Faculty Senate Meeting



Present: Mary Anne Waltz, Pat Search, Ron Eglash, Debbie Kaminski, Cheryl Geisler, Bruce Nauman, Achille Messac, Joel Plawsky, Bob Block, Ning Xiang, Bill St. John, Jeff Durgee, J. Keith Nelson, Bob Degeneff, Shekhar Garde, Rena Bizios, Christoph Steinbruchel, Sandy Sternstein


Absent: Chjan Lim, Tamar Gordon, William Pearlman, Roger Wright

Guests: Joe Hamburg, John Harrington, Tom Apple, Martin Glicksman, Bob Ingalls


Approval of Minutes from the 2-23-2005 Faculty Senate Meeting

Undergraduate Education – Prabhat Hajela, Dean of Undergraduate Education
Ongoing Initiatives
Undergraduate Curriculum Items for Undergraduate Education Office

Communication Requirement Discussion

Governance Committee

Input on Graduate Student Policy – Cheryl Geisler

Responses to Faculty Senate Letter to the Board


Approval of Minutes from the 2-23-2005 Faculty Senate Meeting

Minutes approved.


Undergraduate Education – Prabhat Hajela, Dean of Undergraduate Education

In the two months since Prabhat has been in the position, he has been analyzing undergraduate education at Rensselaer and at universities around the United States.  In his analysis, he feels Rensselaer has significant challenges ahead.  The course the university will find itself on depends on new and exciting things that will occur at the undergraduate level.


There is a new focus on overhauling the way undergraduate education is delivered at universities.  A growing number of students want more from a college education such as multiple degrees, majors, flexibility and unique learning experiences.  Students are looking for environments with individualized learning, the best quality advising, the opportunity to do research with faculty, and to be challenged and engaged intellectually.  Most importantly they are seeking an opportunity to experience education in a global context.  A freshmen survey gauges what students think of themselves in their aspirations and level of achievement.  Prabhat provided a comparison of Rensselaer freshmen to typical entering freshmen at highly select universities and those in peer group institutions.  In most comparisons, Rensselaer students rate themselves higher than peer groups and select universities except in public speaking and writing ability.


Ongoing Initiatives

A diverse set of new course offerings is important to attract the very best student.  An example at Rensselaer is the addition of the minor in game studies offered in H&SS.  A unique first year experience in advising, learning assistance, and activities is important.  Rensselaer has a renewed emphasis on advising.  Retention is a big issue.  For various reasons, a student may not succeed in their first year or first semester.  The learning assistance program that teaches students about study habits, resource guides and learning patterns are important.  A computer-based early warning system has been implemented to show how faculty report students in trouble and to promote intervention strategies.


Undergraduate Curriculum Items for Undergraduate Education Office

According to senior surveys, students are consistently dissatisfied with advising.  This is a problem not typical of Rensselaer alone and must be responded to appropriately.  The Task Force on Advising put forward some recommendations and Prabhat has had focus group meetings with students to target their concerns. The number of students in multiple majors has gone up from 10% in 1999 to 15% in 2004.  Templates need to be developed to make sure these students have the resources available to navigate this process effectively.


Rensselaer’s core curriculum needs a mission statement and expected outcomes.  The core curriculum will be revisited by the Curriculum Committee.  He feels the Communication requirement should be strengthened.  A systemic revision of the core curriculum should be focused to teach communication skills throughout the curriculum rather than in one or two courses.  Rensselaer has not focused as much as some peer and aspirant schools in providing international studies for students.  Prabhat would like the Faculty Senate to consider templates for programs of study to allow participating in international programs with minimal disruption.  He would like to establish opportunities to increase students participating in co-op programs. 


Prabhat believes the endowed research program needs to be better publicized.  He would like to increase endowment for summer research opportunities and develop accelerated BS and MS programs.  There have been shifts in existing programs and new pedagogical styles have required realignment in campus space. Prabhat proposes that an assessment of teaching laboratories occur to determine where the most attention is needed in improving those laboratories.  Even with the highest quality curricula, Rensselaer will need a signature program that will make Rensselaer a first choice and set Rensselaer apart from competition.  Rensselaer has first year studies programs and has plans for learning and living communities.


