Faculty Senate Meeting

February 18, 2004

 

Attendees: Henry Scarton, G.P. Peterson, Tamar Gordon, Patricia Search, Sharon Anderson-Gold, Tom Apple, Jun Abrajano, Debbie Kaminski, Cheryl Geisler, Peter Persans, Ron Eglash, Achille Messac, Joel Plawsky, Bill St. John, Mark Goldberg, Bob Block, Gary Gabriele, Terry Blanchet, Jeff Durgee, Christoph Steinbruchel,

 

Agenda

Approve Minutes of 1/21 General Faculty Meeting and 2/4 Faculty Senate Meeting

Plus/Minus Proposal

ProcessCheryl Geisler

         Talking PointsChristoph Steinbruchel

                        Arguments in Favor

                        Arguments Against

                        Details of Resolution

                        Plus/Minus Q&A

                                    Grading Scale

                                    Certificate of Distinction

                                    Effect on GPAs           

            Discussion from Student Senate – Michael Borzumate, Grand Marshal and

   Mike Goldenberg, Faculty Liaison

                        Concerns of Students

                        “Grandfathering” the New Grading System

                        Effective Date of Proposal

                        Reviewing Transcripts

Privacy Policy – Claude Rounds

            Best Access Database

            Monitoring Alarms

            Generation of Reports

            Input from Faculty

            Impact of Data on Performance-Related Issues

            Other Areas Requiring Access

Constitution Committee ReportPeter Persans

Announcement of Ballot Amendments – Peter Persans

Adjournment

 

Approve Minutes of 1/21 General Faculty Meeting and 2/4 Faculty Senate Meeting

A motion was made to approve the Minutes of the General Faculty Meeting.  After a few minor changes, the Minutes were approved, 12 in favor, none opposed, 1 abstention.  The approval of the 2/4 Minutes has been delayed until the next meeting due to a request for more information on Curtis Powell’s presentation.

 

Plus/Minus Proposal

Process – Cheryl Geisler

President Geisler outlined the plan to foster discussion on the Plus/Minus proposal. The executive committee recommended a process similar to that followed for the Core Curriculum Proposal.  We now have initiated a website at www.rpi.edu/dept/facsen/2003-2004/issues/grading.htm

 

Cheryl urged the Senators to speak to their colleagues and students on this topic as well as visit the website to review and/or make comments.  An email will go out to students and faculty asking for position statements.

 

During the March 17 General Faculty Meeting, talking points will be delivered to the faculty to use in discussion with students during Grand Marshal Week.  She asked everyone to take time to discuss the talking points and the proposal.  She said the Faculty Senate Executive Committee felt that it was feasible to ask for a general vote from faculty by the end of April, but not during the general vote. 

 

Mike Borzumate, Grand Marshal, stated that the Poly would allow space for this topic and an article could be published in 1 ½ to 2 weeks.

 

Plus/Minus Proposal Talking Points – Christoph Steinbruchel

Arguments In Favor

Christoph Steinbruchel, Chair of the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee, presented pro and con arguments on the Plus/Minus proposal. On the pro side, he stated that the Plus/Minus system will allow for finer distinction in grades and it will allow for more accurate grading.  For example, under the proposed grading system, the difference between a C+ and a B-  would be 1.67.  Right now these register as the difference between B and C which is one point.  Plus/Minus grading will thus provide more reliable information on student performance. 

 

Another advantage of the proposed grading system is that students will have a better chance to improve their grades near the end of the semester.  Students often ask professors what they need to do to achieve an A.  If a student is in the middle of the B range, in order to get an A, they might have to get a 98 on the final.  Rather than try to do that, some students do not do any additional work and settle for a B.  Under the new proposal, students have a better chance to improve their grade.

 

Arguments Against

Christoph also presented two arguments against the Proposal.  He stated that some people ask whether there will be a negative impact on GPAs.  Christoph stated that he is convinced there will not be.  Studies at Rensselaer and at other universities show there is no negative impact.  For the most part, the pluses and minuses average out.  The only downside is for the straight A students.  There will be fewer 4.0 students.

 

Some students felt that perhaps pluses and minuses will affect the psychology of grading.  For example, they questioned whether professors will be more likely to bump grades down.  Christoph stated that the arbitrariness of where we draw the line is not inherent in the system but more the personal judgment of the faculty which will not change if the plus/minus grading policy is in effect.

