Faculty Senate Meeting

9/8/2004

 

Present:  Ning Xiang, Mary Anne Waltz, Bob Block, Sandy Sternstein, Keith Nelson, Bob Degeneff, Bruce Nauman, Achille Messac, Cheryl Geisler, Joel Plawsky, Debbie Kaminski, Pat Search, Tamar Gordon, Shekhar Garde, Bill St. John, Ron Eglash, Chjan Lim

 

Not Present: Rena Bizios, Jeff Durgee

 

Guests:  Provost Peterson, Les Rubenfeld, Connie Fritz, Roger Wright, Christoph Steinbruchel, Dan Berg, Boleslaw Szymanski, Larry Kagan, Joyce Diwan, Randolph Franklin

 

Agenda

Affirmation of Interim Appointments

Approval of the Minutes from the 4/28/2004 Faculty Senate Meeting

Discussion of Satisfaction Survey

Request from Provost

 

Affirmation of Interim Appointments

Once it was determined that a quorum was present, a motion was made to accept the appointments of Keith Nelson and Robert Baron to the Faculty Senate.  There was no discussion.  They were both approved into the Senate; 14 in favor, none opposed, 0 abstentions.

 

Approval of the Minutes from the 4/28/2004 Faculty Senate Meeting

The Minutes were approved, 10 in favor, none opposed, 0 abstentions.

 

Discussion of Satisfaction Survey

President Bruce Nauman explained that the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the Faculty Senate passed by 84% affirmative vote.  The amendment was read aloud: Coincident with the annual election of the Faculty Senate, the Senate shall also organize a survey of the faculty to determine its level of satisfaction with the Faculty Senate, and with the faculty’s administrative chain of command, including its applicable department chairs, center directors, deans, the Provost and the President. Anyone who is eligible to vote in the election is also eligible to participate in the survey. The results will be made public to the extent, and in the manner, deemed appropriate by the Faculty Senate.

 

President Nauman stated that the satisfaction survey was rejected by the Board of Trustees, but the Board recognizes that a satisfaction survey can be held by the faculty, but will not make changes into the Constitution.

 

Senator Sandy Sternstein asked for clarification for the reason that the results may or may not be communicated to the faculty.  President Nauman responded that it is a matter that has to be deliberated by the Faculty Senate.  The Faculty Senate will have to determine the format and how the communication should be made.  If the motion is passed, it will become a topic for the retreat.  Sandy responded that he understands the need for the proposal, but since the Senate represents the faculty, any action of the Faculty Senate is scrutinized by the faculty.  He questioned how a survey could be taken from the faculty and then the Senate elect to not share the results with the faculty. 

 

Senator Bob Block suggested that the discussion be held first, then a decision be made whether to have the survey or not.  Bruce Nauman reminded the group that the survey was approved by 84% of the voting faculty. The amendment that was not approved by Board of Trustees said it would be coincident with the election in March.   He added that it has not yet been decided on whether the survey would be held in the Fall or the Spring semester.   The ad hoc committee for the survey can determine when it will be conducted, how it will be disseminated and the wording of the questionnaire itself. 

 

Faculty Senate Vice President, Achille Messac, thinks it would be helpful to have someone articulate the ultimate objective of the endeavor to help everyone understand what the steps will be in going forward.  Since 84% of faculty voted for it, it is hard to go against it, but it does not absolve the Senate from being responsible for the vision of the survey.  He thinks it is important to put responsible steps in place to make sure the wishes of the faculty are being satisfied. 

 

Provost Peterson stated that Chairman Heffner had communicated the reasons for rejecting the amendment directly to the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and that he was not present at the meeting.  He added that a memo was sent a day or two before the announcement to the faculty that it was rejected.  A letter from Chuck Carletta had been sent. [No one from the Faculty Senate Executive Committee had received the letter so the Provost will make sure another copy is sent.]  President Nauman was told by Chairman Heffner, “the Board did not want the institute run by referendum”. 

 

Achille Messac suggested that in order to follow what the faculty voted on, it would be expeditiously unwise to put together the survey quickly and do it this semester.  He feels the Senate needs to take the time to do a job worthy of the faculty.  Professor Les Rubenfeld stated that the obligation is to assess the feelings of the faculty  and that those feelings are different than anything he has ever seen in the past 30 years since he has been on campus.