Assessment of student learning and development is conducted to find out how well students meet educational objectives.  Assessment should be used as an indicator of institution effectiveness, not as a measure of how faculty are doing their class work.  He believes that institute curiosity should drive the assessment process rather than the process being motivated by external evaluation.

Prabhat's full presentation



Prabhat suggested that the faculty may have other issues to submit to him in addition to the ones he discussed.


Cheryl Geisler, Chair of the Faculty:  I recall that the last time interest in curriculum development was an Institute focus, was when the Anderson Center had a proposal process by which faculty would control the proposal for experiments in undergraduate education.  Has there been any discussion for revisiting a similar process?

Prabhat:  I think a master plan needs to be put together to allow for more of the activities referred to.  I will encourage it and will seek external funding to support it.


Jeff Durgee, Management Senator:  Individualized learning- what does this involve?

Prabhat: Other schools are doing it.  It is one-on-one mentoring and learning taking place at Duke and Princeton.  Students might sign up for a semester or a year and hook up with a faculty member with similar research interests.  It allows the student to prepare a research paper at the end of the semester or year.


Debbie Kaminski, Secretary of the Senate: How is that different than a URP? 

Prabhat:  We have a URP program, yet when I talk to student focus groups, there is a disconnect, and they do not find out about URP until it is too late.  Word does not get out to students who would want to pursue a URP.  People who want to do a URP cannot find who to go to or what projects are available.  I have asked the Deans to establish a URP liaison and my office will create a database of available projects.


Bob Block, Retired Senator: It is important to get outside funding.  We may get 3 years and it is a big success but then funding ends.  We should build into the proposal that there will be a follow up and if they are successful, the institute will support it to prevent it from fading away.


Bruce Nauman, Faculty Senate President:  Is advising mandatory to students?  Must they see an advisor or is it optional? 

Prabhat: That is where it is right now.

Bruce: Don’t you think that should be changed?

Prabhat: Yes, it should be changed.


Bruce: Are multiple degrees a good idea?

Prabhat:  That is what students want.

Bruce: Shouldn’t they be counseled against it?

Prabhat:  Advisors can advise against.  When you talk to students who come in, they say they are fully aware and they want to have the ability to study more than a single discipline.

Bruce:  We have a burden to help.

Prabhat: There was an article in the chronicle of higher education where this whole question was raised. Where is the intellectual trust coming from with students going for 3 or 4 BS degrees at universities like Stanford?


Communication Requirement Discussion

Cheryl Geisler, Chair of the Faculty, will be chairing the General Faculty Meeting and she hopes to have a panel discussion since it is a major issue for the entire campus.  If there is a change to the communications requirement it should go to the general faculty for a vote.  She thinks it is important for the Senate to discuss the issue of whether or not to put something on the ballot for the general faculty. 


Motion: Resolve that Rensselaer replace the current writing requirement with the following requirement:  Beginning with the entering class of the Fall semester 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 these courses must place substantial emphasis on writing.


Bruce Nauman proposes modifying the motion by removing “at least one of these courses must be in the students major.”  He would like to see better resources given to H&SS to better educate the students.  Bruce suggested the motion include requiring one course in H&SS.  John Harrington, Dean of H&SS said that especially in engineering education, there has been an emphasis in trying to integrate communication skills across the curriculum rather than to keep it in one course only. It creates an incentive for students to work on communication throughout their curriculum.


Achille Messac, Faculty Senate Vice President stated that faculty may claim to have a writing-intensive course, but it might not necessarily be so.  He feels a writing-intensive course may only be a partial solution.  He added that having a professional from the writing department who was in charge of the reading and grading, come in to classes to help students, would be of tremendous benefit.  But it required continual support.


Lee Odell, from the Task Force on Undergraduate Communication stated that under the current requirement, there is no procedure for review and very few criteria to determine whether a course is writing-intensive.  He feels there is very little quality control and that there must be an ongoing review.


Cheryl stated that the faculty must decide whether they want to do this or not.  The proposal is to decide whether to put it for a vote.  If it passes, Lee O’Dell will again talk to Prabhat Hajela, Dean of the H&SS School, and the Provost and will then move forward to discuss resources and support services. 


Debbie Kaminski stated that in terms of the model used in the capstone design courses, many times a team is asked to write a single report and in industry many work on teams and each person provides an individual report. 


