Fall General Faculty Meeting



Attendees: Cheryl Geisler, Sam Wait, David Spooner, Bob Degeneff, J. Keith Nelson, Robert Block, John Harrington, David Haviland, Jeff Durgee, Marc Destefano, Ken Connor, Masashi Yamaguchi, RN Smith, Deborah Kaminski, Wolf von Maltzahn, Ron Gutmann, Cynthia R. McIntyre, Larry Snavley, Jeff Trinkle, Sandy Sternstein, Morris A. Washington, Pamela Theroux, Fern Finger, N. Clesceri, Christian Wetzel, Edwin Rogers, Iftekhar Hasan, Pat DeCoster, Lester Gerhardt, Tamar Gordon, Patricia Search, Doug Whittet, Andrea Page-McCaw, Jian Qiang Lu, Sunderesh Heragu, Henry Scarton, Bill St. John, Joel Plawsky, W.R. Franklin, Achille Messac, Bruce Nauman, Tom Apple, G.P. Peterson, Curtis Powell, Eddie Ade Knowles, John E. Kolb, Russell Giambelluca, Ginny Gregg, Claude Rounds, Charles Carletta, Peter Persans



Report on Issues Facing the Faculty - Cheryl Geisler, Chair of the Faculty Senate
State of the Faculty
Two Decades of Legacy
Today’s Dilemma and Challenge
Accepting the Challenge
Taking Action
Lessons Learned
Issues to be Addressed in the Coming Years
An Invitation

Introduction of President Jackson - Bruce Nauman, President of the Faculty Senate


Annual Report to the Faculty - Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Questions and Answers

Report on Issues Facing the Faculty - Cheryl Geisler, Chair of the Faculty Senate

Chair of the Faculty, Cheryl Geisler, thanked everyone for attending the meeting.  As required by the Faculty Senate Constitution, the Chair of the Faculty, during each Fall General Faculty Meeting, reports on the issues facing the faculty.


State of the Faculty

As the former Vice President of the Faculty Senate, then President and current Chair of the Faculty, Cheryl is convinced that the faculty is going through many changes.  In this faculty, 78% are continuing from 3 years ago, 6% have retired or left and 16% are new to Rensselaer.  That is an enormous change of 20% of the faculty in a very short period of time. 


Two Decades of Legacy

Cheryl noted that her colleagues often must go back more than 20 years to the administration of George M. Low in order to express a feeling of pride in the Institution’s direction.  In the past 20 years, there has been a neglect of basic infrastructure in both physical and human terms.  In response, many faculty have developed a veneer of indifference to cope with declines in which the faculty feels powerless.  Ultimately, faculty develop practices to get along and to do well in their own protective corners no matter what is happening in the Institute as a whole. 


Today’s Dilemma and Challenge

Cheryl said that ways of life are changing at Rensselaer.   For many faculty, albeit in corners, but corners that have sustained careers, their ways of doing well are no longer working.  Rensselaer is doing better but faculty’s little corners are not always so well off.  In her time of service to the faculty, she is convinced that in facing the challenge of change, the faculty cannot and should not turn inward toward their private corners, cannot and should not spend time engaging in actions hearkening the past and cannot and should not try to protect their personal corners at the expense of the whole.  The faculty need to break with the legacy of neglect, indifference and powerlessness and must use their creative energy and analytic force that is brought to their research to imagine a new Rensselaer: one to be proud of, one that is deserved. 


Accepting the Challenge

Faculty need to engage with the future of Rensselaer.  The faculty must demand to be recognized as part of that future.  Her experience suggests that such a demand will be heard when it is accompanied by creative thinking and analytic force. The Constitution of the Senate gives the faculty extraordinary powers if read and used.  The handbook of the faculty establishes extraordinary rights and responsibilities if tended and amended.  The newly established archives preserve the faculty’s accomplishments which need to be maintained and built upon. 


