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Minutes of the Faculty Senate Meeting 

December 3, 2008 

McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall 

  

Agenda 

  

I.          Introduction  

II.        Retirement Investment Planning  

III.       Senate Announcements 

IV.       NEC Slate 2008-2009  

V.        Proposal to restructure the B.A. Majors in Civil and Environmental Engineering 

VI.       Add/Drop Deadlines 

  

  

Senators present: Randy Batsell, John Casbarian, Steven Cox, Michael Deem, Deborah Harter (Speaker), John Hempel, Matthias Henze, Ben Kamins, Tom Killian, Phil Kortum, Caroline Quenemoen, Rob Raphael, Gautami Shah, Meredith Skura, Michael Stern, Randy Stevenson, Devika Subramanian, James Weston, Duane Windsor, Jim Young.  

  

Senators absent: Ed Cox, Sarah Ellenzweig, Christian Emden, Michael Emerson, David Leebron (ex officio), Eugene Levy (ex officio), Peter Mieszkowski, Matteo Pasquali, Dale Sawyer, Evan Siemann. 

  

  

Proceedings 

  

I.  Introduction 

  

Speaker Deborah Harter welcomed attendees to the last Faculty Senate meeting of the semester, and she announced some of the items the Senate expects to address in the Spring 2009 semester: the Admissions Working Group will present its report, as will the Working Group which is reviewing the Honor Council/Honor Code, a panel discussion will be held with several members of the Board of Trustees, and the Working Group that is rewording Rice’s policy on Amorous Relations will present its recommendations.  

  

II.   Retirement Investment Planning –Mary Cronin, Associate VP for Human Resources 

  

Harter introduced Mary Cronin, Rice’s Associate Vice President for Human Resources, who stated that she would explain how Rice’s retirement plans are structured, discuss other options that are available, and hear the concerns of Senators and of other assembled faculty members. Cronin said Rice University wants to aid its employees once their active involvement with the university ends, and, to the extent possible, help people make rational decisions about how they should save their money now and spend it later.  

Cronin presented and discussed five slides with information on Rice’s 401(a) Basic Retirement Plan which consists of contributions from Rice alone (no employee contributions), and the 403(b) Supplementary Retirement Annuity Plan which is a voluntary, employee salary deferral plan. Cronin stated that in January 2010, Rice expects that Fidelity Investments will be available as a choice on the 401(a) Basic Retirement Plan in addition to TIAA-CREF. To view the slide presentation, please use this link: Retirement Plans @ Rice  

Following the presentation, Cronin held a question-and-answer period: 

Michael Stern: Has Rice considered instituting the Roth Option (another type of 403(b) plan with tax advantages) for retirement funds?  

Cronin: Yes, it has been considered. Right now, the number one priority has been to add Fidelity Investments to Rice’s 401(a) Basic Retirement Plan. 

Randy Batsell: How definite is the addition of Fidelity?  Is there anything that could get in the way of this additional choice being offered? Can we move our current TIAA-CREF funds to Fidelity? 

Cronin: The decision has been made to add Fidelity; it is just the implementation details that need to be finalized. I assume the TIAA-CREF funds can be moved to Fidelity. 

Ed Akin: I feel certain that over the past ten years, Rice salaries and benefits have not kept up with cost of living increases, and I am hoping that during this period where we have a weaker economy, Rice will do better with salary and benefits. 

 Harter: The Faculty Senate is working with Provost Gene Levy to produce a report both on salary generally and on salary and gender equity. Currently, these reports are only being sent to the president and the provost; not to the Senate. I will bring this issue up again with the administration. 

Kevin Kirby, Vice President for Administration: Last year there was an above-average increase in salaries, and President Leebron has sent an email today to all employees in which he discusses Rice’s financial picture.  

Question: Is it possible for Rice to provide employees with more control over the 401(a) plan? 

Cronin:  No, there is an agreement with TIAA-CREF that these funds will be held over time, and I do not see these terms changing. The TIAA-CREF traditional plan is fairly safe and secure. 

James Weston: The 44% participation rate in the supplemental (voluntary) plan is so low! Should the default choice for Rice employees be participation, instead of the opposite?  

