Faculty Senate Meeting

November 20, 2002


Attendees: Jun Abrajano, Kurt Anderson, Sharon Anderson-Gold, Tom Apple, Bud Baeslack, Terry Blanchet, Robert Block, Linnda Caporael, Joe Ecker, Mark Embrechts,

Gary Gabriele, Cheryl Geisler, Lester Gerhardt, Mark Goldberg, Virginia Gregg, Ash Kapila, Achille Messac, Bruce Nauman, Jon Newell, Lou Padula, President Peter Persans, Provost Bud Peterson, Curtis Powell, Susan Sanderson, Jim Stodder (Hartford), Mary Anne Waltz, Bruce Watson


Click here for original Minutes from 11/20/2002




Approval of the Minutes of the 10/23 Faculty Senate Meeting

Presentation on the Financial State of the Institute- Virginia Gregg

Presentation on Faculty Benefits- Curtis Powell

Senate Vote on Proposed Appointment of Kurt Anderson to the Position of Secretary of the Faculty

New Business

            Splitting of RAs and TAs

            Email regarding TA Grading Survey



Approval of the Minutes of the 10/23 Faculty Senate Meeting

President Persans brought the meeting to order at 2:06 p.m. He asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the 11/6 meeting. Achille Messac made the motion, Jon Newell seconded.


There was discussion about the minutes not reflecting a return to Recommendation Number 4, (the splitting of RA's & TA's) in Linnda Caporael's motion. President Persans noted that the understanding was the document would be sent to the Provost's office as passed. However, he agreed that time would be set-aside at the end of this meeting to discuss an addendum to the recommendations to include the RA/TA issue.


Four members voted to accept the minutes, nine abstained, no oppositions; the minutes were approved.


Presentation on the Financial State of the Institute- Virginia Gregg

There were no reports from the standing committees. Moving on to the next agenda item, President Persans introduced Virginia Gregg, Vice President of Finance, to present a review of Rensselaer's 2001/02 financial results.


Vice President Gregg thanked the senate for its invitation, stating that her presentation would be the same as that made to the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees at the end of September. Some early outlook information for 2003 would be added where she had updates. Gregg also introduced Eileen McLaughlin, Budget Director, who would help with the '03 forecast.


Gregg stated that the Board of Trustees approved the Rensselaer Plan in May 2000, and shortly thereafter approved the potential withdrawal from, and potential investment of, between $50-$60 million of endowment funds to help jump-start the Plan. For the next five years, endowment withdrawals are anticipated to help support things like the constellation hires, some of the initiatives in research, and some of the facility initiatives.


During the discussion period after the presentation, it was asked if the $360 million gift or portion thereof was noted in the $33.6 million gift revenues. Vice President Gregg pointed out that it is very important to the donor, and part of the confidentiality agreement, that we not discuss the terms of the gift. "Obviously, payments that we would receive would be recorded as gifts when we receive them, but you have to look at endowment and operating and equipment gifts, as total gifts. Total gifts are a little over $53 million. Endowment gifts show up as capital gain items and are noted in the Capital Statement not in the Operating Statement," she said.


Cheryl Geisler, Vice President of the Faculty Senate, asked Gregg what she thought would be the biggest issues Rensselaer will face financially in the next five years.  Gregg remarked, "Like every other institution in the country, we are looking at a very changed economic environment, from what it was a few years ago when endowments were roaring up and tuition revenues were up; I think that will be a challenge for us, as it is for other institutions. What I find very encouraging, because of my long history here, is that we are very committed to making the strategic improvements of our Plan. The Board remains committed to make those regardless of what happens with economic conditions. Their resolve is still very strong, as is the President's, and hopefully as is all of ours, to move forward."


Professor Joe Ecker, Math Department, inquired about Gregg's referral to the "90's when we had budget deficits," pointing out that this past year we had a $17 million deficit paid out of the endowment, and this coming year there will be a $13 million deficit. He wanted to know if there would be a time when we stop spending out of the endowment.  Gregg answered that these are strategic investments. "The sustainability slide shows what we are trying to do. We're talking about the operating deficit. Our revenues were flat in the early 90's, and our expenses were growing at an inflationary rate. Tactically, we pulled ourselves out of our hole, but it was painful. We are now investing between $20 and $30 million a year in strategic initiatives, in the constellations, and in a variety of other things. We will stop spending out of the endowment, and we are in the process of updating that now. However, we are at a very different point in time than we were back in the 90's."


