Original Minutes from Spring General Faculty Meeting
March 26, 2003

Return to revised Minutes of 3/26/2003

Attendees: Jun Abrajano, Kurt Anderson, Thierry Blanchet, Roger Brown, Chair Linnda Caporael, Ken Connor, Michael Danchak, Bob Emiliani, Ellen Esrock, W. Randolph Franklin, Gary Gabriele, Cheryl Geisler, Larry Grasso, Ronald Gutmann, David Haviland, David Hess, Ashwani Kapila, Achille Messac, President Peter Persans, Provost Bud Peterson, E. Fred Schubert, Guido Slangen, Don Steiner

Chair of the Faculty Senate, Linnda Caporael, called the meeting to order at 2:12pm. Caporael reminded the faculty of recent announcements including the upcoming Faculty Memorial Service on April 2 at 1:00pm and President Jackson's Town Meeting that same afternoon at 2:30pm, as well as the annual Provost/Faculty Senate BBQ, for students on April 9, 2003. There was a request from the Provost for faculty volunteers to cook, serve and have some fun at the BBQ during Grand Marshall Week.

Caporael discussed past and future issues of the Faculty Senate, starting with the Planning & Resources Committee and their report on Performance Planning. She stated that Roger Wright, chair of the P&RC had done a sensational job this year and she went on to list a few of the recommendations from that committee. First and foremost the committee suggested that more information, earlier in the Performance Planning cycle is needed for Faculty Senate input. The topic of "contingency funding at the chair and dean levels" was discussed. Deans and chairs being able to take advantage, using possibly 5% of their budgets, of unanticipated opportunities that may arise is an item the P&RC committee would like to see addressed.

There was also a sense that it was important to have more of the "asks" converted into action, the "asks" being items in the plan that people may have requested. Too often it was felt that people worked very hard on their suggestions, only to find them not accommodated in the resulting plans that came through.

Caporael commented about an ongoing issue, the revision of the Handbook for Academic Staff. The amount of time and effort involved in revising the Handbook made it difficult for the senate to motivate participation this past year in a committee that would address the issue. Provost Peterson decided he would start working on some of the changes with the help and advice of Tammy Cousins, an outside legal counsel with expertise in this area. There has been discussion and a cursory look at these changes during Faculty Senate Executive Committee meetings, and there will soon be more information coming out for a broader exchange of ideas. A committee will still be needed to review the changes, with special attention given to the P&T and appeal processes.

Another ongoing issue is the Graduate Tuition Policy. The senate sent a letter to the Provost (which was passed on to the President) and the Provost has responded with a letter to the senate. The senate is in the process of replying to the Provost and will discuss this at the next Faculty Senate meeting.

Provost Peterson mentioned that the Faculty Compensation Committee has met; they polled some of the faculty and presented their ideas on the criteria for evaluation. At the meeting a decision was made to eliminate the different titles and terminology that have been used in some of the discussions (i.e., "high value, high potential, world class") for classifying faculty. A report is being prepared for review by the entire committee, which consists of about forty faculty members. Tentatively the report will then be presented to the Office of the Provost, the deans and department chairs. The request is that the department chairs work with faculty to develop criteria this semester and over the summer, and then come back to the committee with this plan.

Regarding Core Curriculum Reform, Gary Gabriele added that there is a revised version of the original document (that has gone through one series of discussions at the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee meetings) and next week final discussions will take place. Subsequently, it will be presented to the Faculty Senate at large.

The last item Chair Caporael addressed was the ad hoc Task Force on Advising that Gary Gabriele chaired. Several recommendations were made, two of them were considered action items, including strengthening the "early warning system" for all students, not just freshmen; and responding to students’ questions about future careers.