Cronin: Under the Pension Protection Plan of 2006, if participation is to be the default, employer contribution is required. Thus, there would be a cost for Rice to provide this option, but it is a good idea. 

Weston: Research shows that passive mutual funds grossly outperform active funds. 

Harter: This is something that would be nice to share with the faculty in a formal way, and in fact, David Leebron has indicated to me that he would be willing to organize a panel of experts (like James Weston) who could present and discuss such data along with broad financial trends.  

Question: An information gap exists regarding how one goes about retiring, how to actually take that step – is there a way to receive this information without seeing a financial counselor?  

Cronin: I will see about adding this sort of information to the Rice website. 

  

III.   Senate Announcements (Deborah Harter, Speaker) 

            * Congratulations to Senator Sarah Ellenzweig who delivered her baby recently. 

  

            * Rice undergraduate students are proceeding with the electronic test bank they announced 

   at a recent Senate meeting. Professors who do not want their tests posted on this test 

   bank can opt out, and Harter said she will find out how they can achieve this opt-out. 

                                                                

            * Carol Quillen will address the Senate in an upcoming meeting to announce changes in  

               the Tuesday-Thursday class schedules. 

IV.   Nominations and Elections (NEC) Slate – Duane Windsor 

  

Duane Windsor, Deputy Speaker, presented the NEC slate for 2008-2009, as reviewed by the Executive Committee. There are five persons nominated/elected by the Senate and three persons appointed by the Deputy Speaker. Windsor stated that no member of the Executive Committee can serve on the NEC other than the Deputy Speaker. The NEC slate is as follows:  

  

Chair, Duane Windsor, Deputy Speaker, Jones Graduate School of Management 

Engineering: Devika Subramanian, Computer Science 

Humanities: Christian Emden, German Studies 

                     Matthias Henze, Religious Studies 

Jones School: James Weston, Finance 

Natural Sciences: John Hempel, Mathematics 

                             Michael Stern, Biochemistry & Cell Biology 

Social Sciences: Michael Emerson, Sociology 

                           Peter Mieszkowski, Economics 

Windsor asked the voting Senators if there were any objections to the slate as presented; there were none. A vote was held and all were in favor; the slate was approved as presented.  

V. Proposal to restructure the B.A. Majors in Civil and Environmental Engineering 

  

Harter reminded the Senators that she had sent them the necessary documents on this topic prior to the meeting, and she stated that the Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum (CUC) had unanimously approved the proposal for a new major entitled B.A. in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Randy Stevenson, a Senator who also serves on the CUC, added that there were no objections during the CUC’s discussions; this new major is simply two tracks of study (Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering) that will now have a combined name (Civil and Environmental Engineering). 

  

Harter said there had been a question as to whether this sort of change even needed Senate approval, but after some discussion, she, Moshe Vardi, and Susan McIntosh all agreed that this proposal should indeed obtain Senate approval. (It was noted that the graduate program is still to be approved by the Graduate Council.) Harter said that the Executive Committee has discussed the need to articulate what does and does not need to be approved by the Senate before it appears in the General Announcements.  

  

Michael Deem asked if there is a Bachelor of Science degree in this field. Jim Young replied that the Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering still exists; there is no such degree for Environmental Engineering. The Bachelor of Arts degree existed for both Civil Engineering and (separately) for Environmental Engineering; this new degree combines the two tracks under one degree. 

A vote was held, and the proposal passed unanimously. Please use this link to view the approved proposal: Bachelor of Arts in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  

  

VI.   Add/Drop Deadlines 

  

Harter reviewed the recent history of add and drop deadlines, indicating that currently Rice students may add a class up to four weeks into the semester, and drop a class up to ten weeks into the semester. The Academic Calendar Committee of last year proposed to change these deadlines beginning in the Fall of 2009 such that the add deadline would be two weeks and the drop deadline five weeks.  [It would be confirmed later in this Senate meeting that this portion of the calendar proposal was actually left aside and neither discussed nor voted on last year]. Rice students have complained about this proposed change and would like to urge the Senate to discuss it further. The Executive Committee recently approved the formation of an ad hoc committee of faculty and administrators to discuss the issue, and this committee has proposed a deadline of two weeks for adding classes and seven weeks to drop.  Harter concluded by saying that the Student Association (SA) wished to urge the Senate to consider a deadline of three weeks for adding classes and seven for dropping, and their representatives would present their reasons. 

