2/23/2005 Faculty Senate Meeting

 

Present: Mary Anne Waltz, J. Keith Nelson, R. Degeneff, Jeff Durgee, Bill St. John, Deborah Kaminski, Bruce Nauman, Ning Xiang, Bob Block, Ron Eglash, Patricia Search, Tamar Gordon, Christoph Steinbruchel, Sandy Sternstein

 

Absent: Cheryl Geisler, Achille Messac, Joel Plawsky, Rena Bizios, Shakhar Garde, Chjan Lim, William Pearlman, Roger Wright

 

Guests: Ron Gutmann, Ed Rogers, John Harrington, Prabhat Hajela, Joe Hamburg, WR Franklin, Joyce McLaughlin, J. Newell

 

Agenda

Approval of the 2/9/2005 Faculty Senate Meeting Minutes

Discussion of Responses by Provost Peterson and Curtis Powell to the Faculty Senate Motions

Further Consideration of Bob Degeneff’s Motion Regarding Governance

Continued Discussion of the Communication Requirement

 

Approval of the 2/9/2005 Faculty Senate Meeting Minutes

The Minutes were unanimously approved.

 

Discussion of Responses by Provost Peterson and Curtis Powell

To the Faculty Senate Motions

The Faculty Senate received a response from Curtis Powell, Vice President of Human Resources regarding the motion: Retirement benefits once promised should not be reduced.  A response from Provost Peterson was also received regarding the motions: The Faculty Senate asks the administration to negotiate revisions to the graduate student policy with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and The Faculty Senate asks the administration to negotiate revisions on the Intellectual Property Policy with a committee to be appointed by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.   

 

Ron Gutmann has spoken to many faculty and staff affected by the pension plan changes.  His thought is that for those in the plan who have many years until retirement, this change is one subject, but there is an implication that if it is changed once, it could be changed again.  He thinks that it is inappropriate for the institute to claim there are too many funds being invested in the variable plan without providing the accounting information for the last 12 years since the program was terminated for membership.  Prabhat Hajela, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, asked whether the Faculty Senate requested the information from Virginia Gregg.  President Bruce Nauman said it was requested from Curtis Powell since he has the fiduciary responsibility but the information was not forthcoming.  Keith Nelson, Senator-at-Large, suggested the information be asked for on a formal basis from the Faculty Senate.

 

Ron feels the institute is making a claim that it is a financial aspect that makes the 15% reduction necessary.  In the mid 1990’s, the school did not contribute to the plan due to the reserve.  Bruce thinks that whether money was put in during the 1990’s is irrelevant to the resolution “a promise once made should not be broken”.  Bruce says Curtis claims a promise was not broken.  Ron Gutmann added that since the plan is closed and one cannot get out of the plan or convert, the rules established in 1993 have clearly been broken. Edwin Rogers feels there has been a violation in the sense that there are still people in the plan who expect their benefits to accrue and be paid out without the 15% penalty. 

 

Bruce Nauman received a comment that since there is no COLA [cost of living adjustment], many people viewed the variable plan as the equivalent of a COLA.  Edwin added that the original intent in putting in variable annuities and variable accruals was to provide some protection from inflation.  Debbie Kaminski, Secretary of the Senate, believes that one problem is that there has not been a COLA and the economic situation will be bad for those retiring over the next several years.  She suggests that since it has been a long time since a COLA has been offered, a systematic approach should be taken that would provide a COLA on a regular schedule.

 

Keith Nelson, Senator-at-Large, feels that according to Curtis Powell’s response, the change is going to take place and there is no room for discussion.  The Senate has to decide whether to accept his response or prepare a rebuttal.  A motion to express the Senate’s disappointment should at least be made.

 

Edwin said that Curtis claims that the proposed change does not violate the fundamental law in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  A pension attorney could be asked for their opinion, but since Rensselaer is reducing their liability, most likely there has been some reduction in benefits at some point.  It is clear there has been some reduction in future promised benefits.

 

John Newell suggested that the Faculty Senate write a letter to the Board of Trustees stating the motion “a benefit once promised should not be reduced” and say that it in fact has been reduced.  The Faculty Senate should ask the Board of Trustees to take action to prevent the change as a violation of the motion.  Bruce liked the idea but thinks a plan should be established for what to do next if the letter is ignored or a positive response is not returned.  Bob Block suggested that the faculty be notified of what will be sent to the Board.  Edwin added that he wrote a letter to Sam Heffner about 6 weeks ago regarding the COLA issue but has yet to receive a response. 

 

Bob Block, Senator-at-Large, suggested that it is important for anyone who reads the letter to understand how these changes will affect them financially. Bruce Nauman said that if a motion is made and passed, an open letter will be sent to the board members individually, a copy will be sent to the Poly, it will be distributed to the staff and faculty, and will be given to Ken Aaron, the higher education reporter from the Times Union who also wrote about the satisfaction survey.  Bruce will write the letter and send it to voting members of the Faculty Senate for comments.  Once finalized, it will be sent again to the Faculty Senate for review before going to the Board.

 

Motion: That an open letter is sent to the Board of Trustees stating that the Faculty Senate does not like what is happening with the pension plan and would like them to change it.

 

Eleven in favor, 0 opposed, 1 abstention.

 

Edwin suggested that an attorney’s advice can be sought without having to file a suit.  Prabhat Hajela asked if there are other organizations that have changes like these to their plans.  He suggested that if this is done routinely, there is a legal basis for an organization to make such changes.  Bruce recalled that an IBM suit regarding pension changes was settled on moral grounds, protest and employee discontent.  IBM did not necessarily lose based on legal grounds. Edwin added that he has been told by actuaries that this is unusual and that it does not appear to be a precedent.  Bruce suggests that the letter be written and legal advice be pursued in parallel. Edwin was able to submit a technical question to the Department of Labor via their website but is unsure when he will receive a response.  There are attorneys who specialize in ERISA law.  Edwin agreed to contact a lawyer with that specialty after conferring with some of his colleagues.  He will report his findings at the next Faculty Senate Meeting.