Taking Action

The faculty at Rensselaer must play a critical part in developing the policies in which Rensselaer’s academic integrity and academic contributions are supported and measured.  The faculty must be players in the game.  The faculty’s experience last year with the proposal to add grade modifiers to Rensselaer’s grading system, can serve as a model.  This faculty-initiated proposal, which met with some opposition from a vocal group of students, was judged by the faculty to be in Rensselaer’s interest.  The administration was responsive, commending the faculty for their careful deliberation and when the faculty voted last year by a 3-1 margin in favor of adoption, Provost Peterson directed that the proposal be implemented. 


Lessons Learned

The success of the grade modifiers has several lessons that should be taken forward in order to build a new Rensselaer. 

  • First, the faculty need to be proactive in their actions.  The faculty need to be on the forefront formulating agenda for change, rather than fighting actions against their future.
  • Second, the faculty should never cede control, even when it seems easier or fruitless to do otherwise. 
  • Third, the faculty must ensure continuity and persistence.  Major changes do not happen in the course of a year - rather over the course of multiple years. The faculty need to attend to the continuity of leadership that will result in accomplishment rather than leaving things half-done. 


Issues to be Addressed in the Coming Years

  1. The faculty need to regularize the role of the non-tenure faculty.  Without voting rights, with incomplete safeguards for hiring, promotion and severance, these colleagues have not thrived by neglect.  This needs to be made right through reform of the Constitution and the Handbook.
  2. A core curriculum that makes sense needs to be created.  A proposal for educational objectives that did not measure up was rejected last year.  The faculty need to lead the effort to develop something better.
  3. The faculty needs to persist in the reform of Rensselaer’s graduate programs.  Room exists for moving forward to make things better for students.


An Invitation

In closing, Cheryl issued an invitation and challenge.  A study of climate at Rensselaer was conducted last year and when the results are released, it will show that the climate needs attention.  It is not Rensselaer’s or the Troy Building’s problem, but a problem for the faculty.  With combined energy, creativity and analytic forces, the faculty can make Rensselaer better.  She asked attendees to turn to a colleague and make a commitment to do something positive for Rensselaer.


Introduction of President Jackson - Bruce Nauman, President of the Faculty Senate

President of the Faculty Senate, Bruce Nauman, said that one of the great attributes of President Jackson is the ability to attract first rate speakers and visitors to Rensselaer, visitors with substantial insight.  One speaker that he saw put perspective on universities.  Over the past 500 years, there is no government that has survived or continues in its present form, every government in the world has somehow changed.  Five hundred years ago, there were 150 institutions that called themselves Universities.  Of those, half survive today.  There will be a Rensselaer in the year 2024, Rensselaer’s 200th anniversary.  He felt that the impact of President Jonsson’s presidency will be felt.  George Low’s presidency was mentioned today as 20 years old.  President Jackson’s presidency and its accomplishments will be celebrated 20 years from now as well.


Cheryl Geisler's Presentation


Annual Report to the Faculty - Shirley Ann Jackson,

President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


President Jackson said it is always a privilege to speak with members of the faculty and that she looks forward to the exchanges each fall.  The President’s remarks follow:


Good afternoon.

Thank you for inviting me. It is always a privilege to speak with members of the faculty. I look forward to our exchanges each fall, and because I do, I will keep my opening remarks brief.

As some of you may have attended the Fall Town Meeting last week, there may be no need for me to repeat the full status of our accomplishments against The Rensselaer Plan. What I thought I would do, today, instead, is to summarize where we are—overall—and then, open our meeting for conversation and dialogue.

The most important development is the announcement of an historic $1 billion capital campaign. The Renaissance at Rensselaer: the Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of the most important endeavors which we are undertaking, because it will have the most far-reaching impact on our future.

The campaign will run through 2008, and is being carried to our alumni throughout the United States, Asia, and beyond. So far, we have traveled to New York City; Hartford, Connecticut; and this week, Boston, Massachusetts. The campaign supports the people, programs, and platforms which are propelling Rensselaer to the top tier of research universities in the country. The campaign, unprecedented in Institute history, places Rensselaer with 22 other elite universities involved in $1 billion campaigns. Another 17 have completed $1 billion campaigns. To date, our effort has raised more than $615 million, including the $40 million gift from Curtis Priem, Class of 1982, announced in September.

