Faculty Senate > Minutes November 6, 2002

Original Minutes from Faculty Senate Meeting – November 6, 2002
Fischbach Room – Folsom Library

Return to revised Minutes of 11/6/2002

Attendees: Kurt Anderson, Tom Apple, Terry Blanchet, Linnda Caporael, John Harrington, Shiv Kalyanaraman, Sonja Krause, Linda Layne, Jack McDonald, Achille Messac, Ken Miller, Jon Newell, President Peter Persans, Provost Bud Peterson, Jim Stodder, Mary Anne Waltz, Bruce Watson

President Persans brought the meeting to order at 2:10pm. A quorum not as yet being reached, it was suggested Ken Miller, representing Rensselaer's retirees present his proposal for an amendment to the constitution to include a retired faculty member on the Faculty Senate.

Miller pointed out that retirees have participated in activities at Rensselaer including the president's picnic, retirees' day, Friends of the Folsom Library, departmental seminars and various departmental and institute committees. Retirees are a source of past policy and institute history, and also provide advice informally to active faculty approaching retirement. There was discussion about who should vote, whether it should be all retired faculty or active retired faculty, and this led to a discussion of the definition of active. It was requested the retirees prepare a recommendation to submit to the FSXC on the definition of "active" for retiree voting purposes.

With a quorum reached, President Persans asked for approval of the minutes of the last meeting. Linnda Caporael made a motion to accept the minutes with minor corrections. Achille Messac seconded, and the minutes were approved.

President Persans made note that he was contacted by Roger Wright (Chair, Planning & Resource Committee), whose committee had met with Virginia Gregg. It has been arranged for Gregg to present at the next meeting of the Faculty Senate, November 20, 2002.

Sonja Krause, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, reported that last week they looked over the Ph.D. in Cognitive Science. It was sent back for some changes, but there didn't seem to be any major problems with it. The issue of "certificates" was brought up at their meeting, and the committee wants to find out what New York State has to say on the subject. Linnda Caporael asked if Sonja Krause would mention at her next meeting that this field, as a whole, is now comprised of at least 30% women and historically Cognitive Science has been an all-male department at Rensselaer. This possibly is an issue to be addressed.

President Persans then commented on the meeting between some members of the AAUP Executive Committee (Sonja Krause, Don Vitaliano, and Jane Koretz) and some members of the FSXC (Peter Persans, Linnda Caporael, Cheryl Geisler, and Jun Abrajano.) It was concluded that the specific instrument that Don Vitaliano had presented, was intended for a panel of faculty (specifically, faculty members active in issues of governance) to gather to discuss and arrive at some consensus with regard to the survey answers. The FS executive committee's reaction was that they would have a very hard time sponsoring such a document as a faculty survey. However, there are aspects of governance and the interaction with the Administration, and various components of this tool that should be addressed. Using something like the AAUP instrument as a guide to a group of faculty to decide where and what the state of interactions are and where there might be issues and what might be addressed, and bringing that to the FS is something the committee did feel comfortable with. A second suggestion made (and this would be separate) was the possibility of the FS instituting a regular or annual survey of the general faculty perception of the state of affairs on the various aspects of governance. If this is done, it might be incorporated as a yearly event, along with the election. However, for the first couple of years, caution is advised as to the interpretation of such a survey.

In the short term, it was recommended that a subset group of 6 to 8 people who have been involved in faculty governance and have some historical content, identify what is good and what are the issues that need to be addressed, and possibly a survey be put out with the April/May election.

President Persans then presented the updated draft of the Recommendations document for further discussion and approval. There were minor corrections to recommendations 1, 2, 3, and 5. However recommendation #4, "Allow carefully controlled splitting of TA and RA support of individual students" met with some disagreement and lengthy discussion.

Provost Peterson commented that the recommendations seem to focus on the upcoming Capital Campaign and he wondered if this should be the highest priority. For instance, perhaps the Faculty Senate should consider where they would rank Chaired Professorships, support for faculty leaves, or additional scholarships for undergraduate students.

Linnda Caporael replied that this was more than just a Capital Campaign issue. One of the things stated in the recommendations is that staff in the Alumni Relations Office, Government and Community Relations, Institute Advancement and other organizations need to be more proactive in identifying and developing scholarship resources. Part of that is that those particular organizations have been more proactive for some schools and less for other schools. This is not specifically about the endowment but more about the graduate tuition policy.

