Faculty Senate Meeting



Present: Achille Messac, Bruce Nauman, Jim Napolitano, Christoph Steinbruchel, Mike Fortun, Debbie Kaminski, Ning Xiang, Cheng Hsu, Edward Woodhouse, Jeanne Keefe, Lou Gingerella, Roger Grice, Paul Hohenberg, Bob Degeneff, Keith Nelson, Peter Persans, Patricia Search, Sandy Sternstein, Dan Berg


Absent: Satish Nambisan, Chjan Lim, Randolph Franklin, Larry Kagan, Amir Hirsa


Guests: James Watt, Lester Gerhardt, John Harrington, Steve Breyman, Prabhat Hajela, John Schroeder, Don Vitaliano


Approval of Minutes from the 3/8/2006 Faculty Senate Meeting

Without changes, the Minutes from the 3/8/2006 Faculty Senate Meeting were approved.


Election Results – Jim Napolitano, Faculty Senate Vice President

Jim Napolitano, Faculty Senate Vice President and Chair of the Election Committee, presented the election results.  A Senator at Large position is still open.  Professor Bruce Nauman was nominated for this position.  After some discussion, he was elected as Senator at Large.


Faculty Handbook Revisions – Deborah Kaminski, Secretary of the Faculty

The Faculty Senate Constitution calls for a yearly review of the handbook, with the Secretary of the Faculty in charge of the task.  This year, an extensive review was completed, passed by the Senate and approved by the Provost and the Board of Trustees.  Professor Jim Napolitano and Professor Jim Watt were also on the committee.  Additionally, Merrill D. Whitburn, the Louis Ellsworth Laflin Professor of English, reviewed the document for errors in style, usage, and punctuation.  An electronic copy has been distributed to the Faculty Senate for this year’s review.


Professor Jim Watt discussed substantive changes.  These changes included allowing faculty to present material in support of an additional 3-year contract, a review every three years for faculty who are on one-year contracts, not allowing Troy faculty to be reassigned to teach in Hartford and vice versa, and defining the academic year.  New language was also added to the termination and grievance sections.


Professor Sandy Sternstein, Senator at Large, asked if the handbook revision is solely a function of the Faculty Senate.  President Messac explained that the Provost, President and Board of Trustees must also approve the document.  Professor Dan Berg asked how the Constitution relates to the Handbook.  Professor Kaminski responded that there have been legal instances where language in the handbook is admissible.  There have also been problems where the handbook has not been adhered to.  For any changes where the Provost and the Faculty Senate cannot agree, the current language in the Handbook is in effect. 

There was some debate regarding section 2.6.1 and 2.6.2 pertaining to Fiscal and Academic Year Pay, and Supplemental Pay.  Some members of the senate felt it was reasonable for faculty to be available the week before classes begin to provide support and advising for students, and to prepare for classes.  Other members were concerned that summer vacation time will be reduced and the number of weeks worked will increase with the new proposed language.


Sandy Sternstein made the following motion:


Move to approve all current revisions to the handbook except sections 2.6.1 and 2.6.2 pertaining to the academic pay period. 


Vote:  Passed unanimously.


Pension Plan Discussion

President Messac requested an update on the proposed pension plan changes from Curtis Powell, Vice President for Human Resources.  Mr. Powell responded that the proposed changes will be presented to the Board of Trustees and President Jackson for consideration.  The Faculty Senate Executive Committee had been told that the proposed options will not be shared with the faculty.  President Messac has requested a meeting with President Jackson to discuss the topic, but he has not heard back as of yet.


Profess Dan Berg, Chair of the Planning and Resources Committee, stated that according to the Constitution, his committee is to be involved in decisions such as the pension plan changes.  Currently they have not been apprised of any changes.  He feels an important issue is that the Handbook is not being followed.  President Messac has received numerous emails from people with concerns about their retirement planning.  Some may reconsider when they will retire due to the proposed changes.    


