2-9-2005 Faculty Senate Meeting

 

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

 

Absent: Cheryl Geisler, Joel Plawsky, Achille Messac, Shakhar Garde, William Pearlman

 

Guests: Bud Peterson, Martin Glicksman, Tom Apple, Murat Arcak, Lee O’Dell, Joe Hamburg

 

Agenda
Approval of the 1/26/2005 Faculty Senate Meeting Minutes
Responsess to the Motions made on 1/26/2005

Motion from Professor Bob Degeneff Regarding Governance
Writing Requirement Discussion
Report from Planning & Resources Committee

Approval of the 1/26/2005 Faculty Senate Meeting Minutes

The current policy is to post unapproved Minutes on the Faculty Senate website once they are reviewed by the appropriate secretary.  With one minor wording change, the 1/26/2005 Minutes were unanimously approved.

 

Responses to the motions made on 1/26/2005 – Bruce Nauman

At the last Faculty Senate meeting, the Senate approved three motions.  As President of the Faculty Senate, Bruce Nauman sent a memo to the Provost and the VP of Human Resources requesting a response to the motions.  The Provost said he is working on a single response to all three motions and hopes to send a memo by the end of the week.

 

Motion from Professor Bob Degeneff Regarding Governance

Professor Degeneff believes there is a fairly high level of faculty unrest and there seems to be a high degree of similarity between now and the time that Grosh was President.  The Board of Trustees has sent a clear message that they like what they see on campus.  A number of faculty have approached Bob, as a Senator, to explore various forms of faculty organization.  After discussion with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, they suggested this be presented it to the Senate.  The motion is: 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 task force charge would include but not be limited to:

·        Exploring what forms of governance are used on other campuses

·        Exploring how other boards are appointed, serve and communicate with faculty

·        Providing a summary of the salient issues of the Grosh period and the union vote during that period.

He suggests that the task force contain four or five members, report to the Faculty Senate every two weeks and complete business by the close of the current semester.  He thinks it would be prudent for the faculty to know what options there are and that it would be prudent to do it in parallel with action on the other three initiatives.  And finally, as much as the Board is happy, there are a number of faculty who are not happy with the current state of affairs on campus.

 

The history of what happened during the Grosh era is available by contacting Francine Fredette at fredef2@rpi.edu or x8150.  President Nauman was surprised to learn of the strong involvement of the Faculty Council and that they financially supported certain activities during that time.

 

Debbie Kaminski, Secretary of the Senate said she does not believe there is a high level of faculty unrest, rather a high level of faculty dissatisfaction.  She thinks it makes sense to look at the forms of government at other universities in terms of what decisions are made by the faculty or by the administration and how the balance of duties and responsibilities are achieved.  She does not think time should be spent on the parallels of the Grosh period, and that it is more important to compare Rensselaer with other schools. Senator Jeff Durgee asked faculty who have worked at other universities to comment on what differences there may be between Rensselaer and other schools.  Bruce Nauman said he has been associated with several other Universities and although he is not intimately familiar with how the others work, he feels there is a large amount of variation in both directions.

 

Provost Peterson suggested that the charge to the task force include reviewing the effectiveness of the mechanisms currently in place such as the Planning and Resources Committee and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.  President Nauman agreed that it would be good to analyze the current systems.

 

Roger Wright, Chair of the Faculty Senate Planning and Resources Committee (FSPRC) said they have looked at a document from Dartmouth College that describes policy on the integration of the faculty at Dartmouth with the planning process and budgeting process.  Last year the FSPRC conducted an early input forum and collected comments.  If this task force were to be put into place, they could review what did and did not happen.  Roger will provide the Dartmouth document so that it can be distributed for review.

 

Senator J. Keith Nelson thinks the timing is inappropriate since the Senate has not received the administration’s response to the three motions.  Their response to the motions may have an impact on whether he would support this task force or not.  Senator Chjan Lim agrees and is not comfortable voting on the issue now.

 

Debbie Kaminski made a motion to table the discussion until the next Faculty Senate meeting by which time the response from the administration will have been received.  It was seconded.  Eight in favor, 5 opposed.  Motion passed.