President Persans thanked Vice President Gregg for her presentation, and asked if anyone had any additional questions or comments she or he could forward them to Roger Wright of the Planning and Resource Committee. Vice President Gregg's presentation is available.


Presentation on Faculty Benefits- Curtis Powell

Curtis Powell, Vice President of Human Resources, then presented an overview of the 2003 benefit changes, information regarding the pension plan, the status of the total compensation initiative, and a quick overview of some recent Human Resources accomplishments. (Slide presentation attached.)


Vice President Powell wanted to dispel what appeared to be rumors on campus regarding the benefit packages. "Obviously, Rensselaer wants to keep our plans competitive as we go out and recruit individuals, as well as retain individuals," he said. Prescription drug co-payments were changed this year. This is a major cost for all employers, not just Rensselaer. The Rensselaer Health Plan was looked at, and the name of the plan was changed to "Rensselaer HMO." Individuals in that plan will be getting a new card with the new title.


Another benefit change will be a freeze on the "opt-out" plan. At this time if employees elect not to take advantage of medical or dental coverage, Rensselaer gives them a reimbursement. The reimbursement ranges from $50 to $100 for dental, and $300 to $500 for medical.


Benefits that will be added include an adoption benefit of $1,000, and a pre-tax parking benefit. Looking at our parking strategy, we want to make sure that those deductions come out before taxes.


A cost comparison was done for annual health care costs. (Slides 6-9.) The average cost for employers to cover their employees in 2001 was approximately $4,000 per employee. Comparatively, Rensselaer was at $5,583 per employee. From the differences, you can see we have a very good medical program at Rensselaer.


Powell stated that there was a rumor that the pension funds were being utilized to finance the new building construction on campus. He said this was absolutely not true. Another rumor out there was that RPI was going to terminate the Defined Benefit Plan. Also, absolutely not true. Also, the Defined Contribution Plan will not be terminated.


(Gregg interjected that there are no plans to terminate the Defined Benefit Plan. To do so would cost RPI $100 million. "This is not something we are going to do; there is no foundation for that rumor," she said.)


Vice President Powell mentioned that there was one emerging issue, and that is the IRS’ proposed regulations to eliminate the variable annuity. That is, individuals who are in the Defined Benefit Plan have an option of taking an annuity that is tied to the market. IRS, in the proposed regulations, indicated that plan owners (such as Rensselaer) could not offer this variable annuity; everyone would have to go out and get their own annuity. Powell thinks the proposal will not make it through because there has been a lot of conversation and testimony to the IRS regarding this change. It was one of those "hidden notes" within the proposed regulations that was finally picked up on. The institution is contesting it, as that would have an impact upon our Defined Benefit Plan.


Concerning the total compensation initiative, (slide 12) the next step is to reconvene the Faculty Advisory Group. We want to finalize the faculty criteria and look at it from a broader perspective. We would like to be able to develop a model that the Provost, the Deans, and the Chairs can use, to insure fair pay practices here at Rensselaer. Program cost estimates will have to be finalized, and an implementation schedule developed. If there is a major dollar amount needed to do this, we may have to phase it in over a number of years. However, we won't be able to determine that until we do cost estimates, define the criteria, and position faculty within the new categories that we are developing.


Regarding the last slide, (#13) Powell pointed out the fact that Rensselaer had no fines assessed from the EPA, or State regulatory agencies, in respect to environmental and occupational compliance issues. Virginia Gregg also added that she felt it was a compliment to faculty members who maintain research labs. "There has been a heightened awareness and a step-up in safety procedures in how hazardous chemicals are being managed. That we had no penalties is a credit to our academic community," she said. A list of universities penalized can be found in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Vice President Powell answered questions regarding the benefit provider name changes to clear up any confusion. He reiterated that he needed feedback from the Faculty Advisory Committee regarding the compensation package. This committee needs to reconvene with a specific charge to help define what we are doing with the compensation model. Powell agreed with Linnda Caporael (Chair, Faculty Senate) that it is important for everybody to be involved in the process of defining criteria to classify "world-class," "high value" and "high potential" faculty.