Prabhat said that in certain courses there is a writing requirement where different sections have to be authored by different students and graded accordingly.  There is a portion of the grade assigned to the group based on student contribution.


Cheryl said that what is listed as the criteria for designating a course as “communication intensive” is what came out of the curriculum committee.  If the faculty passes the motion from the Senate, there will be a committee that will be required to review the courses and certify them and the criteria they use will be based on some of these issues being discussed.  The recommendations are not part of the motion.


Motion:  Resolve 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 these courses must place substantial emphasis on writing.


Vote: Eleven in favor, 5 opposed, 1 abstention

Motion passed


Motion to modify the Communication Requirement to: “Require all Rensselaer undergraduates to take at least two communication-intensive courses.  At least one of these 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.”


Sandy Sternstein said that currently the curriculum planning is coming from the administration and his opinion is the Faculty Senate needs to take a proactive position on managed pedagogy.  He feels the faculty should make the decisions on the curriculum and then request the necessary resources.

Vote: Thirteen in favor, 0 opposed, one abstention.


Governance Committee

The Senate is required to endorse the membership of the Governance Committee.  Bob Degeneff, Marty Glicksman, Jane Koretz and Bruce Watson have agreed to serve. President Nauman appointed Bob Degeneff as the acting chair to convene the committee.  The committee will need to determine the need for additional members and if so, submit those to the Faculty Senate.  They will need to elect a chair, identify a structure for improved governance and identify a means for achieving that structure.  There was unanimous endorsement of the committee members.


Input on Graduate Student Policy – Cheryl Geisler

One of the motions that was passed a few weeks ago was that the FSEC would begin work on the graduate tuition policy.  The Provost is willing to hear what the faculty issues are as well as proposals for solutions.  Cheryl Geisler passed out a draft survey.  The survey has two purposes: to go to the full faculty involved in graduate programs and to target specific representatives of graduate program directors in each department.


Bruce Nauman suggested that an abbreviated one be sent to the general faculty and that the longer version be sent to those who may be more interested in completing the lengthier version.  The draft survey will be distributed to the Faculty Senate for suggested revisions.


Tom Apple commented that it is known that the graduate tuition policy is unpopular with certain faculty.  Some institutional changes that optimize Institute operations are unpopular with certain groups.  Achille Messac, Vice President of the Faculty Senate responded that if there is a policy that is overwhelmingly unpopular, there is a problem.  If enough people feel a certain way, regardless of the data, it should carry weight.  Tom responded that he is open to addressing these issues.  He added that he hears many complaints but he also hears good comments about the policy.


Rena Bizios, Secretary of the Faculty, said that when there is evidence that something is not working, we need to come up with solutions and try other things.  She does not want to hear at an academic institute that PhDs are given the stigma that teaching is a burden.  We are in academia and if we are not preparing the students to follow in the steps of the professors, there will not be anyone to teach the next generation of engineers and scientists.  Rensselaer must promote the value in an academic career including research and teaching.


Unanimous approval to circulate the survey.


Responses to Faculty Senate Letter to the Board

President Bruce Nauman said the Board of Trustees has not responded to the letter regarding the pension plan changes.  The Times Union had an article which contained some factual errors regarding the pension plan situation.  Achille Messac recognized the difficult direction the faculty is headed in.  Bruce feels the process is similar to chemotherapy in that it is extremely painful, extremely undesirable, is not something you would like to do, but it is better than the alternative.


Marty Glicksman suggested there be a normal mechanism for the Senate to sit down with an administrative official to have issues brought forth to the Board for a response.  It is inappropriate to have letters to the Board go unrecognized or unresponded to and feels the Provost should help in this matter.  Bruce stated that the President has cancelled the last two meetings with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.  Bob Block feels the normal lines of communications have been cut from the Administrative side by not responding to letters from the faculty.  He sees no other solution other than to go public.


Tom Apple believes that the relationship between the Faculty Senate and the Board and the President has deteriorated because so many things have gone public.  He thinks the administration is withdrawing from the Faculty Senate because they think the Senate wants to do damage to the Institute by releasing things to the public.  Achille responded that the faculty cannot afford to do that and that the faculty cannot be a non-integral part of the university.  Tom agreed and added that the issues have become emotional and personal.