President Persans noted recommendation #3 as, in part, providing an incentive to departments that shift their students quickly into RA’s. If departments need the time limits in aggregate, then they get a lot more flexibility; they can buy flexibility with respect to internal programs or individual students by moving more students out into RA’s earlier.
Tom Apple voiced concern that this sounded department centered, possibly at the sacrifice of the student’s best interest. The fundamental question being, "is it in their best interest to make an offer if you think down the road you cannot support them?"

Jon Newell inquired whether in looking out for the best interest of students, if that can best be done by a single person over the entire institute (the Dean of Graduate Education for instance) or at the department level, or the individual faculty level. Where is that protection of the student’s interest best accomplished?

Tom Apple replied that obviously it was difficult for him to say, but probably with the Dean of Graduate Education. He said, “someone remote enough so they can see if a student is being taken advantage of, or whether the interest is the student’s, or the specific faculty member, or the Department’s teaching needs that are being considered in front of the student. I think inside the department it is difficult to be objective.”

Jon Newell agreed that the more fundamental issue is supporting students throughout their career at RPI. However, he mentioned it is very, very difficult to be absolutely sure up front of having support for the full duration. He mentioned that Provost Peterson at the last meeting articulated the usual expectation, that you pretty much have an idea that by the time you get there you are going to have the money when you need it. However, Newell suggested that these decisions are best made by the people who are on the ground at the local level, subject to the knowledge that the decision will be reviewed by somebody who will also be looking out for the best interest of the student. We are just trying to get more flexibility at the local level.

Kurt Anderson noted that the debate seemed to be more about increasing the amount of freedom that faculty and/or departments have. He agreed that things done too much in the aggregate could be abused. But a lot of his colleagues are saying they cannot make an offer in clear conscience to any graduate student because they only see funding guaranteed for the next three years, for a degree they know will take four. They will pick a Post-Doc over making an offer. Most grants (NASA, NSF for instance) are three years, what’s the norm?

Provost Peterson stated the norm is that there are virtually no faculty in this country that have grants that will fully support a graduate student for the entire time of their program. But faculty make offers with the expectation that their research program is viable and they will be able to support students on an on-going basis.

Kurt Anderson asked if he and others would be allowed to submit a letter that says four years, if they don’t have anything in writing for that full four-year period. Up to this point he was told that is not allowed.

Provost Peterson replied that he had done just that, and noted that commitments are not made to Ph.D. students because you have a grant that will support them for the whole time. That is not the norm. You make a commitment because you have confidence that you will be able to continue support through on-going grants.

Kurt Anderson, Achille Messac and Jack McDonald were concerned to hear this, as they had been advised that an offer letter stating full support could not be sent out without an account set up and fund number assigned.

Provost Peterson mentioned he might speak to the Dean to clear up any confusion on the part of faculty on what may be included in the offer letters, as proposals are now being sent out that do not have full support. He noted to Achille Messac that possibly it was early in the process when letters were going out in the mode they had stated, as not all controls were in place at that time.

Jack McDonald stated his continuing concern about TA/RA splitting within a term and his feeling that this normally greatly enhances a student’s teaching ability and does not make them suffer terribly. He mentioned in 29 years of teaching he never had a student complain to him, and they all have good jobs, some teaching at other universities, where they are doing the same thing. He commented that this has worked for RPI for all the years he has been here, as well as the years he spent at Yale. He felt the administration was tying the hands of the faculty, and if there were cases of abuse there are many mechanisms to deal with that to “pull it out of the weeds.”

Linnda Caporael then revised her tabled motion from the previous meeting, stating she was asking, "Approval from the Faculty Senate for all the Recommendations, with the exception of number 4." The vote was eight in favor of the motion, one opposed, and one abstention. The motion passed.

Before the meeting adjourned, Provost Peterson again asked the Faculty Senate to identify a group of faculty to work with him on the revisions to the Handbook for Academic Staff as his progress has been slow, and he thought the FS would want to have some input to the proposed modifications to the handbook. The Senate will get back to the Provost as soon as possible with names of faculty for this group.

President Persans adjourned the meeting at 4:08pm.

July 8, 2004