 

The other two motions were responded to by Provost Peterson and were in regards to the Graduate Tuition Policy and the proposed IP policy.  In response to the tuition policy, the Provost is open to discussion and the Faculty Senate should “develop a list of issues and suggested improvements, including a rationale for these improvements and supporting data”.  Cheryl Geisler, Chair of the Faculty, will be chairing a committee to develop such a list. 

 

Bob Degeneff feels the responses received were inadequate and did not address the motions.  Debbie Kaminski is satisfied with the response on the graduate policy since the Provost is willing to consider changes.  It is expected that a proposed change would have a rationale behind it with supporting data.  Bob Block thinks the Faculty Senate was vague with was is not liked and proposed changes by the Faculty Senate need to be specific. 

 

Bruce mentioned that as President of the Senate last year, Cheryl Geisler sent Tom Apple a letter detailing what the Senate was unhappy with.  The Provost responded that the Senate had not proven their case.  Prabhat suggests that in a negotiation, there must be points in which to negotiate and suggested reviewing the letter.  He added that supporting data is important.

 

Keith Nelson questioned the data produced by Tom Apple, Dean of Graduate Education, since it was a smaller subset of the complete data.  He feels the Institute has set a priority of making Rensselaer an all-doctorate institute.  As a result, the data distributed by Tom Apple referred to full time PhD students.  According to Institute data, the total graduate student population is sharply declining.  Faculty have to decide whether to accept Rensselaer becoming an all-doctorate institute.  He feels that an enormous amount of damage is being done to the Institute’s reputation with industry.  He has contacts with industries who do not want to do business with RPI.  Sandy Sternstein, Senator-at-Large, agrees and feels there has not been adequate discussion on the damage done with industrial relations as a result of the current policy.  He does not think that faculty input was considered.  Referring to a Polytechnic article on the graduate policy, it stated that the changes “have allowed hundreds of students to complete their degree”.  He realizes the number of graduating students went up but it was misinterpreted.  He believes students were “forced” to graduate rather than “allowed” to graduate since faculty could not pay the next semester’s tuition.  

 

President Nauman said this item will be on the agenda for the next Faculty Senate Meeting.  The Faculty Senate will appoint a committee to interface with the IP Policy task force, which will also be on the agenda for the next meeting.

 

Further Consideration of Bob Degeneff’s Motion Regarding Governance

Bob Degeneff has been approached by a number of faculty including senior and tenured faculty.  The Faculty Senate Executive Committee discussed what options the faculty have.  The motion was tabled at the last meeting since the responses from the Provost and Curtis Powell had not been received.  If the motion passes, [Request that the Faculty Senate appoint a task force with the responsibility for exploring options open to the faculty which would enhance the faculty’s participation in the governance of the University] the FSEC will discuss it at the next meeting and possibly make appointments.  The Faculty Senate will review for modification and charges to the task force.

 

Vote:  12 in favor, unanimous approval.

 

Continued Discussion of the Communication Requirement

Prabhat Hajela, Dean of Undergraduate Education, thinks the Communication Requirement put forth by Lee O’Dell is a good idea and thinks it should move forward.  He believes if a student is presented with written material, they should be able to extract the essence, focus in a manner to present to a target audience and should be able to research information required in technical writing.  Due to this, it is more than just a writing requirement and more of a communication requirement.  He thinks this could be supported through the Office of Undergraduate Education.  He added that it is important for all faculty to have input, not just the Faculty Senate.  President Nauman responded that since it is a core curriculum change, it would require a full faculty vote.

 

Sandy Sternstein suggested a proactive action such as allowing courses to request that someone from the writing center be assigned to work with the professor to directly assist him.  Expecting a professor to be responsible for the technical aspect as well as the writing aspect is too much.  He suggested having someone come to one of his lectures and teach the students the detail necessary for a good technical report.  Lee O’Dell said that he can provide papers that are “A” quality as well as provide tutorial work.  He suggests that Cornell’s policy be followed in which one of the key features is that comments must come from faculty so that students realize it is important enough for the professor to review.

 

Senator-at-Large Tamar Gordon asked if the associate Deans gave Lee any concrete information on how this requirement could be accomplished.  She is worried about resources and with the current funding does not think the writing center can go into every single class on campus to contribute an hours worth of time.  Lee responded that the Associate Deans think it can work and that there are cases where an existing course could properly be made communication intensive.  He also said that many things will have to happen in phases.  Lee feels these recommendations could be implemented without additional resources.

 

Prabhat added that it appears that the faculty involved in these communication intensive courses need insight and training and perhaps guidelines for what should be expected from the students.

Debbie feels that a good writing course needs to be limited to a certain number of students.

 

Keith Nelson, who has taught a writing-intensive course for many years, said that initially there was institute support for it.  He had someone reviewing the papers for several years, but that did require resources.  Prabhat said the first step should be to determine if it is an acceptable proposal and then determine how it will affect the curriculum.  He also suggested that the issues be separated from the resources.  What is desired should be decided first and then the resources can be sought.

 

Lee O’Dell’s final point was that the university has to agree that the communication requirement is necessary and there has to be a universal commitment.  Bruce feels the recommendation should include the resources necessary to accomplish it.  Tamar Gordon thinks there could be real momentum in student improvement if this essential program is committed to.