Add / Drop Deadline Options 

Without having to petition EX&S 

  

                                                             

                                                            ADD                            DROP                                                

Current Deadlines                             4 weeks                       10 weeks 

(involving certain fees) 

Change Proposed Last Spring         2 weeks                       5 weeks 

(certain fees might occur) 

Ad Hoc Committee Proposal            2 weeks                       7 weeks 

(no fees during these periods) 

SA Proposal                                       3 weeks                       7 weeks 

  

Harter explained that when the new Academic Calendar was first presented, most Senators were focused on whether or not to have the two-day Spring Recess, and the add/drop deadline issue was not discussed in any detail.  She added that Evan Siemann, who chaired the Academic Calendar Working Group, has stated that this issue was addressed by him with the students at one of their SA meetings, and he does not feel that the Senate should be discussing it again.  

  

One of the representatives of the SA stated that according to the Senate meeting minutes from last year, Speaker Harter had requested that there be no decision on the add/drop deadlines since it was unclear whether these deadlines should be the decision of the Senate. Harter wondered at the time if this issue should possibly go to the CUC. (See minutes of Faculty Senate meeting held November 28, 2007.) 

Harter reiterated that some Senators have questioned whether or not the discussion regarding add/drop deadlines should proceed.  Batsell felt that the discussion should not continue since the Academic Calendar had been voted on and approved. Stevenson felt that the add/drop issue was more properly handled by the administration. 

A discussion followed which included the following comments and questions: 

Windsor: The add/drop deadlines still allow for a student to petition the Committee on Examinations and Standing (Ex&S) for an exception. 

Michael Stern: Why not have the drop deadline at 10 weeks?  

Harter: Some faculty members feel 10 weeks is indulgent; some feel they need their roster fully established earlier. 

David Tenney: Group projects are especially affected by the late drop deadlines– the rest of the group is forced to pick up the work of the student who has dropped the class. 

Rob Raphael: I agree that group projects would have a problem, but is this a reason to have a uniform, university-wide policy? Could some courses have a two-week drop deadline while others might have a later drop deadline? 

Tenney: Variable drop deadlines would be an administrative nightmare, and might also be difficult for students to keep straight which classes were using which deadline. 

Young: A process exists for students to add classes later in the semester; is it possible to set up a fairly early drop date, but allow later drops with the permission of the instructor?  

Tenney: It is hard for many instructors to say no. 

Batsell: The drop deadline of five weeks that was approved last year is plenty; I agree with Evan Siemann that the Senate should not even be voting on this issue again. 

At this point, Harter read aloud excerpts of emails she had received from Tenney, Carl Caldwell, and Siemann: 

David Tenney would like to caution us against the 3-week deadline for adds.  "Over the years a large number of faculty have come to me requesting and indicating their desire for a limit of 2 weeks in getting their enrollment set.  Additionally, there are a number of reports that we do for outside entities that ask us to pull data on the "12th day" (the Monday after week 2).  That is why the vast majority of schools have both their add and drop deadlines before the end of week 2."

Carl Caldwell reminds us that the SA may prefer communicating its positions to the Senate in the form of resolutions, but as we all know, the S.A. does not make motions for the Senate to vote on.  The decision today "is a faculty decision. Not an administrative decision, not a staff decision, not a student decision, though voices from these quarters are important and welcome."  

Evan Siemann (Chair of the original Calendar Committee that put together the set of deadlines currently under consideration) disagrees that the deadlines passed last Spring should be under consideration in the first place, since his committee already "went through a careful, inclusive, transparent process in which we gave the students full information in real time."  He is aware of recent student upset but insists "We should not be reactive and emotional but thoughtful and careful."  Finally, he would prefer we table the whole discussion till our next meeting.  "No one has had the time to understand the implications of [the recommended deadlines], and this simply is not a crisis that requires such a rushed decision and prevents a canvassing of the university community."

