Original Minutes from Faculty Senate Meeting - April 9, 2003

Return to revised Minutes of 4/9/2003

Attendees:  Jun Abrajano, Kurt Anderson, Vice Provost Tom Apple, Terry Blanchet, Bob Block, Michael Danchak, Jeff Durgee, Ellen Esrock, Vice Provost Gary Gabriele, Cheryl Geisler, Mark Goldberg, Bimal Malavia, Bruce Nauman, Jonathan Newell, President Peter Persans, Provost Bud Peterson, Don Steiner, Jim Stodder, Mary Anne Waltz


President Persans brought the meeting to order at 2pm. The minutes of the March 5, 2003 meeting were approved.  Persans noted that hampered by the inclement weather, Roger Wright was not able to attend to report for the Planning and Resources Committee. 


Vice President Cheryl Geisler reported for the Election Committee stating that the elections were open.  There were some inevitable glitches with the WebCT system, (i.e., passwords, RCS-id's) so a paper back-up ballot will be made available upon request.


President Persans reported that the Executive Committee has had discussions about an "ombudsperson" position for the Faculty Senate.  It was decided the past President of the Faculty Senate would serve as acting ombudsperson for the coming year.  The main function of this position is to have someone, who is not part of the administration, explain the various Institute rules, policies and practices to faculty who may not be as familiar with certain practices and also to advise and/or help someone who may be in a situation where they may be in conflict with the administration.  The intent is that the Faculty Senate website will have a flag to identify the ombudsperson.  At this point, the position will be an informal test position, but if there were significant response, an independent position could be created in the future.  President Persans reiterated that the ombudsperson would likely be a source of information to faculty, especially in regard to Promotion and Tenure issues.  Provost Peterson noted that a clearer definition of the position was needed, and that we already have a very structured P&T process and an appeal process with a mechanism in place by which an advocate can be selected.  President Persans noted that the FSXC has already been performing the function of informally answering questions of faculty on these issues, and Esrock noted the appropriateness of this person when a faculty member needs to seek advice from outside her/his own Department.  Geisler added that the women's faculty committee also noted the need for an ombudsperson to advise women faculty on policies and practices.


Persans then reported that the FSXC plans on finalizing and making appointments for the Constitutional Committee, but they are still looking for volunteers.


Vice Provost, Gary Gabriele reported for the Curriculum Committee that they will be completing their discussions regarding the Core Curriculum outcomes, and he will report to the Faculty Senate at the next meeting.


President Persans noted there was no report from the P&T committee as they were actually meeting at this time, and he went on to the next agenda item, the Provost's recent memo (Feb. 14, 2003) regarding "Reporting of Consulting and Outside Employment." President Persans gave the faculty a moment to review the Provost's memo, as well as some time to read a copy of a memo sent from Jonathan Newell to the Chair of Biomedical Engineering, Robert Spilker, responding to the Provost's memo.  Persans then asked for discussion.


Responding to Newell's memo, the Provost felt consulting was in a separate class of faculty activities, and the Handbook specifies it as so.  The Provost noted that this isn't a situation where faculty members are asking permission to do consulting and it was not meant to be restrictive.  Given that the Institute provides faculty the opportunity to consult one day a week and pays them to do so, it does not seem to be too much to ask the faculty members to tell the Institute when that is going to occur.   The Provost went on to explain that the way this came about is two-fold.  First, we are undertaking a review of the Handbook, and it became clear that the Handbook says we are supposed to be tracking and reporting this.  As we increase our involvement in research and entrepreneurial activities on the campus, the potential for faculty conflicts of interest increases dramatically.  Second, in a recent faculty action, it was noted that greater oversight of these types of processes might have prevented or at least reduced the severity of the issue.


He went on to say, "What we have is a conflict of interest policy that says that Human Resources should have somebody from HR's Audit Department come and sit down with the faculty and talk about potential conflicts of interest when they might exist.  Right now we have no way of identifying who HR should talk to.  Right now they talk to all the administrators and any others that have been identified.  This isn't punitive, it's trying to do what the Handbook says we are doing now, trying to let the Department Chairs know when the faculty are going to be gone and trying to inform these people so that they can advise faculty about potential conflicts of interest if they exist."  The Provost went on to cite examples of where faculty may enter into a situation without knowing that a conflict of interest might exist and where faculty could be counseled adequately if the right information is available to HR. 


Cheryl Geisler pointed out to the Provost that the memo stated that faculty had to fill out a "leave request," not a notification; and the second to last paragraph states that administrators are asked to maintain written records of the summary of the number of days requested and "approved," which implies an approval process.  The Provost responded that whatever process we end up with, the intent here is one of 'informing' as opposed to 'asking permission.'  However, the Provost reiterated, "I think the situation today is that the Administration can prohibit a faculty member from doing consulting, because the Handbook indicates it's a privilege, it's not a guaranteed right.  I don't think that this has happened.  I don't think this makes it any more likely to happen...and if it were to happen, I'm sure it would be an issue with the faculty member.  The only situation I can think of where it might have happened is a case where we had a severe problem, and we needed to take some action to resolve that problem."


Bruce Nauman asked if the Provost could modify what appeared to be the harsh language of the document.  Possibly use "leave notice" not "request."  The Provost quoted the term that Linnda Caporael had suggested, which was "Faculty Declaration of Consulting." Nauman also asked for a little clarification as to what would constitute grounds for revoking the privilege.  The Provost responded that a faculty member cannot pay a student to work on consulting and compensate that student from a research grant.


