admissions process, 2) present statistics on the current student body. Then a discussion could follow detailing the values the faculty would like to see in admitted students.

Harter went on to the last new topic for 2007-2008, which was brought to the attention of the Executive Committee recently by theRice University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). This chapter, represented by Moshe Vardi, wished to present, for Senate consideration, the following three-point initiative regarding the renewal/rehiring of key administrators at Rice. 

Initiative Submitted to the Senate

By the Rice Chapter of the AAUP

August 22, 2007

 

1. We recommend that a standard review procedure for reappointments of key administrators be established by the Rice administration, such as exist at many of our peer institutions. The establishment of a standard procedure would ensure both that relevant concerns be heard and that the raising of such concerns not be construed as threatening or disrespectful by the appointee.

 

2. We recommend that this procedure involve the establishment of reappointment committees with membership that mirrors that of search committees. By involving representatives of constituencies affected, the administration would receive a qualitatively different kind of information than that obtained by a purely administrative review.

 

3. We recommend that Faculty Senate play a role in appointing these reappointment committees. Reevaluation and reappointment is a matter of special concern to those representing the faculty in matters of university governance. Faculty Senate, together with the administration, should develop guidelines for reappointment committees.

Vardi stated that in the past at Rice, faculty comments were collected by the provost and that was the extent of the review system for key administrators. Almost all other universities have a formal review system of some sort. He listed several schools: University ofIllinois, University of California, Duke, Cornell, and the University of Texas. Some schools use a committee of representatives, some interview upwards, sideways, and downwards (360 degree feedback) for recommendation regarding key administrators, with the final decision usually made by the provost. At Rice, often there is the feeling that in this small institution everything can be done informally, but Vardi recommends that a formal review committee be established similar to the search committee used for new hires.

Randy Batsell stated that many organizations use this 360-degree format because it prevents bullies from staying in power. He said he liked the first two points but had a problem with regard to the third, since appointed committees could become political. Eugene Levy stated that he is happy with this proposal; it is in fact something that he proposed when he first came to Rice. He would prefer the type of process that Vardi’s group proposes over what is done now. He recommended steps be taken to go ahead and make this change. Vardi then spoke about the selection of such a committee, recognizing that it is a delicate process.

Leebron made two points: first, key administrators are often hired without a specific term contract. He, for example, serves at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees. The key administrators affected by this new process would be deans and department chairs. Second, and with regard to the Senate’s role in discussing a possible new process: Leebron prefers to proceed less formally than having discussions with the entire Faculty Senate. He and the provost feel that they could discuss this new process with the Executive Committee, and then present to the Faculty Senate what has been decided. At that point, a policy would be written regarding the re-appointing of deans and department chairs.

Harter stated that she was impressed with the reaction of both the president and the provost when this topic was introduced in their agenda meeting held the previous week. She thanked Vardi and the Rice AAUP chapter for this recommendation.

Brian Huberman asked for a clear definition of key administrators. Vardi said his group left it vague on purpose as they are not sure of the contracts each administrator has—they considered deans as key administrators, as well as vice provosts, perhaps even the provost. Levy indicated that he has an open appointment, not a term contract. Levy also stated that at his previous institution, when department chairs and deans were appointed to a five-year term, renewals were done as shown on #1 and #2 on this initiative.

Shah asked if this term should read “key academic administrators” instead of key administrators. Harter asked Vardi whether presidents and provosts were considered above this process by the other universities he canvassed, and the reply was that the president was, but not the provost—the provost could be renewed by this process. Shah requested that this process happen for key academic administrators more often than just at the renewal time, but to provide feedback more often between faculty and administrators. Shah also stated that the Faculty Senate definitely needs to be involved with this process. Huberman stated that surely such a process is in place at Rice, but Vardi again stated that comments are collected by the provost, and the provost alone is the review committee.

Levy indicated he would be happy not to be the sole review committee. Duane Windsor asked for clarification: who precisely will meet to discuss this? What are the next steps? Levy said the president and provost will meet with the leadership of the Faculty Senate, the Executive Committee, and come up with a proposal. Harter then asked for an informal vote as to whether the members of the Senate felt that the Senate itself should be involved with this topic. The vote was unanimously in the affirmative.

Harter again welcomed the new Senators and again thanked Marj Corcoran for her service over the past two years as Speaker. The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.