Ron Gutmann, ECSE, had a question/comment regarding the Compensation Committee. "We all received a copy of President Jackson's statement in terms of progress at RPI, in terms of new buildings, campus renovations, and so forth, including a large number of new faculty positions. I'm wondering how one combines that along with the announced 2% compensation raise for faculty, and I assume comparable levels for staff...it seems then, that the Administration has decided that present faculty and staff salaries are roughly comparable to what is deserved. And if indeed one is going to be averaging 2% raises in the foreseeable future, I'm just wondering whether all the work to develop a procedure and an evaluation process to allocate that relatively small amount of money is going to be warranted."

Caporael answered that she didn't read this as a statement about "what we're worth." She anticipates in the future some kind of result from this long compensation process, to explain what they've been going through and what they've come up with.

Provost Peterson stated, "It was made very clear at the meeting this morning, that the Compensation Initiative is a way to make adjustments to the base compensation level, the base salary. One way to think of a merit increase is, 'what is the raise based upon?' -- a very short-term window that varies across departments and schools. The Compensation Initiative is really focused more on 'where are you with respect to career accomplishments?' We feel there are some people who are not where they should be in terms of their overall career accomplishments. It is very difficult to correct that with a merit increase, especially if it is a small department. So the Compensation Initiative is to look at the fundamental base salary that people have, while the merit increase is something that happens every year."

Ron Gutmann continued, "Does the present Administration feel that with the average staff salary on the campus now, that a 2% raise pool, considering what other investments RPI is making, is appropriate?"

Peterson replied, "I think so, given what is happening nationally. Don't confuse the merit increase with trying to correct problems that may have resulted over a long period of time. What the Compensation Initiative is designed to fix are those cumulative problems. The merit increase is designed to reward and recognize merit pay over the course of the past year or so (and I say 'so' because some departments look at a two or three year rolling window.) When I look at what is happening nationally, in terms of compensation...there are schools that are furloughing faculty; they are on nine-month contracts and they are being forced to take a reduction in salary, or to take a couple of days, (3 days or 2 days or 4 days) during the course of the year without pay. In terms of the compensation or merit increase that is occurring nationally, 2% is a very competitive amount. What you are suggesting is that we not hire 15 new faculty next year, and sink all that back into current faculty raises. That is certainly an option, that's an alternative. But we have to look at a lot of factors to make that decision."

Don Steiner, MANE, on a different subject, stated his disappointment at the faculty turnout, looking around the room. "We need to understand why we're not getting more representation at a General Faculty Meeting, when this is close to what we get at a Senate Meeting. We need to explore ways to get a better turnout. If this really means there is that level of apathy among the faculty then that is one conclusion we can come to, the other is that we're not working hard enough to get faculty to come. This is a trend we have seen for sometime now, and to me it is more disturbing than any of the particular issues, if in fact it represents apathy among the faculty."

Caporael answered that she didn't think it was "complete apathy" on the part of the faculty, but it should be looked into and we need to understand why there is a discrepancy between the turnouts for the spring meeting compared to the fall meeting.

Randolph Franklin, ECSE, acknowledged, "I served two years on the Faculty Council and two years on the Faculty Senate and my guess is people don't come because they feel the Senate is totally impotent; it has no powers at all, it basically serves to let off steam. At many other universities there is actually a little more dialogue between the Administration and the faculty, or even the faculty have some powers. We've lost powers! The Council had the right to look at grievances. That was explicitly deleted when it was reformulated as the Senate, for example... So if the senate could do something, people would take an interest in it... RPI is getting a lot of the attributes of a state university now, restrictions on consulting, and leave, etc. Well, other attributes of state universities are that there is accountability in the budgeting system. Budgets are public, salaries are public, they're involved in a faculty union and so on, maybe these things should be discussed by the Senate, if we're bringing in half of the attributes of a state university here, the control attributes..."

Caporael suggested, "Randolph these (suggestions) are always open to discussion by the Faculty Senate. If you come and you discuss them, they are discussed. I think the Faculty Senate would welcome that discussion. It really would."

