Faculty Senate Meeting

March 31, 1998

 

Present: G. Handelman, M. Abbot, K. Fortun, R. Franklin, R. Smith, A. Wallace, R. Messler, J. Durgee, J. Newell, S. Salon, B. Carlson, D. Ellison, A. Basile, R. Norsworthy, T. Willemain, M. Goldberg, J. Wilson, Acting Dean of Faculty (ex officio).

 

Agenda

Approval of Minutes of March 3 and March 17, 1998 meetings

Discussion of Petition from Faculty of School of Engineering – S. Salon

Institute Priorities – J. Wilson

Institute Budgeting Process – E. Rogers

Report on School of Engineering Proposed Faculty Evaluation Process – D. Duquette

 

President Al Wallace called the meeting to order at 2:15 pm.

 

There were 16 senators present; the more than 30 guests included a representative from the POLY and one from student government.

 

A. Wallace: I propose that we adopt the following procedures for this meeting:

- limit debate to 3 minutes per speaker

- senators speak first before guests are recognized

- pros and cons alternate in speaking to a motion on the flow

- speakers will not speak a second time until all wishing to speak have been recognized

- this meeting open to all members of the Rensselaer community and closed to any others.

 

The motion was seconded and adopted without dissent.

 

Approval of Minutes of March 3 and March 17, 1998 meetings

The Minutes of the meetings of March 3, 1998 and March 17, 1998 were approved without dissent.

 

B. Carlson offered the following resolution:

The Faculty Senate requests that the Executive Committee conduct a presidential no-confidence vote of the faculty.  This vote should be completed no later than April 14, 1998 and the results reported to the Senate on that date.

 

S. Salon seconded and the floor was opened for discussion of the motion.

 

S. Salon: I will describe the history of a petition to the senate.  After the last meeting, we recognized that we had not consults with out constituents before adopting the resolution to request that the appointment of the Dean of Engineering be rescinded.  A petition was launched in the engineering school expressing the wish that the faculty senate should vote no confident on the President.  Many of these faculty felt that it was important to get the attention of the Trustees in this matter.  Subsequently the petition was circulated in the Schools of Science and Humanities and

year, that the faculty had lost a sense of trust in the President and vice versa.  Sam has always been very open and he cares deeply about the well-being of the Institute.

 

K. Nelson: Department heads in Engineering have had numerous meetings.  There is a consensus of a lack of confidence in the President’s leadership.

 

R. Messler: The report that we made on your behalf made him take notice.  There was noticeable body language which reflected this.

 

R. Smith: Mr. Heffner was affected by our meeting with him.

 

J. Newell: The report to Mr. Heffner was stronger than we have repeated here.

 

K. Nelson: The department heads in Engineering would like to see him replaced.

 

T. Willemain: From now to the 14th, should a “list of sins” be compiled?

 

B. Carlson: I have a list.  There is a proposed resolution which at present is decoupled from the motion on the table.  The procedure would be up to the executive committee.

 

D. Ellison: In H&SS we collected 18 signatures of 39 possible on a Friday afternoon and Monday morning.  The Senate needs to respond to the petition from the faculty.

 

K. Fortun: What about the vote her by the Faculty Senate?

 

A. Wallace: The motion on the floor now concerns the Faculty Senate conducting a vote of the general faculty.

 

M. Goldberg: What is the list of sins?  Why was it so necessary to cancel our response to the DOE RFP a few hours before it was due?  The President has a lack of interest in faculty life.  The faculty should participate more in the governance of the institution.  Also, what specifically happened with regard to the Dean of Engineering resignation?

 

B. Carlson: Read into the record the specifics of the resolution which was prepared to accompany the motion for a vote of no-confidence by the faculty as follows:

 

            Whereas R. Byron Pipes, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has failed to exhibit the leadership for these difficult times, and

            Whereas he has frequently demonstrated disregard for the role of the faculty in governance, and

            Whereas he has given higher priority to buildings than faculty, and

            Whereas he has forced the resignation of at least one qualified academic administrator, and

            Whereas he has attempted to prevent independent contracts with the Trustees,

            Now therefore be it resolved that the faculty of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hereby expresses no confidence in the leadership of President R. Byron Pipes.