Stevenson: The faculty-centric perspective is for a short-add, short-drop set of deadlines. If the Senate is making recommendations to the administration, and the Student Association is making recommendations to the administration, perhaps it is then up to the administration to make the final decision on these deadlines. If the Senate considers this a recommendation, not a decision, it can today vote according to what its faculty constituents want. 

Robin Forman, Dean of Undergraduates: Part of the faculty’s responsibility is to consider the pedagogical results of its actions. Regarding the add/drop deadlines, a standard drop period is difficult to establish; perhaps we should consider different drop deadlines for different classes. The previous 10-week drop deadline was to encourage experimentation, but it did have some negative consequences. Most private universities now have a 5-week drop deadline; the 7-week deadline proposed by the ad hoc committee is the mid-point of the semester. A broader question might be the one of considering what the transcript is meant to reflect.  

Tom Killian: The concept of commitment is important to learn – what sort of behavior are we encouraging with a long drop deadline? However, the long add period is more of a problem since it tells students they do not have to be serious about a course in the beginning of the semester. A two-week add period is long enough; a longer drop period is acceptable.  

At this point, two representatives from the Student Association addressed the meeting, Varun Rajan and Jasdeep Mangat. They thanked the Senate for considering a change in the add/drop deadlines. They said the SA agrees with the ad hoc committee’s recommendation for a 7-week drop deadline but would prefer a 3-week deadline to add classes which would encourage students to be adventurous and would give the students enough time to compare classes.  

Young: There are at least four weeks during the previous semester when a student can go to Esther to read comments on instructors and classes, read the General Announcements, or even meet with the instructor before registering for classes. Three weeks to add a class is acceptable, a fourth week could require instructor approval.  

Gautami Shah: A two-week add deadline is better, and a third week could be allowed with instructor approval.  

There was a question as to how many hours a student is allowed to sign up for, and Forman replied that the maximum is 20 hours without his approval. 

Meredith Skura: (To the SA representatives) Please give us a specific example of when a student would need more than two weeks to decide to add a class.  

SA Representatives: Some classes only meet once per week, and there is a Monday holiday at the beginning of each semester. If that once-a-week class meets on a Monday, a student might only have one exposure to the class before a decision is needed.  

Batsell: As Jim Young stated, if the student has done serious preparation prior to the semester, he/she should know which classes to take.  

Michael Deem: I do use the first two weeks for instruction; a student who adds my class in the third week will have to make up two weeks of work.  

Raphael: This class “shopping period” might be more applicable to freshmen, but should not be necessary for older students. Could we have a different policy for freshmen? 

Tenney: For any student in his/her first semester at Rice, he/she may drop a course up to the last day of the class.  

Harter then showed the following information from the Registrar’s office: 

 

FALL 2008 

WEEK 

COUNT OF ADDS 

% 

Week 1 

3094 

65% 

Week 2 

1380 

29% 

Week 3 

141 

3% 

Week 4 

131 

3% 

Grand Total 

4746 

100% 

Harter said that some people might say this information proves students do not need three or four weeks to add a class since most of the adds occur during the first two weeks of the semester. But others could argue that with only small numbers using the 3rd and 4th weeks, it seems less important to shorten this add period.  

Stevenson: What happens when “adds with the approval of the instructor” are allowed?  

Forman: It is disconcerting when a student adds a class late into the semester. Some faculty members have said, “I save my best lectures for week five.” Some faculty are taking it easy until they know which students will remain in their classes, while some students want real teaching in order to decide if they want to take that class. Philosophically, allowing instructor approval makes sense, but actually, it is hard for some professors to say no. 

Windsor: Even under the current system for adds and drops, the vast majority of the students make their decision in two weeks. Perhaps an additional week with approval of the instructor is reasonable.  

Batsell: I move we discuss this matter again at the next Senate meeting and vote at that time.  

Windsor: I second the motion. 

The resulting vote was in favor of postponing the discussion and vote on add/drop deadlines until the next Faculty Senate meeting, to be held January 14, 2009.  

The meeting was adjourned at 2:05 p.m.