 

Details of Resolution

·        There will be no D- grade for Undergraduate Students and no D for graduate Students. 

·        Numerical equivalents:  A= 4.0, A-=3.67, B+=3.33, B=3.0, etc

·        Conditions for probation will be the same as before

·        Graduation Requirements will be the same as before

·        Start of new system will be in Fall 2004.  The registrar can handle this start date and will include a note in the transcript explaining the change to a +/- system.

 

Plus/Minus Q&A

Grading Scale

Christoph clarified that when he says graduate or undergraduate, he means student not class.  At one point, the committee considered adding a D grade for graduate students but the lowest passing grade for graduate students will remain a C.  The reason the committee decided to end the scale with C is because if a graduate student needs a B to graduate, and if there is a C-, they need two As to compensate for that.  The committee felt that the trade-off that people now make, an A for a C, should be the same with new system.

 

Certificate of Distinction

Christoph added that the Committee felt that it was better for the students that truly have outstanding performance be acknowledged with a certificate of distinction.  He suggested it is easier to tell people about a certificate of distinction that to tell them to look for an A+ in a transcript.

 

Effect on GPAs

Debbie Kaminski, Recording Secretary, asked if the new system would actually push the GPAs up since it incentivises people to work harder.  Christoph stated that it is up to the students.  If they make the same effort as now, nothing will change.  If they feel that with a little more effort they can improve their grade, they will make the extra bit of effort.

 

Christoph reported on an experiment that the Curriculum Committee conducted. The Committee re-evaluated the courses they taught and re-graded assuming there was a +/- system in place.  The difference was only a couple of hundredths of a percent.  Debbie Kaminski pointed out that the psychology of students was not evaluated in this experiment.  Christoph added that his argument is that there is a better opportunity to do better, but he does not know how many students will take advantage of it.

 

Jun Abrajano, Secretary of the Senate, stated that he thought it would be just as easy for grades to slip down as up.  Christoph concurred stating that if students do not do anything differently, they would not see a difference in their GPA.  Mark Goldberg suggested that there is a certain group of students who will lose.  Some will have their GPAs go down. Debbie Kaminski suggested that there was an inherent contradiction between the two statements that the proposed change causes students to study harder and, at the same time, the change does not raise average GPA.

 

Christoph stated that he polled people in two of his classes, which included seniors and graduate students, but mostly juniors.  The only students who were against the proposal were the 4.0 students.  He thought the rest felt they could actually take advantage of this.  Gary Gabriele, Dean of Undergraduate Education stated that there are usually about 20-30 4.0 students at graduation. 

  

Discussion from Student Senate- Mike Borzumate and Michael Goldenberg

Concerns of Students

Mike Borzumate, Grand Marshal, stated that he is concerned that there are no counter-arguments.  Christoph said that the committee has resolved to introduce this new grading system and that most of his arguments will be in favor of the proposal.

 

The Student Senate had discussed this issue with a wide range of students, polling approximately 300 students.  The biggest priority among the students is the trade off between the incentive to work harder and the increased stress.  It gives the students a reason to do well on the final exam, but on the other hand, they are not sure whether the additional stress is worth a few extra points.

 

Students are concerned with their GPAs even if the committee claims the proposal is not going to negatively affect them.  They are very concerned about even a few small points changing in their GPA.  Most 4.0 students are not in favor of it; being an A- student is not good enough for them.  It would add extra pressure to top-performing students. 

 

Sometimes students are in favor of grade modifiers.  In some cases students are excited about modifiers since grades may become more reliable.  Additionally, students feel that grading can be subjective.  This is a background issue that is never dealt with especially across departments and professors.  There seems to be no consistency and there are different standards.  Mike Borzumate felt there is nothing that shows how grading is actually conducted.

Mike Borzumate stated that students are concerned with the potential of professors to grade harder and that some professors who give out Cs may be more likely to give a C+ instead of raising the grade to a B.

