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Faculty Senate Meeting 

February 24, 2010 

Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall 


Senators present: Gregory Barnett, Randy Batsell, John Casbarian, Steven Cox, Sarah Ellenzweig, Bridget Gorman, Jane Grande-Allen, John Hempel, Tom Killian, Phil Kortum, David Leebron, Gene Levy, Scott McGill, Susan McIntosh, Matteo Pasquali, Brian Rountree, Dale Sawyer, Gautami Shah, Evan Siemann, Meredith Skura, John Sparagana, Devika Subramanian, Yizhi Jane Tao, Duane Windsor (Speaker), and Jim Young (Deputy Speaker). 

Senators absent: Deborah Harter, Rob Raphael, Robin Sickles, and Randy Stevenson. 


I.     Call to order 

II.    Working Group report: Grade Inflation/Academic Honors 

III.   New business: Senate approved a motion to change the deadline for petitioning EX&S to return from a suspension to November 1. 

IV.   Announcements and reports from Speaker and Deputy Speaker: Speaker explained plan to combine the January plenary and Senate meetings beginning in 2011. Promotion & Tenure Committee and Senate elections will occur soon. 

V.    Discussion on Faculty Senate role 


I.           Call to order: Duane Windsor, Speaker, called the meeting to order at 12:05 p.m. He explained that the working group report and EX&S recommendation would be handled first ahead of announcements and reports taken together. 

II.           Working Group report: Grade Inflation/Academic Honors 

The chair of the working group on Grade Inflation/Academic Honors, Randy Batsell, presented the group’s initial findings. The group analyzed every Rice student’s grade in every course for the past 10 years. (One earlier data point was also available.) Batsell stated the overall conclusion that grade inflation (defined as average grade) exists at Rice, as at other private and public universities. Data indicated fall semester grades at Rice were consistently lower than spring semester grades. 

Batsell stated that the Jones Graduate School of Business uses a “grade collar” to regulate grade distributions for MBA courses. He asked the Senate to discuss whether a grade collar should be considered for every department. 

Further discussion of this topic included the question as to whether grades reflect an objectiverating of course objectives the students have learned, or if the grades show a comparativerating based on other students’ performance. One person wondered if the teacher evaluations (by students) could have had an effect on grade inflation. It was stated that professors need to make it clear as to what will constitute an A in their courses from the outset. Tom Killian noted that the SACS accreditation process requires instructors to state course goals and the outcomes expected. 

Meredith Skura said that the Working Group’s research had revealed three questions: 

·         discrepancy between the fall and spring semester grades 

·         discrepancy of grades by division (school) at Rice 

·         grade inflation overall. 

Jim Young stated that improved grades are not a problem if they objectively reflect improved student performance. Killian also wished to discuss whether higher grades are a problem or not. He said a problem might occur when awarding honors. 

Discussion, including comments by President Leebron, indicated importance of separation of analysis into graduate and undergraduate students, freshmen, seniors, and the relationship of majors to academic honors. 


III.      New Business 

        EX&S deadline change: Windsor introduced a motion initiated by the Committee on Examinations and Standing (EX&S).   

Motion to approve change in deadline to November 1: 

“On page 21, under the heading ‘Readmission after Suspension,’ the General Announcements states that EX&S should receive a petition for readmission in the spring semester by December 1. We recommend that that deadline be moved back to November 1.” 

The Senate voted to approve the motion. 

IV.       Announcements and Reports from Speaker and Deputy Speaker 

A.    Speaker Windsor announced that Randy Stevenson will continue serving as Convenor of the Appeals and Grievances Committee. 

B.     The January 2011 plenary meeting of the faculty to approve mid-year degrees will be combined with the January 2011 Faculty Senate meeting. 

C.     Documents currently being prepared regarding changes in the General Announcements and regarding the work of the Graduate Council and Committee for the Undergraduate Curriculum (CUC) should be ready for the March 2010 Senate meeting. 

D.    Election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker for 2010-2011 will occur at the April 2010 Senate meeting, as well as presentation of the proposed Executive Committee slate. 

E.     Deputy Speaker Young requested volunteers to serve on the Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC). Eight members are needed. 

F.      Young sent out the nominations forms for the Promotion and Tenure Committee seats up for election in two schools, Natural Sciences and Humanities, and he has alerted the deans of these two schools. 

G.    Regarding the Senate elections, Young will send out these nomination forms after Spring Break. There are 12 seats up for re-election this year, including four of the five Humanities Senators. Young discussed adjusting some terms in order to balance the rotation. 

H.    One more issue for the NEC to address, Young stated, is the University Committee structure. He expressed the Senate’s plan to reduce its responsibility for fully staffing these committees to the five whose work is critical to the Senate. For another five committees which deal with policies that relate to faculty, but for which the Senate does not have a vote, the Senate plans to be kept apprised by a faculty liaison. For the remaining committees which have little to do with the Senate, the NEC will provide to the President’s office the names of those faculty who have volunteered to serve, and the President’s office will actually appoint the committee members. Young said that recognition of faculty service is needed; often the same faculty serve continually, resulting in them being overused and overworked. 