 

Writing Requirement Discussion – Professor Lee O’Dell

The proposed change of the writing requirement to a communication requirement has been several years in the making.  It is clear that the ability to communicate effectively is crucial for success in the future careers of students.  From a survey of 1990 and 1995 graduates, on a 5-pt scale, they rated the ability to solve problems as having an importance of 4.72 and the ability to communicate effectively as having an importance of 4.7.  The task force on undergraduate communication has provided a set of recommendations.  The task force is concerned that RPI’s current writing requirement is inadequate.  Carnegie Mellon requires a single course for all students; Cornell requires at least two courses each and MIT requires one writing-intensive course per year for all four years.  Since the issue is broader than writing, the task force thinks the writing requirement should move towards a communication requirement.  A series of communication-intensive courses would have to be established.  The task force believes that one of the courses should be within the student’s major.  

 

President Nauman said that since Prabhat Hajela, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education could not be present, a formal decision will not be made today – rather today will be a preliminary, informative discussion.  This issue will again be on the agenda at the next Faculty Senate meeting.  If a motion to approve passes, the initiative will go to the faculty on the spring ballot as a change in the core curriculum.

 

Senator Sandy Sternstein believes the problem is severe.  In a course he is currently teaching, 1/3 of the course grade is associated with lab reports.  Although at the beginning of the course, the first few reports that are turned in are poor and are reflected in their grade, the reports that follow improve dramatically due to practice.  He is concerned that the focus is moving from writing and the emphasis is being put on a variety of media including oral and visual communication. 

 

Secretary of the Faculty, Rena Bizios agrees with the philosophy of the task force, but she is overwhelmed that many juniors and seniors in her classes say it is the first time they have had to write anything intensive or had to review it.  She finds the requirement very time-intensive.  She believes the right resources and courses must be in place for it to succeed.  Lee responded that in order to make things easier on faculty, he proposes that a sample of an excellent report be used as an example to articulate the features that make it great.  Help from the Writing Center would be needed.  The kinds of service that can be provided deal with issues of plagiarism and documentation for which online sources are needed. 

 

For clarification, Christoph Steinbruchel, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, said the Committee does not want to take anything away from writing, rather the proposal would make it more inclusive.  Everyone also realizes that it could be time-consuming but the intent of the proposal is not to develop one course that will solve all these problems.  Faculty will need to be more cognizant of what they do with their classes and be more deliberate. 

 

J. Keith Nelson said that although he is in favor of the document, if the intention is not to take away from the writing aspect, then he thinks the wrong message is being sent by changing the name to communication-intensive rather than writing-intensive. 

 

Senator Mary Anne Waltz offered the assistance of the librarians to help faculty teach students how to do research, to talk about copyright and plagiarism, and to discuss style guides.  Senator Tamar Gordon has utilized the librarians.  She feels there are many elements that come together to form good writing.  Good writing is not only about being aware of your audience and to write good sentences, but it is also about being able to verbalize, articulate and conceptualize.  She also feels the students lack research skills, are tremendously underdeveloped in the dimension of student experiences, and that they do not read or write much.  She teaches a first year studies program and many of these elements are addressed.  She feels it is important to teach the skills early in order to create continuity from year to year.  Finally, she also teaches the Capstone design class for the EMAC majors and has many seniors that were communication majors say they have never written a research paper. 

 

Debbie Kaminski said she supports that idea but if something like this were to be adopted, it would be helpful to know how many of the current courses on campus meet the requirement and, of the classes students take, how many have writing requirements in them.  As an alternative, a statistical sample of syllabi could be taken to review writing requirements and oral presentation requirements.  Lee said the task force will ask for a periodic review of the syllabi where faculty claim it is communication-intensive.  He would also ask the Faculty Senate to appoint a group to review them.

 

Bruce Nauman believes that if the recommendations were to pass, there would be no significant change since the faculty would feel they already comply.  He suggested that a course called “freshman essay” be required.  The students would do research on a topic, write about it and then would be graded by a professional writer.  Lee suggested that it would not be feasible.