Linnda Caporael inquired, if (when the total compensation plan is looked at) a paper prepared last year by Cheryl Geisler about the promotion of women faculty on campus, as well as women faculty salaries, will be considered.


Provost Peterson responded that the information gleaned from that study has been used in two separate situations. The Deans and the Department Chairs are aware of the study. "If you look into this, significant progress has been made in the past year-and-a-half regarding women and promotion and tenure issues," he stated.


Senate Vote on Proposed Appointment of Kurt Anderson to the Position of Secretary of the Faculty

Cheryl Geisler proceeded to the fifth agenda item: a senate vote for proposed interim appointments to the Faculty Senate to fill vacated positions, as stated below:


Secretary of the Faculty: Kurt Anderson (Steve Derby stepped down)

Senator from H&SS: Ellen Esrock (Linda Layne stepped down)

Senator from Management: Jeff Durgee (Susan Sanderson on sabbatical)

New Clinical Faculty Senator: Michael Danchak

P & R Committee: Richard Leifer, Management (for S. Sanderson)

Brian Lonsway, Architecture (for S. Van Dessel)


Jun Abrajano moved to accept the roster, Jon Newell seconded.


There was some discussion and concern raised about non-tenured faculty serving on the senate, as well as on the committees. Due to their status, and possible beholding to Administration, they may not be as forthcoming and articulate with their feelings on certain issues. However, it was countered that the Faculty Senate represents all faculty, and there are a number of articulate, non-tenured faculty now serving. Also noted was a distressing lack of participation from tenured faculty.  President Persans noted the point, and counter-point, and asked for a vote: 13 were in favor of the interim slate, 1 opposed and 2 abstentions. The interim roster was approved.


New Business

Splitting of RAs and TAs

President Persans led the discussion back to Recommendation #4, regarding the splitting of RA's and TA's.


After some discussion Jon Newell amended his first motion and then moved that: "Item #4: 'Allow carefully controlled splitting of TA and RA support within a semester and between semesters for individual students,' be an Addendum to the previous report to the Administration as a Recommendation of the Senate." Terry Blanchet seconded the motion.


Jim Stodder, via teleconferencing from Hartford, interjected, that to faithfully represent Hartford faculty, he wanted to bring his concerns on the current item, which asks for a "study or an assessment" of the impact of the policy on a program-by-program basis. He felt Hartford's extreme concerns had not been communicated adequately to Administration, or to members of the senate. He suggested that there be an empirical analysis, that be reviewed by empirical experts in the Rensselaer faculty and by outside experts.  Susan Sanderson asked for a response to Jim Stodder's recommendation before adjournment and asked if a vote on his recommendation could be handled via email.  President Persans agreed that if he received an email from Jim Stodder with an additional proposed addendum, he would circulate it for a response from the Faculty Senate.  Jim Stodder thanked the senate for its accommodation.  President Persans suggested that Jim Stodder's recommendations possibly be sent to the Provost in a separate letter for clarification, but as there were only a few minutes left to the meeting he needed to have action to resolve the motion on the table, and asked for a vote. 


Ten voted in favor of the motion, two were opposed, and one abstention. The motion passed.


After further consideration, Achille Messac motioned that a second part to the addendum should be added that would state: (faculty) "be allowed to make separate/independent Academic Year and Summer RA offers." Jon Newell seconded. Ten voted in favor of the motion, no oppositions, and one abstention. The motion passed.


Email Regarding TA Grading Survey

Provost Bud Peterson quickly brought up a new business item, expressing his concern over the email sent to all faculty members from the Student Senate regarding a "TA Grading Survey." The Provost had as many as thirty members of the faculty reply to him expressing concern about the appropriateness of responding to such a survey. The Faculty Senate is taking this issue under advisement.



President Persans adjourned the meeting at 4:05pm.