General Faculty Meeting



Present: Deborah Kaminski, Achille Messac, Heinrich Medicus, Lee Odell, George Nagy, Christoph Steinbruchel, Joe Hamburg, Rena Bizios, Shep Salon, Bob Degeneff, Tom Apple, Prabhat Hajela, Jeff Durgee, Larry Kagan, Christian Wetzel, Bruce Nauman, J.L. Plawsky, David Spooner, Jim Napolitano, Randolph Franklin, Charles Malmborg, E. Connie Powell, P. Hults, Tamar Gordon, Patricia Search, Bill St. John, Henry Scarton, Joe Chow, Sam Wait, Cheryl Geisler, Bud Peterson


Meeting Stream

Welcome – Cheryl Geisler

State of the Institute – Provost Peterson
Expand the Research Enterprise
Enhance Education
Achieve Faculty Diversity
Redesign and Reinvigorate Enabling Activities
Key Faculty Senate Issues

Proposal for a Revised Communications Requirement - Lee Odell

Proposed Faculty Club: Process and Issues
- Deborah Kaminski
Discussion and Comments

Election Slate - Achille Messac

Welcome – Cheryl Geisler

Cheryl welcomed the attendees as well as those viewing the meeting via the videoconference.  Questions can be sent to to be brought forth on behalf of the faculty member.


State of the Institute – Provost Peterson

The Provost spoke about the academic portfolios and initiatives that he sees Rensselaer taking over the course of the next year, where energies will be focused and where time will be spent. Provost Presentation


The Board of Trustees approved the Rensselaer Plan in May 2000.  The following year, an elaborate budgeting process plan was implemented.  This year an additional segment was added in which each portfolio manager submitted a performance plan to be approved.  It has a series of milestones, metrics, timelines and the person accountable for each.  Those performance plans will help assess the progress over the year and to determine the fulfillment of the Rensselaer Plan.


The Provost commented on the academic portfolios: Graduate Education, Undergraduate Education, Institute Diversity and Enrollment Management and each of the Schools and Rensselaer at Hartford.  Each of the groups drafted a performance plan of their own that has a series of activities, goals and accomplishments.  Some common themes that are carried throughout all performance plans and the ten portfolios mentioned are that Rensselaer wants to become a top-tier world-class technological research university.  To do that, Rensselaer needs to take a leadership role in a number of areas: faculty and constellation hiring, continuing development of research programs and plans, continued focus on bioscience and biotechnology and an increase in focus on the arts, media and electronic technology.


Leadership searches that have been completed include the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Vice President and Dean of Hartford, Deans of Engineering, and STS, and Chemistry and Arts Chairs.  Ongoing searches are for Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship, Dean of Enrollment Management, Dean of the Lally School, Dean of Science and chairs of MANE, Chemical and Biological Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.  The development of academic leadership will continue.


Expand the Research Enterprise

One of the keys to expansion is to fill the constellations.  There are a total of 24 constellation positions.  The only constellation filled is the future chip constellation.  The initial plan was to complete constellation hire last June.  The Provost hopes to complete two of the constellations this coming year and continue moving forward.  The reason constellation hiring is a key thrust is because the positions are fully funded.  The Board has committed to provide the funding for those people.  Energy will be refocused on these searches this year.


There is a continued effort to attract, develop and retain the highest quality faculty possible.  Twenty four faculty have been hired this year so far.  The goal is to complete the hiring of 28 funded vacancies, not including constellations.  The open positions need to be filled.  The Provost added that he would like to keep the number of vacancies to a minimum.  This will decrease the student/faculty ratio from 17:1 to 15:1 since fall 2000.  Overall, 140 new faculty will have been hired since 2000.  Since it is not unrealistic for new faculty to expect 3 or 4 graduate students, it is necessary to attract high quality graduate students in fairly large numbers.


The Intellectual program for the CBIS [Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies] is an evolving area for Rensselaer.  The fundamental science programs have been expanded and constellations and thrust areas have been identified.


Enhance Education

The focus on undergraduate advising is in an effort to provide opportunity for students to have meaningful interactions with faculty.  There is a survey that is completed by freshmen during the first week of classes and then when they are seniors.  This is the first year there was data for a senior class survey who had also taken the freshmen survey.  One of the items of note is that students are not pleased with the interaction they have with faculty outside of classroom activities.  This is what spurred the “Meet your advisor day” and “Take your student to lunch” initiatives.  Prabhat Hajela will be hiring an associate Dean for Advising, Assessment and New Programs.  He will look at how students in specific groups are advised. 


Entrepreneurship across the curriculum is a continued effort.  A search is still ongoing for a Vice Provost of Entrepreneurship and will continue this year.  There is a new Dean at Hartford.  Hartford has shifted from a general enrollment program to a series of cohorts where students go through the program in groups.  That provides a much better probability of success and differentiates Rensselaer from the competition.  Hartford is operating very close to a balanced budget.  A continued focus will be to increase the enrollment at Hartford. 