 

B. Carlson: I suggested a formal faculty evaluation of the President before.  The resolution reflects what I have heard.  The petition initiated in the SoE followed and has suggested a change in direction for a motion to the Faculty Senate.

 

J. Koretz:  I circulated the petition in Science.  People there feel strongly about this matter.  It was easy to get signatures.  They welcomed the initiative.  This is a faculty issue affecting all of us.

 

R. Smith: To reiterate our feeling after the meeting with Mr. Heffner the issues are under review by the Board.  Mr. Heffner is a faculty friend.  A campus vote at this time, before the trustees act, could handicap our efforts with the trustees.  Mr. Heffner assures us that the board would act with due dispatch.  At this time we can provide dispassionate information to the Board.  It is even more important now to get the new Provost in place.

 

G. Handelman: There are not many smiles around this place now.  A university is a fragile institution.

 

R. Messler: We are a legislative body with responsibility and no authority.  Confidence is a go/no go matter.  A list of particular grievances may not be necessary.  What it boils down to is that the President’s management style is not appropriate.  He has been reprimanded by the Board.  He is on a year-to-year contract.  Before that he was on a three-year contract.  He will probably not get a second reprimand.

 

R. Norsworthy: When we met with Mr. Heffner, we were not of one mind.  Now the Executive Committee is unanimous in its sentiment to wait and see what the Trustees do.  There is a General Faculty Meeting on April 7 and the next Faculty Senate meeting is on April 14.  Rushing won’t increase the Trustees’ confidence in the Faculty Senate as a deliberative body.  We can always put this off.  I am convinced that there will be firm action by the Board of Trustees.  The risk is in going forward now.

 

R. Franklin: It has been reported that the President has a higher salary than the President of Harvard.  The academic administrators’ salaries are very high.  You can see this on my web site.  There have been a series of appointment without faculty input or a façade of faculty input.

 

S. Anderson-Gold: I want to challenge the idea that there is no difference whether there is a faculty-wide vote.  There is a difference.  We miss the symbolism of such a vote.  The life of the community is important.  If the community reaches a common judgment, that is important.  There is a difference between trusting the Trustees and having them respond to a faculty vote.

 

J. Wilson: Sam Heffner did ask us for time for the Trustees to act.  He said; please give me the time to act.  If you do not like my response, you can vote no confidence in the board of trustees.  I note that we are talking about several initiatives, including ERC proposals that are underway at present.

 

S. Sternstein: If we do not act now, it will be summer and the matter dies.  I have a particular issue.  In a lab course, delivery of spectrometers for the course was delayed.  Although they were on campus, they could not be delivered because the workers were busy.  The experiment for the class was delayed.  I later heard that the works were building a barbecue at the President’s house.  There is a long list of grievances.

 

L. Rubenfeld: This group does not have the power, but it does have the responsibility to act.  I have been here 31 years.  I will be here until I retire.  It is the senate’s obligation to state our position.  The senate should go on record.  There is a sad situation on campus.

 

R. Norsworthy: I agree with Professor Anderson-Gold that it makes a difference whether we act now.  The trustees have asked for time to act.  If we do not give them that time, we may be seen as a group of complainers.  The stakes are high.

 

D. Ellison: The stakes are always high.

 

K. Fortun: We have an alternative.  We can set a new role for the senate and the faculty.

 

L. Winner: I wish to make a statement for the record.

 

            I speak only for myself this afternoon, although I know my views are shared by a good number of faculty within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.  It is with deep regret that I must observe that the problems evident in the management style of President Pipes now characterize the leadership of H&SS as well.  This is not the occasion to enumerate the many cases of mismanagement and contempt for faculty governance that now afflict the school.  It is clear to me, however, that they have generated serious division and plummeting faculty morale.  Warning signs are evident in the fact that three of the five department chairs have stepped down.  Well known senior and junior professors are leaving Rensselaer and others are seriously looking to leave.  I believe that there is a time ahead when the Faculty Senate will need to take a close look at how the kinds of inept, divisive management that we are discussing this afternoon have spread more broadly, seriously undermining academic community within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, crippling its ability to operate effectively.

 

D. Duquette: I don’t see what a campus vote would do.  The Senate, which has been asked as a body to do so, should vote on confidence.