 

Sharon Anderson-Gold, Senator-at-Large, assumed that during the Student Senate informal polling, they did more listening and the students did more talking.  With this in mind, she asked the student representatives what the students may think of the arguments made today.  For example, if they knew of the studies done where this grading system did not affect the overall GPAs of students, would they be more supportive?  She added that there are opportunities to improve grades in certain circumstances.  She also asked what effect the studies done by the FSCC would have on the opinions of the students.  Typically, any change that people face naturally causes stress, but it does not necessarily mean it is a bad change.  Mike Borzumate stated that students really want to know how the proposal affects getting a job and getting into grad school.  Sharon added that she did not think a small change would impact the opportunity for a job.

 

Michael Goldenberg added that he knows of some medical schools that require a 3.8 to get admitted.  Even a small reduction to those students is a big concern and can be very important.  Mike Borzumate stated that the students do not have a good feeling as to whether GPAs will go up or down and he does not believe there is a definite way to determine that.  But the students do have a fear of risk.

 

(Student Talking Points handout available here)

 

“Grandfathering” the New Grading System

The final issue is that it seems really complex and that some students may feel they are penalized if it happens during their academic career.  When it was suggested that current students be “grandfathered” into the system, Christoph responded that it would be very complicated to keep two sets of records.  The majority of students are against the +/- Grading Proposal.  The Provost added that it would be difficult for instructors to manage as well since they would have to grade some students on the current system and some on a Plus/Minus system. (If there were two students with the same numerical grade of 91, one would receive an A and the other A-.)

 

Effective Date of Proposal

Michael Goldenberg asked what the effective date is proposed to be.  Christoph stated it would go into effect Fall 2004 but Cheryl added there has been some discussion to delay it to Fall 2005.  Mike Borzumate stated that when big changes happen to the students in a short period of time, they feel it has been pushed upon them.  For example, both the laptop program and graduate tuition policy happened very quickly and the students reacted negatively towards a huge change that happened so fast.  The students had suggested a trial period and he asked whether that would be feasible.  Christoph stated that a trial period was not discussed.

 

Reviewing Transcripts

Sharon Anderson-Gold said that when she looks at transcripts, she first looks at GPAs and courses.  If a student has a 3.0, it balances out because some are B+s and some B-s and it is easier to see where students excel rather than to just see all Bs.  Mike Borzumate questioned whether everyone would review it the same way.  If GPAs go down on average, they might not be considered for admissions if the cut off is 3.0 and they are 2.8.  Senator Bill St. John stated that a student could get a 90 in every course at RPI and get a 4.0 and that another student could get 100 in every course and would also get a 4.0.  He asked how graduate admissions review candidates that apply.  Tom Apple, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education, replied that his department looks at GPAs which is usually two decimal places.

 

Henry Scarton added that with his college, B+ or A+ just transferred as B or A. Christoph stated that there will be information available on the website with documents that show other Institutions and their grading system.  RPI is a distinct minority using only an A,B,C,D system.  Many Institutes that we compare ourselves to have + and – grading systems. 

 

Privacy Policy - Claude Rounds

Previously Claude Rounds, Vice President for Administration, had given a general parking update to the Faculty Senate but has returned to discuss the privacy and security issues related to the parking gates and the security database. 

 

Best Access Database

He first explained that the technology is a Best Access Database and the system is used to manage and operate gates.  He stated that it does not feed information to any other system.  It is used for parking and all security including building access.  The transponders are issued by the Parking Office but then the access programming and database entries are performed by the Security Information Coordinator.  This programming allows and enables access to various gates.  All revisions, additions, deletions and changes in lot are performed by the Security Information Coordinator. 

 

The data that is stored includes date, time, transponder #, name of owner and lot level of access.  Claude stated that this database records entry only and that it does not include exit information.  The data is stored for one month and then purged.  The database will have up to 30 days stored at one time and that at least 30 days of data need to be on hand. (And thus up to 60 days maximum.)

 

Monitoring Alarms

This system is also used to monitor alarms.  For example, if someone tried to gain access to a lot they did not have access to, access would be denied and an alarm for an invalid entry would appear. More importantly, the primary purpose of the alarm has been to help trouble shoot faulty transponders. 

 

Generation of Reports

He stated that there are no reports generated from this database.  The only exception is when a user has a problem with a transponder, the database can help troubleshoot.  Unless there is a problem, the information is never reviewed.  Claude stated that the department does have the right to use the database in any way to help in a criminal investigation.  If there were to be a crime on campus in a parking lot or garage, knowing who had entered the garage in a certain time frame could be helpful to an investigation.  Since the system was put in effect, it has not been used in that regard.