The campaign will support the Rensselaer endowment, faculty, students, and campus infrastructure. We have identified priority need targets.

§         One target is for 10 constellations, supported at $10 million each, in areas including biotechnology; information technology; arts and media; and innovation and entrepreneurship.

§         Support is sought for forty additional faculty chairs, for a total investment of $90 million—half for senior chairs at $3 million each; the other half for career development chairs at $1.5 million each.

§         Another target is scholarships and fellowships at a total of $150 million.

§         Other initiatives target academic programs and curricula; research centers and programs; EMPAC, arts, and media programs; and student life, including FYE, athletics, leadership, and pipeline programs.

§         The campaign will support Rensselaer capital facilities, as well as priority equipment, hardware, and software.

§         Finally, we are seeking to raise substantial unrestricted funds that, by definition, provide financial support for the Institute’s highest priorities.


Our fund-raising initiatives are based on our priority needs and, taken together, they total more than $1 billion. By the time the campaign ends in December 2008, we will not fund every initiative at the target level, but we intend to fund many of them. We also intend to add substantially to our endowment—faculty constellations and chairs, and student scholarships and fellowships are sought as endowments—so as fundamentally to strengthen the Institute going forward.

Said another way, a successful capital campaign plays two roles. One is to meet current needs—and there are many as we move ahead at a very fast pace. The other is to build a strong foundation for the future.  

            The faculty are at the center of Rensselaer’s move into the top tier of world-class technological research universities with global reach and global impact. Thus, the prominence of constellation and faculty chairs, as well as academic and research programs, in the campaign.

Outstanding faculty both require, and attract, outstanding students—thus, the prominence of endowed fellowships and scholarships in the campaign. We must provide competitive financial support to attract the best undergraduate and graduate students. Once these students are here, we will provide the best possible programs, facilities, and living experiences, and we will continually examine our academic offerings to ensure that they are world-class, and that they meet the needs of a changing student body—and, a changing world. This is how we attract, retain, and educate the most talented.

Our students are talented, multi-faceted, and very smart. The average class SAT score has jumped more than 60 points in the past six years. Sixty-three percent were in the top 10 percent of their class, and the number of legacy and Rensselaer Medal winners are rising. Each class is more diverse geographically, culturally, and ethnically.

Likewise, our highly talented graduate students are arriving with higher and higher GRE and GMAT scores. Three Fulbright Scholars entered this fall. We have seen a 44 percent jump in the number of those studying at the Ph.D. level. Our full-time residential graduate program at the Troy campus has reached slightly more than 1,150 students. Despite graduating record numbers of Ph.D. students (180 last year—twice as many as 1999) we still have 866 Ph.D. students currently.

We now offer new Ph.D. programs in Cognitive Science, Architectural Sciences, and, Electronic Arts (pending submission to, and approval by, New York state). This fall, we introduced an innovative, first-of-its kind master’s in business administration (MBA), developed to meet the needs of the 21st century business world. The new MBA curriculum in the Lally School of Management and Technology is built around five year-long courses called “streams of knowledge.” 

In the undergraduate academic program, we restructured the chemistry degree program and revised all of the courses. Several sections of our new introductory biology course, which we piloted last spring, are open, with 120 students this fall, and another 240 in the spring. We are piloting a discovery course for first year engineering students to expose them to engineering design early in their academic careers. We expanded the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory to include mixed teams of engineering students. We instituted a new minor in game studies, an emerging and fast-growing field. Expanding student support and promoting faculty-student communication, our “Meet Your Advisor Day” was a big success, as was the “Opening Doors” program in which faculty and staff knock on student doors. Currently, eight graduate students are installed in undergraduate dorms to act as learning assistants.