Peter Persans, president of the Faculty Senate presented the senate's activities for the past semester. He also announced that the Provost would give a presentation on Academic Affairs at the April 23, meeting in DCC337, from 2-4pm. It is also expected Curtis Powell will return to the Compensation Initiative topic, possibly during the next couple of meetings. Persans made a general call for nominations from the faculty to serve on the Constitutional Revision Committee; and also the Review Committee for changes to the Academic Handbook, especially Promotion and Tenure section changes.

After President Persans presentation, Randolph Franklin asked, "What is the legal status of the Handbook? Is it like a contract between the administration and the faculty, or an expression of best wishes?"

President Persans asked the Provost to address this question.

Provost Peterson replied that the Handbook provides guidance and governance to faculty procedures and processes. Changes to the Handbook can be proposed, and voted on by the Senate and if approved they then go forward to the President, and then the Board of Trustees for final approval. The last revisions were in 1994 and much clarification is going on. The changes being made are very extensive, while somewhat organizational. Some clarifications are updates on how things should be stated due to case law that has occurred in the past nine years. The only controversial discussion might be regarding a possible change to the appeal process and what some other alternatives are to our current practice. "I don't know what the legality is, but to say that it is a 'contract' between the faculty and the Institution is not far from the reality," the Provost said, "and whether you could go to court with that as a contract, I don't know. But it defines the process, and I know you could go to court if you were up for promotion, and we didn't follow the process in the Handbook, that is a legally binding process we are required to follow."

Ron Gutmann questioned clinical faculty representation on the senate, and why clinical and retiree categories will have designated senate appointments, whereas a research position does not. A discussion regarding the clinical situation, (representation without voting privileges) and a clarification that research positions are considered equal to regular faculty ensued. President Persans hopes that as we go through this Constitutional revision, this situation will be normalized.

Ellen Esrock, LL&C, volunteered to serve on the Constitutional Revision Committee.

Ron Gutmann volunteered to serve on the Promotion and Tenure Section revisions to the Faculty Handbook.

Jim Stodder, Hartford, volunteered to serve on the Constitutional Revision committee.

Chair Caporael introduced Ash Kapila, chair of the Promotion and Tenure Committee who read the following statement:

"During the past year, there have been a couple of instances in which Rensselaer has announced major external hires, at the level of full professor with tenure, before the FCPT has had the opportunity to scrutinize the dossiers of the candidates.

This has troubled the committee. Even though the appointments are contingent upon the successful completion of the P&T process, it was felt that the premature announcement is unfortunate on two counts. First, it gives the impression that the FCPT's recommendations are irrelevant when it comes to these senior and important appointments. Second, in the unlikely event that the FCPT has a negative recommendation, it can create an awkward situation for the candidate and the Institute.

The FCPT raised this issue with the Provost, and he appreciated our concerns. After some discussion, it was agreed that when a candidate is being seriously considered, the FCPT will be brought into the loop. Even though the information package may not be complete, the FCPT can provide helpful input. This procedure will not supplant a full consideration of the case."

Caporael introduced Cheryl Geisler, vice president of the Faculty Senate who revealed the partial slate of nominees for the upcoming senate elections. Geisler asked for nominations from the floor for any of the open positions. There were no nominations.

Geisler went through an explanation of the six Constitutional amendments that will be placed on the ballot.

Ken Connor, ECSE, made note that presently anytime anyone's employment status changes (i.e., leave, retirement) his or her email address is immediately deleted.

Provost Peterson will look into this issue and get back to the senate.

Ron Gutmann felt it was "still important to stress that clinical faculty and research faculty have the same rights as groups, and this is still not doing that. This proposes a clinical faculty position on the Senate, which is not done for research faculty."

Vice President Geisler stated an amendment was brought forward in the senate regarding this issue, but it was not supported.

President Persans commented that this was actually one of the triggers for the need for a Constitutional Committee.

Larry Grasso, Hartford, wanted to observe that "retirees and assistant archivists have a vote, but clinical faculty, some of whom have been here for more than 20 years serving this institution, do not. This creates an incredible amount of frustration, both on this campus and Troy."