 

When asked if there is the capability to store the data on a CD-Rom, Claude responded “No”, and that it is purged.  On the first Tuesday of each month, 30 days of data will be purged, but not the previous 30 days.  If a crime occurred 31 days ago, it would not be available in the database.  According to Claude, 30 days has been identified as a reasonable period of time.   However, if the district attorney’s office is involved and they request the information, it would be archived upon their request which can also include video.  However, he believes that maximum number of days on hand for video is 7 days.

 

With respect to the Privacy Policy, as a matter of practice, there are no routine reports being generated.  If there were a request, it would be approved by John Kolb and Claude Rounds.  Jun Abrajano, Secretary of the Senate, stated that it appears they can deviate from this policy even if there is no criminal investigation as long as both John Kolb and Claude approve. Claude responded by stating that if there were to be a significant failure in technology such as a number or problems with entry, a more comprehensive report may need to be printed in order to troubleshoot.

 

Claude could not say definitively that there will never be a circumstance in which a report will be generated and he can not make that guarantee, however John Kolb is working on the details where both John Kolb and he would have to approve the generation of the report. 

 

Input from Faculty

Achille Messac, Senator-at-Large, voiced concern that the policy is under the discretion of two people.  Cheryl Geisler, President of the Faculty Senate, asked if they had considered having faculty input in that exemption process and Claude stated no, just as they had not considered student authorization.  President Geisler suggested having an academic representative.  Achille suggested having a faculty member on the committee who could represent faculty concerns.  Claude stated that he does not object to an academic representative. 

 

Impact of Data on Performance-Related Issues

Achille Messac, Senator-at-Large, asked if this data could be included in performance-related issues.  Claude responded that he was not sure how that could be tied together and that that reason is not a routine reason.  He also added that there are other things to use for performance-related issues.  Sharon Anderson-Gold mentioned that some faculty are concerned about this applying to performance evaluation, but if the system cannot pick up exit information, it cannot be very useful.  Achille Messac added however that if one worked from home for two days, this information would be relevant.  He is conveying the concern of faculty members who want to know clearly what the policy is.

 

Other Areas Requiring Access

Claude stated that he can only address the database for parking.  He stated that this policy only applies to parking.  All the areas to address in terms of access have not yet been identified.  As they are identified, a more comprehensive approach will follow and there will be a broad range of policy issues.

 

Regarding the Biotech Building, which will also have a security access system, Claude was asked what will happen with that data and whether it captures entry and exit?  The Provost stated it will capture entry only.  Henry Scarton asked whether the same system and policy will apply.  Claude responded they are still identifying the operational plan for it.  Part of this plan has to deal with how the building will become occupied.  There are times in which access to the building could require access cards and access to certain labs will require the use of cards.  Other buildings are also being reviewed in order to provide security for students who work late at night.

 

Claude stated there will be a policy in place for September when the building opens.  He will need more information on how the system will be used.  If it is used to control general access, it would be a Biotech-specific policy.  Once established, it could be used as a model.

 

(Claude's presentation available here)

 

Constitution Committee Report – Peter Persans

Peter Persans, Chair of the Faculty, began with an apology.  Some people had expected voting rights to be addressed during the spring vote, but it will not be happening at this time.  Last year there was a controversy regarding the voting rights of clinical faculty members.  There were two conflicting amendments that came forward.  In order to resolve that and move it along, he had promised to convene a Constitution Committee that would review that.  He did not convene the Committee and therefore was not organized in time to have an appropriate discussion of rights.  Cheryl Geisler has appointed a Committee to review the clinical faculty voting rights. 

 

Announcement of Ballot Amendments

Peter presented several amendments to the Faculty Senate Constitution.  (see attachment) The first item for the amendment changes is for Administrative title changes.  

 

Provost Peterson brought up a point of clarification of the word selection versus the word recommendation as it is applicable to the Faculty Committee on Honors.  Peter stated that there will be a discussion at the General Faculty Meeting in order to clarify.

 

Other amendments have to do with changing absolute numbers to fractions and will be rounded to the nearest integer. 

 

The final amendment pertains to a Faculty Satisfaction Survey.  Details of all are available in the attachment.

 

Adjournment

Meeting adjourned at 3:55.