A premier technological education requires a faculty which leads with excellence in teaching and research. We pledged, under The Rensselaer Plan, to increase the faculty by 100 new positions. By the end of this fiscal year, we will have hired 140 tenured and tenure-track faculty over five years—73 in entirely new positions. We started the semester with 374 tenured and tenure-track faculty. This is an 11 percent increase over the fall of 2000 (when clinical and research faculty are added, the total number is 460)—significant growth, which must continue if we are to take our place among the country’s finest universities.  Currently, we are looking to fill 34 positions this year. When all of these positions are filled, this will bring us to a total of 418 tenured and tenure-track faculty at Rensselaer a 25 percent increase over the fall of 2000 (when clinical and research faculty are added, the total number is nearly 500 faculty - actually 504).[1]

Critical to this continued growth is the filling of constellation positions currently open. The hiring process continues, and we anticipate their completion by the end of Fiscal Year 2005.

            It is not just numbers which count. Our faculty members are bringing research support and distinction to Rensselaer, as never before.

            Growth in research funding is remarkable. In fiscal year1998, we received $37 million in research awards; in fiscal year 2004, that number grew to almost $90 million. One significant measure of this growth is the increase in total research awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Just three years ago, Rensselaer received $400,000 in total awards from NIH. This has grown to $24 million, today. Stay tuned for more growth in this area when the biotechnology center is up and running. Already, there are 47 proposals into NIH, worth $54 million.[2] This kind of growth in sponsored research must continue if we are to evolve into a major technological research university of the highest rank.

            We also must continue to innovate in undergraduate education in the curriculum, in co-curricular offerings and activities, and in student life.

            There has been a tremendous amount of change at Rensselaer in the last five years—and, there is more to come. Change, as we all know, can be difficult. We are, after all, only human, and we can fall back into—and, to cling to—comfortable habits and ways of thinking and doing.

 But, we also possess tremendous capacity to change ourselves and our institutions for the better. And, when change breeds success, we are urged forward to greater heights of achievement.  

            Consider a bit of the storied history (which I shared at the Town Meeting last week) of the new baseball world champions—the Boston Red Sox. Many believe that the famous “curse of the Bambino” (when Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees) prevented the team from winning a World Series title since 1918. But, other, less superstitious baseball experts and fans attribute this lack of success to a decades-long resistance to institutional change. With a parochial owner and management in the mid-20th century, the Red Sox fell behind. Through a series of misjudgments, the team did not take advantage of—among other things—the expanding talent pool brought about by integration in baseball and changes in the wider society. The Red Sox focused on recruiting players whose skills were narrowly well-suited only for Fenway Park. The team passed on the opportunity to sign Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. It was the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate in 1959. And because of this unsettling history, no African-American free agent signed with the Red Sox until 1992—15 years after the beginning of the free-agency system.[3]

            But, today, we see a different team—diverse racially, ethnically, and athletically—and, winning the 2004 World Series.

            This kind of dramatic change does not happen overnight, as any long-suffering Red Sox fan will tell you, nor is it easy. But, it does begin with a simple decision: the commitment to be the best. We made this decision with the creation of The Rensselaer Plan, and we are taking that commitment a step further with the capital campaign. The success of the campaign will accelerate the full implementation of The Rensselaer Plan, expand the resource base, and help to secure the financial foundation of the Institute for years to come. To make it happen, we all must do our part—the administration and the faculty.

Before I close, I am sure you are aware that the Princeton Review designated RensselaerAmerica’s Most Connected Campus,” reflecting our commitment to a highly networked environment. Of course, we must be vigilant about keeping current with rapidly changing communications technology, and to protect privacy, and to provide appropriate security, all at the same time. And to keep exchange servers up and running, of course.

This has been a brief overview, set within the context of the Renaissance at Rensselaer: the Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to speak with you. 

And now, what I really would like is to engage with you in a conversation.


 President Jackson's presentation

Questions and Answers


Question from the floor: With regard to the fellowships, when do you envision that these will start “kicking in”?