Advising is being incorporated into the formal faculty evaluation process.  In the schools the expectation on advising has shifted from the service category to the education or teaching category in an effort to look at advising as part of the educational expectation instead of part of the service roll.  This change will help in terms of the importance and to create a better student/faculty environment at Rensselaer.  The redesign of all programmatic offerings at Hartford have been completed and implemented.


Achieve Faculty Diversity

The Office of Institute Diversity will continue to be strengthened.  The early data on acceptances for this year indicates that women enrollment will be at 25%, an increase of 1%, and underrepresented minorities will be at 10%.  The undergraduate inquiry and applicant pool needs to be increased.  Currently, Rensselaer’s acceptance percentage rate is in the mid to high 70s and should be closer to 50%.  The Provost is working hard to stabilize the acceptance rate and to increase the applicant pool.


Rensselaer will continue to focus on diversity for faculty hires as well.  He believes the best way to expand the diversity of students is to expand the diversity of the faculty.  Funds will continue to be supplied for underrepresented minorities’ recruitment.  A goal is to have half of new hires be diverse hires in women or underrepresented minorities.  The number of women faculty has increased from 50 to 67 since the fall of 2000 which is a sizable increase in terms of percentage.  The number of underrepresented minorities increased from 12 to 25.


Sexual harassment awareness and diversity training has been conducted.  It is hoped that a diversity workshop training will be held in March for new faculty.  Additional workshops will be held on research, preparation of grants and available resources.


Redesign and Reinvigorate Enabling Activities

Progress is being made in revising the faculty handbook.  The purpose was not to change current policy but rather to clarify the policies in place.  Progress is also being made towards the Middle States Accreditation.  The team chair, likely to be the current President at Carnegie Mellon, will be at Rensselaer in August and the entire team will visit in the spring of 2006.  A team visits every 10 years and spends 3 days reviewing the campus.  There are 14 task forces assembled, one for each standard.  Good progress is being made and the accreditation process will be a key thrust the upcoming year.


A committee, chaired by Dean Harrington is reviewing requirements to achieve membership in the AAU.  Membership would be a positive factor for the Institute and Rensselaer will work towards that goal.  Although membership may not necessarily be the achievable, working through the process will be an important exercise.  


Academic program diversity is another key thrust.  One key goal is to broaden the diversity of the academic programs on campus.  A prime example is the new PhD program in Architectural Sciences with foci in lighting, acoustics and building conservation.  There is a game studies program in development in H&SS which is getting a tremendous amount of interest.  This is not an attempt to make “Rensselaer University” but rather an attempt to offer a broad range of academic programs that students will find exciting and attractive. 


Finally, funds have been redirected within the academic arena to create an additional staff position within the office of Institution Research.  Funds have been directed to the School of Science to support the infrastructure needs of biology and chemistry as the departments grow and faculty are added.  Funds were also directed to H&SS to support the needs of Cognitive Science.


Key Faculty Senate Issues

Items that the Provost thinks the Faculty Senate may want to consider are to:

-         Improve and enhance communication between the administration and faculty

-         Critically review the core communications requirement.  If the requirement is changed, it could require that every degree program review their curriculum. 

-         Pay faculty for their actual working period.  Rather than working 9 months and being paid over 12 months, faculty would be paid their salary over a 9-month period.

-         Continue development of infrastructure necessary to support a major research university.



Charlie Malmborg:  Regarding faculty development, you mentioned reassessing the overall distribution of clinical and tenure/tenure-track faculty by school.  Can you elaborate?

Provost Peterson: One of the things I’ve asked is for the deans to look at the relative mix of the faculty they have in terms of full-time tenured, tenure track, clinical, adjunct and visiting faculty to determine if the mix is appropriate for that school.  It will differ between schools and may differ from year to year.  Approximately 8-10 positions have shifted from clinical to tenure or tenure-track positions. 


Henry Scarton:  We have a focus of IT, biotech, nanotech and “other”.  Is it possible to expand some of the other areas that are in “other”?

Provost Peterson:  When I first came to Rensselaer, faculty asked “if I’m not in IT or biotech, should I find a job somewhere else?”  It is clear that we are continuing to support outstanding programs and programs that are not in IT, biotech or nanotechnology and are continuing to develop new programs in those other areas.  If we are going to be a major technical university and we’re not in IT or biotechnology, we won’t be a major player.  When I came, the Institute expended about $700,000 per year in cost sharing on research grants.  We set up the office of Vice President for Research and he has funds for cost sharing.  We didn’t take the pool and split it between the offices of Research and the Provost, we actually more than doubled the amount so we could continue to grow those programs. 