Jonathan Newell voiced his concern that what was being proposed was a generalized remedy motivated by a few serious problems that have occurred.  He acknowledged the need to deal with any illegal circumstances, but wondered if there were any other instances where faculty clearly abused the consulting privilege that would be addressed by this policy.  The Provost responded, "The motivation is not to correct problems that have occurred in the past.  The motivation is that the Handbook says that we should be tracking this, and right now we have no way to track it.”  He indicated that faculty are allowed 52 days, or one day a week of consulting and that there is no one at this Institution that has a clue how many days of consulting are being used.  “The answer to your question is 'no,' I don't think there are serious problems.  I think we've had a couple of serious problems that we've dealt with in three years.”  He went on to say that the issue is that we have no way of identifying how much time people are taking now and keeping track of it, and we as an Institution have to be able to do that in order to maintain our credibility with the funding agencies.


Newell stated, "you could get that far though by asking each year for not only a prospective, 'what are you expecting to do for the upcoming 12 months' which is what I think step 1 here says, but also, give us an estimate of what you have just done last year in terms of total time with whatever agency."  Don Steiner stated he supported Jon Newell's position, that is, to ask for an estimate at the beginning of the year on the days you think you might be consulting, and then at the end of the year provide specifics, actually what you did and projections.  The Provost replied, "... The idea of collecting the information at the end is workable, but it doesn't do one thing, it doesn't provide the Department Chairs an opportunity in advance to talk to faculty about potential situations that could be problematic."


The Provost noted that he will be meeting with Department Chairs to discuss this over the course of the next few weeks, but to accommodate the procedure suggested by Newell will require a change in the Handbook because it does very specifically state 'identify the dates, preferably in writing.'  He also mentioned that he was just made aware that HR has requested that every Dean, Director and Supervisor inform HR that they "identify individuals within your portfolio who are required to participate in the annual Conflict of Interest Reporting," and that is to identify faculty, staff, department chairs, division heads, directors and all applicable, so they can complete this.  "All faculty and staff who direct, materially influence or design, conduct or report research, must complete a disclosure form.  These things, while they are connected in terms of the problems they are trying to address, isn't the first step in the consulting policy."  The Provost clarified that they've become aware that the Institute has to report this conflict of interest information, and HR is trying to collect this information so they can submit it to the Board of Trustees Audit Committee for approval so it can be submitted to the appropriate federal sources.  The Provost emphasized that these things are really disconnected, but his hope is that next year if we have some process on consulting in place, that it will be coupled with this so there is a single procedure.


Persans then presented a summary of the Faculty Senate's letter to the Provost regarding the Graduate Tuition Policy, and the Provost's reply (attached)


During discussion Bruce Nauman and Don Steiner pressed Tom Apple on allowing the reversibility of the standard model of "two years TA and a half-year transition, and then 2 ½ years being standard of RA support."  Apple replied, "The status of a TA is a decision made by your Department Chair."  Provost Peterson added that the decision of allocating TA support rests with the Department Chair, hence the Dean of Graduate Education couldn't commit TA support a priori two or more years down the line after a student was supported from a grant.  However, as long as the Department Chair concurs to the TA assignment, then a reversed model would work.


Nauman inquired about the manner by which distribution of TA's between Departments, and thus the faculty is made, and Provost Peterson answered that this allocation is a decision that he makes based on meetings with the Deans and the historical data.  He added that they increased the number of TA's that we are supporting in each school significantly with the net increase in H&SS and the Lally School being greater on a percentage basis than the net increase in Engineering or Science and that is by design.


Geisler brought up the Provost's memo to the faculty sent out in September, in which he said, "in late spring, after we have sufficient data to test the progress, we will review the Graduate Tuition Student Support Policy, to determine how well it has accomplished the intended goals, address any unintended outcomes and consequences, and make any necessary modifications."  Geisler wondered if the Provost could give a report on that assessment.


Peterson replied that he knew that was what the Faculty Senate asked for in their memo.  There is some difference between that memo and the response because while they are trying to do a formal assessment, it is really very difficult to do it without having a full year's data.  Peterson commented, "It is hard for us to understand what the result and impact of this policy is on the graduate student numbers.  The National Research Council is going to assess graduate programs based on the number of Ph.D.'s graduated this year; they're going to collect that information next year, and it's going to be a banner year for us.  ...But until we have completed the year it is very difficult to try to determine what the impacts of it are."


There was further discussion regarding the need for a "safety net" in the event a grant was not renewed or a student was left without support for some reason.  It was reiterated that the Dean of Graduate Education would consider special situations on an individual basis, but it should not be supposed that students are going to get a safety net all the time.


Geisler noted that the Faculty Senate passed a motion to conduct a survey of some sort at our last meeting.  She proposed a further motion that the FS and members of its committees are asked to complete the survey and the results be reported to the Senate (seconded and carried).


Persans noted an item of new business to think about for the next meeting, which is the suggestion that we visit the issue of our grading system.  The proposal made is that we include plusses and minuses in our grades.  Newell added that the last time this issue came up it got a lot of student and faculty discussion over several months and the consensus emerged very strongly that it would be a good idea to make a change.  The proposal was made to the Administration, and it was determined that it was too expensive to do so and it was dropped at that point.  Provost Peterson suggested that if we decide to move down this path, get the Student Senate involved as early as possible.  The issue of the mechanism by which a new grading system can be phased in will also be covered in future discussions, and Gabrielle noted that somebody from the Registrar's Office really needs to be involved in this at some point. 


Meeting was adjourned at 4:00PM.