 

Sandy Sternstein said there has been a suggestion that budgets tend to drive some of these things and that plagiarism and professional responsibility is a part of writing skills and doing research.  In an incident in his class from two years ago, a team of students doing a group report was caught plagiarizing.  Since it was a team report and the report was accepted by the team, all would take responsibility.  He asked the Dean to provide the faculty the software for receiving reports online to check for plagiarism.  Upon requesting a response after 9 months, he was told the Vice Provost denied the request and did not deem it a big issue on campus.

 

Keith Nelson said he teaches a writing-intensive course in which a colleague in H&SS had to designate it as such.  He asked whether this still needed to happen and the response was no.  Chjan Lim said it would be difficult to designate a Mathematics course as writing-intensive.  Lee responded that if it becomes a university requirement and departments say it is important, it will have to be figured out.

 

Chjan Lim said that in Mathematics he has suggested a senior thesis.  With the ratio of students to faculty, the faculty will only grade two theses per year.  In his opinion, it is not a lot of work for a good faculty member to monitor a thesis or one-semester writing project that summarizes some new or old research.  This teaches the student to research the topic, write on it and present it.  Faculty burden would vary depending on the ratio of students to faculty.  Debbie suggested that with the current proposal, mathematics could meet the course requirement by having a senior requirement.  Lee said that it was designed so that the department can use it in a way that makes the most sense.  He concern is that the faculty get help with their plan and that students get the practice they need to improve.

 

In Roger Wright’s experience with engineers, the most critical lack is oral presentation.  In the business world, oral communication makes a difference in technical career development.  In comparing the past, he does not think the situation has changed much over the years.  His final point was his concern on the enormous amount of criticism of students in the discussion. Rensselaer cannot say publicly that our students get better every year but think privately that they cannot write complete sentences.

 

Bruce asked Joe Hamburg, as a student representative, whether the students have been insulted.  Joe said there has been a lot of criticism but to a large extent there is not a great deal of writing that the undergraduate body is asked to do.  His personal opinion is that many public high schools do not do the job and graduate people with diplomas who can not write good English sentences. 

 

Provost Peterson said he is extremely pleased that the Faculty Senate is addressing such a big issue for the campus in terms of the students.  He thinks the task force and the Curriculum Committee should try to decide what they should do in the best interest of the students and in terms of the educational goals the Institute has created.  Once that has been determined, the budgetary aspects can be established.  The proposal should answer what the current requirements for a writing-intensive course are, who makes the determination that it is writing-intensive and how the qualifications of the instructors teaching those courses will be monitored.  He wondered whether it would make sense to require the faculty in writing-intensive courses to undergo training or a certification process.

 

The Provost said that in order for a student to fulfill the writing requirement for graduation, the student has to do one of four things:  they have to have a SAT verbal score of 670 or higher, they have to have one writing-intensive course designated by the institute, they have to take one course with a WRIT prefix or they have to have an AP English score of 4 or higher.  Although Rensselaer students can quiz-out of the Institute’s writing requirement, one of the points the committee is reviewing is the idea that quizzing out at other institutions might not be non-existent but it probably was not found at many other institutions. 

 

Report from the Planning & Resources Committee – Roger Wright, Chair

When the pension plan issue came up, the committee received many emails from faculty.  The FSPRC is interested in taking on a roll that would help assess faculty attitudes and concerns regarding the pension plan issues.  The largest activity at the moment is the revitalization of our corporate interface.  Many faculty bemoan the fact that the level of research funding and related support coming in from industry is far below what it was 20-25 years ago.  Yet nationally, the image of Rensselaer is positive based on its perception in industry.  It is not that Rensselaer does not do other things that maintain a good corporate interface, but it needs to be revisited.

 

Another area the FSPRC is working on is the Middle States Reaccreditation.  The FSPRC will be used as an illustration of how the faculty involves itself and monitors the planning process at Rensselaer.  A lot of the emphasis on Middle States has to do with whether the institute has in place procedures for planning and evaluation of the planning.  The draft document that will become a working paper of the Middle States subcommittee is tied to the FSPRC’s longstanding goals of becoming familiar with what resource information faculty are entitled to.  

 

Meeting adjourned.