Randolph Franklin: Can you comment on the relative importance of the academic vs. the non academic parts of the Institute?

Provost Peterson:  I can’t give you the budget numbers on what has grown but when you look at the growth of the faculty, the people in the “other” category such as finance, human resources, and administration, feel that the academic people are doing pretty well in terms of growth and programs.  When I was a relatively young faculty member, I thought the president of the university managed the academic stuff.  However, this is a “city”; it has public safety, a health facility, 7,000 occupants and housing.  I think the academic portfolios are doing very well.  There is an absolute recognition on the part of every Vice President and the President that the students are what this University is all about.  But it’s the faculty that determines the national and international reputation of this University.  It’s hard to give you a quantitative number.  The growth rate we are seeing is quite remarkable considering the climate where many universities are cutting back in tenured and tenure-track faculty.


Tom Apple:  Do you want to say something about stipends?

Provost Peterson:  I mentioned the handbook.  There is a task force working on Intellectual Policy.  They will be rolling out a draft policy for discussion with the faculty in the near future.  There is a Faculty Senate committee appointed by the FSEC to provide input to that.  One of their charges was to communicate, interact and solicit input on a proposed IP policy.  We have increased the minimum stipend for internally supported graduate students from $12,000 to $14,500 starting next fall.  The institute is providing all the funds necessary to do that for internal students.  This represents a tremendous investment by the institution to support faculty, graduate students and research programs.


The Provost added that he has gathered benchmark data on stipends? for 7 peer and aspirant schools and is in the process of distributing it to the Deans and Chairs.  This information will be made available to the chairs for discussion with all faculty.


Proposal for a Revised Communications Requirement - Lee Odell

The following will be on the ballot in this upcoming election.  A panel was present to respond to any questions the faculty had.


Resolved that Rensselaer replace the current writing requirement with the following requirement:

Beginning with the entering class of the fall of 2006, all Rensselaer undergraduates will take at least two communication-intensive courses.  At least one of these courses must be in the students’ major and at least one of the courses must be writing intensive and taught in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Lee O’Dell said that one of the key reasons for the resolution was due to the responses from students who had graduated 5 or 10 years ago. According to survey results, the graduates did not feel Rensselaer properly prepared them for the writing and speaking requirements necessary in their career.  Another reason for the resolution was a suggestion from the task force.  Lee had made a presentation to the Student Senate and a motion was passed almost unanimously to support the resolution.  The student body has not yet been surveyed.  Murat Arcak, a communication task force member said that everyone he has spoken to has said how disappointed they are in the communications especially the writing skills of their students.


President Nauman asked Mike Goldenberg, who was representing the Student Senate, if the Senate reacted to the change in the resolution that one course should be writing intensive and taught by H&SS.  Mike responded that although the Senate is not aware of the change, he does not think it will be an issue and believes the best person to teach it would be from H&SS.


Achille Messac, Faculty Senate Vice President, said the motion has an implication in terms of resources and asked what feedback has been received from the administration.  Lee said he has discussed it with the Dean of H&SS and it is clear that additional resources will be needed.  Prabhat Hajela, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, said that as far as the TAs are concerned, TAs are assigned and we’ll try to look at them from that perspective.  Although the course may be taught in H&SS, there are other ways of adding writing-intensiveness to courses other than those in H&SS.  There are a number of courses where writing-intensive aspects can be made a central focal point.  We’ll have to distribute the load.  This is a faculty-driven initiative and there are requirements we have to meet.


Debbie Kaminski, Secretary of the Senate, asked Lee what the sentiment is among the H&SS faculty.  Lee said there is substantial support from the H&SS council and they appear to be content, but he has not spoken to the faculty in general.  He does not envision adding new courses or new burdens to their teaching load.


Connie Powell, Physical Sciences Librarian, suggested that in addition to teaching the course to freshmen, writing should be incorporated in the regular and upper division classes where students are writing about their research project or about their lab work.  She taught a class about the available library resources and then the students were able to use those resources.  In addition, they wrote a 1-2 page scope note, explaining their research.  It works hand in hand with their research interests.  Lee agreed.


Randolph Franklin: Students are forbidden to transfer in a writing course.  Wouldn’t allowing transfers in lighten the load? 

Lee:  I want to be very careful because some introductory writing courses are rudimentary.

Randolph:  H&SS is tougher on transferring in courses than engineering.  I’m seeing resources being sucked from engineering to other parts of the university.  Where will the money come from?

Provost Peterson:  I think it is premature to ask.  It is a faculty-initiative.  It has support and the faculty feels it is important.  We’ll figure out where the resources come from.  We don’t want to make one program better at the expense of another.  It is very difficult to administer programs in a time of flat budgets.  We’ll have to figure it out; I’m not sure where the money will come from. We’ll provide the resources that are important to educate our students.


Cheryl Geisler: Mike, can you share with us the student perspective?