 

M. Shephard:  There are many problems and many views.  The Board and others must make hard decisions.  The vote is additional information to the trustees.

 

E. Altwicker: We should take action.  It is time for the faculty to make a strong statement and not wait.

 

H. Scarton: Will there be an Australian ballot to the faculty?  It should not have addresses on the same form that gets sent in.

 

R. Messler: I said that we have a friend in Sam Heffner.  We do not have many friends on the Board of Trustees.  They see us as chronically complaining.  [R. Messler then recounted unpleasant experiences with other Trustees this past fall.]

 

M. Goldberg: They will not become our friends if we hold back.

 

K. Fortun: The Board of Trustees needs to be educated and the new Provost needs to know that the Faculty Senate is strong.

 

G. Handelman: We should give a long and detailed list.

 

M. Jensen: The faculty has already acted.  Sam Heffner has come to hear us.  We have forcefully stated our concerns.  We have 112 signatures of tenured faculty.  I feel we need to let them react to us now.

 

R. Bizios: If the Board thinks we are complaining, they need to be re-educated.  The Faculty Senate should respect all the faculty and act.  Do not let us down.  We cannot ignore this situation.

 

R. Degeneff: The Albany and Schenectady papers have it.  NSF will have it now.  It will be a much more powerful statement if 225 or 300 of the faculty say the same thing.

 

S. Anderson-Gold: The position we are in is now more evolved.  Earlier, the petition was only from the School of Engineering.  Now that there are more signatures, it must be more impressive.  There should be a broader response, a vote of the faculty, not just this group.

 

L. Rubenfeld: This body has not taken action.  I disagree.  The Senate has the obligation to represent us and pass this motion.

 

R. Norsworthy: There is a general faculty meeting in one week.  There is a meeting of the faculty senate in two weeks.  If there is no action by next week, the general faculty can call for a campus-wide ballot.

 

R. Messler: We asked for a date.  Mr. Heffner could not give us one.

 

M. Abbott:  It is too close to summer.  The timing of a postponement of the vote would be cynical.

 

J. Newell: He would give us no date.

 

B. Carlson: Sam Heffner did not go out of his way.  He was going from Baltimore to Maine anyway.  We did not cause the problem.  What could be more forceful than a campus wide vote?  My motion calls for a report to the faculty from a vote conducted by the Senate.

 

S. Heragu: There is urgency in this matter.  We should act now.

 

T. Willemain: We owe it to the President to put on the record what the trouble is.  We should deliver a full message.

 

K. Fortun: There should be two votes.

 

A. Wallace:  The question is called.

 

With 16 members voting, the vote was 15 in favor, 1 against.

 

K. Fortun: I move that the faculty senate vote no confidence with respect to the petitions submitted to the senate.

 

Seconded by D. Ellison.

 

J. Newell: In light of the previous motion passed by the Senate, I will abstain.

 

B. Carlson: Asked for a clarification of the motion.  J. Newell offered (after some discussion) the following clarified language:

            The Senate, in response to the petition of the faculty received today, expresses its lack of confidence in President Pipes.

 

The clarified language was accepted by the mover and seconder.

 

R. Norsworthy: I will support the motion.

 

M. Goldberg: I don’t understand.  What is the difference?  What if there is a difference between the two votes?

 

S. Salon: This is an open ballot.

 

Several guests spoke briefly urging a “yes” vote by the Senate.

 

S. Anderson-Gold: What if there is a significant difference between this vote and the next one?  This might look strange to some trustees.

 

K. Fortun: If we change our minds we can vote again in two weeks.

 

J. Newell: I move that we table this action until our meeting in two weeks.  (seconded by R. Messler)

 

A. Wallace: The rationale is that the Senate should vote when we have the information from the faculty vote.

 

The motion to table failed 8 to 8.

 

The motion proposed by B. Carlson was then passed by a vote of 15-0 with one abstention.

 

A. Wallace then called for a motion to adjourn.  Moved, seconded and accepted without dissent.

 

Meeting closed at 4:00 p.m.

 

Note: The minutes recorded for the meeting have been corrected according to the recollections of the members of the Executive Committee.

 

r/s Randy Norsworthy, Recording Secretary