V.        Discussion on the Senate’s role 

For the final hour of the Senate meeting, Windsor said that the Senate Executive Committee wished to have an open forum on the functioning of the Senate and future of the University.  The Executive Committee had discussed this matter at its last meeting in some detail. 

Killian said there were a couple of important issues he wished to bring up. First, the Senate works hard, but the faculty may not be aware of this or are not engaged. Second, he suggested that Senators upgrade their role, especially by connecting more with Deans. Also, there were three questions he wished the Senate to consider: 1) What is the Senate’s role? During the merger negotiations with Baylor College of Medicine, some faculty said that the role of the Senate should be limited and big votes should be put to the entire faculty. 2) What is the vision of Rice University? Killian said the Senate could help with the faculty having a role in determining the vision of the university. 3) Is the Senate representing the research endeavors of the faculty? 

Batsell discussed how well Senators represent their constituents. Although the Jones School Senators and their faculty constituents agreed on the possible merger of Rice with BCM, he wondered if faculty in some schools disagreed with their Senators. He also noted that when he worked on the faculty survey group, many people stated that they were tired of receiving so many emails. He recommended that the Senate be careful with the faculty’s time. 

Matteo Pasquali referred to documents written by the Presidential Search committee of several years ago and the Vision for the Second Century (V2C) in which it was stated that the strength and visibility of Rice should be improved. He wondered if Rice had become more visible without becoming stronger. He compared a top-down method (administration to faculty) for improving the university versus a bottom-up method (faculty to administration). Pasquali said that it is hard for the administration to promote broad excellence; such an initiative is faculty-driven, and he thought that Rice’s unusually collaborative culture would be successful using this method. 

Bridget Gorman stated that, as a new Senator, she was unsure as to her role. She did not receive any instructions, and many of the Senate discussions this year were confidential. Windsor briefly explained the recent history of the Senate, and he discussed how the Senate had moved information out of the confidential merger meetings to the rest of the faculty. He said that unless the Senate is in Executive Session, Senators are expected to discuss all information with their constituents. 

Young said that schools such as the Jones Graduate School of Business and the Architecture Schoolhave unique situations—they are small groups which can meet regularly as a whole. Most of the other divisions do not have school-wide meetings. He suggested that Senators give updates of Senate activity at Dean’s meetings which include department chairs. 

Kyriacos Zygourakis, a faculty member attending the meeting, said he thought that the Senate should act as an “early warning system” for the faculty so as to give the faculty notice of issues that are unusual or abnormal. He added that once an issue rises above a critical threshold of importance, as in the case of the Rice-BCM merger, the Senate should conduct everything in the open and defer to the faculty. 

President Leebron said that it had been a mistake not to make the Faculty Advisory Council (on the proposed merger) a Faculty Senate committee from the outset. He said that he agreed with the idea of strengthening the Senate. He also stated that, in his experience, law schools are administered as single entities in which the faculty meets as a whole, while the schools at Rice vary in their practice, but in several, the faculty does not meet as a whole. This hampers communication. 

Regarding a discussion on donations, Leebron said that it is not often that a donor will ask what Rice needs. Instead, donors are often very specific on which projects and university needs they would like to help fund. He said his office is constantly trying to put together faculty and donors interests; if the Senate were to delay or complicate this process, it could be detrimental. 

Leebron also discussed a university-wide vision, saying that relying only on a bottom-up method generation of ideas and priorities can lead to anarchy. He said the goal is not to choose one model, but to use both the ideas and entrepreneurial spirit of the faculty and the ability of the administration to coordinate and support those efforts and include them in a broader university vision. He advocated seizing on the “bubbling up” of ideas from faculty. Leebron said that, for the most part, schools and departments determine fundamental strategies. 

Windsor recapped the current discussion and then discussed three types of faculty meetings: constitutionally mandated (for State of the University address and degree approval), Speaker or President initiated, and petition plenary meetings. He explained that procedures for each type of meeting are different. One suggestion he has received is for the Speaker to host a general faculty meeting every semester for the purpose of open discussion. He also asked the Senate to consider the way the Executive Committee is structured and functions. 

Young said there have been some suggestions that the Executive Committee is too closed and has too much power; perhaps all Senators should be invited to the Executive Committee meetings on a rotating basis. 

Windsor said the Senate has introduced the Dean’s Review process and runs the P&T Committee elections, both of which are important to faculty. The Senate also recommends faculty for University Committees, but usually lacks sufficient volunteers willing to serve. 

Skura stated that she wished to take into account more of the faculty’s opinion, not just those in attendance at today’s meeting. 

Windsor said that the document he had distributed to each of the Senators contained a list of questions regarding the future role of the Senate which they could send to their constituents. He said he preferred this informal method over a more-centralized method or asking a working group to study the issue. Killian said he preferred a working group because he thought that without one, the task to study this issue would simply fall back on the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. 

Final comments included Pasquali stating that a situation in which a university is dependent on external funding creates problems. He also stated that Rice is one of a small number of universities whose faculty members have a lot of time for scholarship. At Rice, professors are required to teach a few classes, be on a committee now and then, and that is all. He said they can do as they wish with 2/3 of their time, and he advocated empowering them to be successful. 

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