Mike Goldenberg:  The principal behind it is that communication is important and we’re not learning it as well as we can.  The difficulty is the practice not the principle.  We spoke about cost to the Institute but there is cost to the students.  The curriculum is already tight and this may make it more difficult to transfer in credits or study abroad.  Most of the objections from the student body will think it will require an additional class.  If faculty explain the importance of communication and writing in their career, they will better understand its importance.

Christoph:  When the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee discussed this initiative, I don’t think anyone thought about adding another course to the curriculum.  So the students’ fears of being stressed further are unfounded.  With regard to transferring, the reason why people are not satisfied with their communication skills from RPI, it is because we don’t require it enough. 


Prabhat: To Mike, regarding the concern that students will be forced to take an additional course, he thinks one or two courses will not fix the communication issues.  We need to have communication requirements throughout all parts of the curriculum.  Communication skills will be emphasized in a number of courses.   


Mike: The students agree.  Especially since MIT requires one course per year.  There is a sense from the students that they want it to be a high bar.  It is important to have all students take a course as a freshman rather than as a senior since it is important to have the building blocks to becoming good communicators provided early in their academic career.  I would suggest a one-hour workshop where alumnae can say why communication in their career is important.


Provost Peterson:  Lee, it might be informative for you to benchmark this.  Currently, there are four ways students can meet the current requirement.  It might be helpful if you told everyone what they are.

Lee:  Currently, they can satisfy the writing requirement by taking a WRIT course, taking a writing-intensive course, getting a 670 or better on their SAT verbal score, or if a student has AP credit.  It is possible to evade a writing-intensive course at Rensselaer.


In closing, Cheryl asked the faculty to think about what was discussed today so that when the issue appears on the ballot, they will be prepared to vote.


Proposed Faculty Club:  Process and Issues - Deborah Kaminski

The goals are to promote collegiality among the faculty and staff, to provide a venue for entertaining visitors to campus and to improve the campus infrastructure.  The idea has been under development for several years.  The idea of a faculty club was initiated during the Faculty Senate retreat.  The Faculty Senate created a working group to develop ideas.  President Jackson showed an interest in the concept and asked Debbie to form a committee to gather additional data.


Issues under study are: food service and menu, operating hours, type of dining, and operating hours.  Additional issues are location: how important the proximity to campus is, the ambiance of the club, and membership eligibility.  The committee will review membership fees and rules of other university clubs as well as review the financial feasibility.


In terms of data gathering, the committee will benchmark clubs at other institutions.  A survey, which is only in draft form at this time, will eventually be sent to the Rensselaer faculty.  The committee has been contacted by the Association of College and University Clubs and will be discussing their experiences with clubs and issues Rensselaer may face regarding the club.  The committee will visit other clubs and will have informal discussions with faculty to gain feedback.


The committee wants to make sure that Rensselaer is large enough to support a faculty club.  In the study, about 10 out of 60 schools reviewed have a smaller faculty than Rensselaer and are still able to support a faculty club.  The question facing the committee is determining whether Rensselaer has a large enough faculty base to support a club.

Debbie Kaminski's Presentation

Discussion and Comments

Bruce Nauman:  Does Union College have a faculty club?

Debbie:  I haven’t seen them on the list but it would be worth inquiring.


Cheryl:  I know that one of the issues has been the funding for the faculty/staff dining hall and that the dining hall is a money loser for the academic portfolio.  How would the club affect the funding and existence of the faculty/staff dining hall? 

Debbie:  I have been told by the President that the facility would stay in operation since it is needed as a banquet facility.


Provost:  I would like to clarify that the President probably didn’t make a statement that the Faculty/Staff dining hall would continue to have lunch.  The facility will not change to classrooms or anything, but the whole issue is open for discussion.  I support Cheryl’s statement that the faculty/staff dining room loses money.  We do a lot of things that are money losers but are investments.   I wouldn’t presuppose anything except that the facility will remain intact.


Bill:  If the location wasn’t as central as the faculty/staff dining room, could we get people to go around the periphery of campus which is tougher in January weather? 

Debbie:  One of the things that will be asked in the survey will gauge how often faculty eat off campus and how far off campus they are willing to go.


Election Slate - Achille Messac

Achille presented the current slate to the General Faculty.  Nominations will be accepted through March 28th and the ballot will be distributed on March 31st.  Voting will end on April 8th and the results will be announced at the Faculty Senate Meeting on April 20th.  Achille said there has been good interest in the election and almost every office is being contested.  Unfortunately there are two open offices.  He hopes to fill every position.  There are no term limits and there are some people who are running again.  There is no Constitution restriction for those running for multiple offices and there are some people who will have more than one position if they win multiple offices.  Lastly, the candidates were invited to provide a position or get acquainted statement to be included as part of the ballot.