There was some discussion regarding potential discrepancies in the wording of the amendment regarding retirees and active campus email addresses. It was decided that the wording needed to remain unchanged, as the original amendments went out to the faculty thirty days before this meeting as the Constitution mandates.

Chair Caporael then asked for new business.

Randolph Franklin wanted to make a constructive comment, that because the faculty is very busy (and possibly that's why many were not present) perhaps the creation of an interactive, on-campus discussion board to generate input might be feasible. Some departments have small discussion boards, or chat rooms, but there are no campus-wide forums that people could opt into if they wanted.

Chair Caporael thought it a great suggestion, and it could be opened up for particular issues, the amendments for instance, and discussions could be posted there. Possibly Peter Persans or Cheryl Geisler can start a discussion about this next semester in the senate.

Ellen Esrock wanted to address the grading system and make a recommendation that the system be changed. Possibly adding plusses and minuses that would be reflected in the GPA's, which would have an enormous impact on grade inflation among other things.

Caporael felt this was something that might be discussed in the Faculty Senate and/or perhaps the Curriculum Committee could take up this issue, and report back to the senate.

Don Steiner, commenting on Franklin's suggestion, said that he didn't object to the idea of a chat room, but he felt it was a cop-out. "We have to engage the faculty in meetings, not give them more ways to avoid them. Everyone is busy, but this argument is really a question of priorities." He noted, "If you allow that, you're on a slippery slope. If in fact the reason that the faculty is not engaged is because of apathy, we need to know that. I really don't want to sit down and read 100 emails from people. I think we have to engage the faculty, just like we try to engage the students. We don't engage the students by saying 'you don't have to come to class anymore, just send me an email.' I think that is going in the wrong direction, I would not particularly like to see another way in which people can avoid interacting with one another."

There was more discussion about the grading system and grade inflation, and a suggestion that a scope of solutions should be looked at before any one is acted upon. A more substantive discussion among faculty was recommended as a next step.

Ash Kapila suggested the discussion about plus/minus grading has come up periodically over the last several years and for the most part the students have not been in favor of it.

Kurt Anderson, MANE, commented the definite need for a finer scale of some form.

Randolph Franklin, supported the students getting more information, and he wanted more information himself on "what is grade inflation at RPI?" "Even running courses I don't know what the average grades are in comparable courses. So I'm calling for more open information," he requested.

Ellen Esrock stated that in opening the discussion up to faculty and students, she wanted the faculty to be very much included because being comfortable in giving someone a "B+" instead of falling down to a "B" is better for faculty well being.

Gary Gabriele added that in answer to Randolph's question, the Registrar's Office sends to the Chairs of the Departments a grade distribution sheet at the end of every semester. One should be able to check with his or her Chair for that information.

Provost Peterson added that the grade distribution report is broken down by section, by instructor, by course.

President Persans asked if the senate might invite either Gary Gabriele or Provost Peterson to present at one of the upcoming senate meetings to give a historical view on what has occurred regarding grade distribution.

The Provost replied that they are working on historical data. "It depends on what is meant by 'historical,' the past two or three years or before Banner?" In response to the article in the Poly he received many emails. Opinions ranged from "things are way out of control" to "there is no problem." "One of the points that was brought up, that I think was factual, was that in 1972, one person graduated with a 4.0, and this past year there were in the neighborhood of 25. There is a lot of discussion about that grade distribution and what it should be, and that may be a good starting point for Ellen's issue of 'is this distribution appropriate.' Whatever data you would like we will make available in as timely a manner as is possible."

Larry Grasso, Hartford, just had one comment to the people who expressed concern about the specific Troy Clinical Faculty Senate position, that "if the clinical faculty was given the vote, they could vote in their own department and you wouldn't need such a position."

Provost Peterson also commented that he "has and continues to support the idea that clinical faculty should be included in the definition of faculty. I have expressed that feeling strongly in Faculty Senate meetings. To have a group of 70 individuals, who are intentionally excluded from the voting process, to me is a problem."

Chair Caporael thanked everyone and adjourned the meeting at 4p.m.

July 8, 2004