 

President Nauman said that during a meeting with Sam Heffner, the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, he was asked what percentage of the faculty would not agree with the job the President is doing.  Bruce responded “70%” and feels it is a reasonable percentage.  He suggested that the Board hears only what is good about the Rensselaer President and that the Faculty Senate hears all the complaints.  Planning and Resources Committee member Roger Wright said he believes that the Trustees feel that 70% dissatisfaction with the President would be ludicrous. 

 

Vice President Achille Messac stated that he is concerned about how the Institute as a whole will be perceived and what will happen when the results of the survey are publicized.  Further, he said the ultimate objective of the survey needs to be determined.

 

Senator Bob Degeneff stated that every semester, students review the faculty and give their opinions.  There are also exit surveys for those who leave the University.  Opinions seem to hold weight.  The faculty is an integral part of the University and he thinks the Board and the Administration would be interested in what the faculty think.  A fellow faculty member told him he has never seen the morale as low as it is right now.  If that is true, something needs to be done to fix it rather than finger pointing. 

 

Achille Messac stated that he believes there is room to explore the degree of satisfaction in how the administration is doing things as opposed to personal evaluations.  It will be hard to remove the personal aspect when there is only one President, one Provost, etc.  He suggested that the survey include what should be improved upon.

 

Les Rubenfeld said it was mentioned that a previous survey had been ignored.  He said that a survey from HR was done and the faculty never received the results.  The faculty should know what the results of this survey were.  He added that there are more than just academic issues.  The important thing is to properly phrase issues to those that are filling out the surveys.  Chair Cheryl Geisler stated there are two kinds of surveys that the faculty can do.  The motion on the floor uses terminology from both.  The current motion is the evaluation of people, not an evaluation of issues.  She suggested it could use both kinds if that is what the committee determines.  She added that HR is not in the chain of command, so their services would not be surveyed.

 

Bob Block suggested that whatever is done, it should be done well and consistently and that it needs to be professional and yearly.  Bruce agreed that it should be done yearly.  He added that the results may surprise and educate many people and the Board may determine that it does have merit.  Larry Kagan suggested that the Faculty Senate ask the Board of Trustees to review the opinions of those on campus on a range of topics and then evaluate them.  Sandy said that many years ago, the Board of Trustees arrived on campus the day before their meetings and would meet with faculty to ask their opinion on policies, the President, issues that need to be addressed and how well resources are being distributed.  Christoph Steinbruchel agreed that the surveys need to be done routinely.  He thinks the fundamental point was mentioned by Sandy:  How do trustees know what is going on around campus?  Christoph recalls that groups of faculty used to meet with trustees in an informal atmosphere.

 

Joyce Diwan asked what would be the likelihood of the faculty being returned the responsibility for the Board of Trustee dinner.  Previously, faculty could sit at a table with a trustee and have a discussion.  Now, the dinner includes a speaker which is not conducive to talking.

 

President Nauman stated that the Administration does not seek out what the faculty think and therefore do not know what the faculty think.  He believes there is a deliberate move to sever ties between faculty and trustees.   Senator Shekhar Garde commented that regarding the survey, if there will be constructive criticism the survey might be all right; however, if it is simply a mechanism to vent the feelings of faculty, it is a bad idea.

 

 

Recording Secretary Joel Plawsky made the following motion:

On behalf of the faculty I move we hold an annual satisfaction survey of the Faculty Senate and the administrative chain of command.

Vote:  15 in favor, none opposed, no abstentions.  Motion passed.

 

Request from Provost

Provost Peterson made a formal request that the Faculty Senate consider allowing the Clinical faculty to vote.  His position is that they should be allowed.  He has made this request at the first of every Faculty Senate meeting since he has been at Rensselaer.  He added that this has been discussed for over two years.  His belief is that the only reason clinical faculty are not included is because at the time the Constitution was recommended, there was no classification of clinical.  He continues to be concerned that there are 70 faculty on the campus that do not have formal voting rights.  He does not believe it is reasonable to let every faculty member have one vote with the exception of the clinical that have one representative to vote on behalf of all clinical faculty.  They are the only group that has a professorial title that does not have a vote.