Dr. Jackson: I can’t say.  We just announced the campaign and are seeking money as we speak.  There are two things we can never totally predict.  One is when we will get the money, how responsive donors might be, or when they might give.  The second is the structure of the gifts.  People have said we raised $650 million dollars and “where is it”?  Many gifts are given as bequests or with a multi-year payout period or in other forms including gifts in kind.  For things like fellowships, we are seeking straight dollars.  We are working to get it as fast as we can.  The truth of the matter is that because of the giving we’ve already been the beneficiary of, in real dollars and in pledges, the Board over the past several years has voted to spend extra beyond what we would normally spend to jump start the Rensselaer Plan and to do a lot of the hiring and capital projects and the like that we have already done.  We are working as fast as we can and as soon as we have some news, I will share the news.  Thank you for the question.  And what I tell donors is that we need the money now.


Bruce Nauman, President of the Faculty Senate:  Something that has arisen in our dinner meetings with the faculty, was the possibility of identifying certain departments that have a chance for significant improvements in their rankings, such as moving into the top 20 and using some of the resources from the capital campaign for that.  Can you address that?


Dr. Jackson: We have some departments we think are on the cusp of moving into the top 10 or 15 such as the Math Department.  There are other departments that have come on strong and those we know are important.  We’ve been talking with them and that has helped shape what we want to do in the Capital Campaign.  We are considering what it would take without a Christmas list to really make key appointments and to do key things that might move those departments into the top ranking and to use them as leverage points to attract more support and to invest in additional departments.


Provost Peterson: One of the questions is you might have is how would we identify those departments.  Dr. Jackson mentioned the Math Department.  As part of the Performance Planning, we had asked the Math Department to provide information on what resources they need to make a change.  The applied math department has been ranked highly for a long time, currently ranked 21st.  They came back with a plan through the performance planning process that identified some specific needs, some of which have been able to be fulfilled.  The process that we use is the performance planning process that we are going through now.  He encouraged people to get involved in the process.  First drafts are due Friday and there will be opportunity to visit with the Deans and department chairs and get involved.


Dr. Jackson:  One other example is the computer science department which is very important.  It has grown quite a bit in the last couple of years.  We’ve worked hard to find expansion space; it’s been a challenging process, but we think we have an initial solution.  Sometimes it involves hiring faculty or accommodating the faculty or giving the research space needed.  We are also using the kinds of criteria that would lead to improving our national research rankings as a basis for where we might make focused investments as well as the fact that we’re looking to move into the AAU and to at least make an application to that within a few years and look at what that requires in terms of the focus and investments we need to make and what we can do to help our faculty become more recognized in their fields.


Cheryl Geisler, Chair of the Faculty:  You mentioned we haven’t made much headway in changing the percentage of the female undergraduates.  Could you comment on where we stand in terms of women in the graduate and undergraduate classes, faculty and where you think we need to go.


Dr Jackson:  The percentage of women in the undergraduate body is 25%, the number in the graduate body is 30%, and the number in the faculty is between 15-19%.   All of these are challenge areas that we need to make progress on.  I have had direct discussions with the Provost and others on what we need to do in terms of how we do hire and search.  We have hired a “consultant” to look at our undergraduate admissions who will look at a broad range of things which include enlarging the applicant pool overall but to also look at specific areas of diversity and how we attract more women, underrepresented minorities, and how do we have a broader geographic distribution. More than in the past, I’ll be rolling it into people’s performance evaluations.


Jeff Trinkle, Computer Science Professor and Chair:  You mentioned 10 constellations and I know of 7, are there new ones?


Dr. Jackson:  I’ve talked about entrepreneurship and innovation, arts and media.  There are roughly 10 and the Kadoski Chair, which was the first Constellation.  We had 7 plus Kadoski plus 2 that we’ve added.  If we see the opportunity for others, we’ll pursue those opportunities.

[1] Information in this paragraph checked with Bud Peterson Friday, October 29, 2004.

[2] Information from Pat Gray, Office of Grants and Contracts, Oct. 28, 2004.

[3] “Curse of the Bambino,” HBO Sports documentary. 2004.