Professor Cheng Hsu thinks the administration is evaluating the big picture, but the trouble is that the administration is not sharing with the faculty what the big picture is.  Regarding the finances of the institute, he questioned whether the pension is the first or the last to be sacrificed.   


Professor Jim Napolitano asked if this has been done at any other university.  Professor Paul Hohenberg said that almost no other university has a defined benefit plan.  He added that this is not a normal kind of plan for a university.  Professor Dan Berg said that a personal, financial contact that reviewed the plan said that it is unique because it is a defined benefit plan, but it has other attributes as well as peculiarities.  During a recent Planning and Resources Committee meeting, it was discussed that in the history of the plan, there was a time where the Plan was over funded and no contributions were made. 


Professor Bruce Nauman suggested is not concerned whether any university has or does not have a defined plan, rather has any other university cut anyone’s pension.  The legalities have been explored and the university is able to cut the plan including the defined contribution plan.  He is concerned that they have the ability to make any changes to the plan such as cutting back their 8% contribution.  He feels that faculty made a choice on the plan based on how it had been presented and offered.


Professor Sandy Sternstein pointed out that the real issue is the need for the Planning and Resources Committee to be actively involved in these types of decisions. Without their involvement, these types of changes will be repeated. 


Library Senator Jeanne Keefe said that in 1992 when people were asked to decide on the plans, the Institute provided financial counseling, reviewed both plans, and made suggestions to those affected.  Professor Don Vitaliano was involved when this change was made.  He stated that with a defined contribution plan, the members bear the risk of stock market changes, but with a defined benefit plan, the employer bears the risk.  The contractual nature of a defined benefit plan is that the employer is required to do what it takes to meet the requirements of the plan.  He explained that this is a major, fundamental feature that defines the two plans.


Professor Nauman stated that many documents from that time have been recovered.  He asked that anyone who has additional documents forward them to him.


Professor Kaminski feels that another issue is that President Jackson has not responded to President Messac’s urgent note requesting a meeting.  Early in the semester, President Jackson suggested that she only meet with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee when there is a request due to a specific item to discuss.  Professor Kaminski feels the Senate is being ignored.   She added that the Planning and Resources Committee is not getting needed information and the Handbook requirements are not being followed.


President Messac has received concerns from people worried that if the proposed changes are put into effect, it will make it easier to make any future changes to the plans.  Professor Napolitano feels that it would be helpful if Human Resources would provide the proper information and discuss what the proposed options are.  Professor Peter Persans stated that a few years ago, the cost associated with the plan was the maximum liability assuming everyone took the maximum variable contribution.  They are planning for the “worst-case scenario.”  President Messac added that the amount has varied widely depending on the date of the discussion.  Professor Lou Gingerella said that to follow the law, in order to keep a defined contribution plan in affect, it must be funded. 


President Messac asked for suggestions on what the Faculty Senate should do.  He said it is an issue of direct concern for some and indirect for others since additional changes could be made.  Professor Cheng Hsu, Engineering Senator, made the following motion, which was seconded by Professor Sandy Sternstein: 


 "Resolved that the Faculty Senate Executive Committee convene a special, general faculty meeting to discuss the failure of governance at Rensselaer and particularly to discuss issues related to compensation and suggested pension changes that disproportionately affect senior faculty and long-term faculty and staff. The following discussion points and possible motions are specifically enumerated as follows:


  1. Disband the Faculty Senate.
  2. Conduct, by secret ballot, a vote of no confidence in President  
    Shirley Jackson.
  3. Implement some concrete and visible form of protest by the Faculty.
  4. Publicize, in the Journal of Higher Education or elsewhere, that    
    Rensselaer is contemplating a reduction in its pension plans.
  5. File on behalf of senior faculty and staff a complaint with the U.S.
    Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging age discrimination.
  6. Request that - in conformance with the Constitution of the Faculty
    Senate that has been approved by the Board of Trustees - the
    Administration routinely release comprehensive and detailed
    financial information to the Planning & Resources Committee of the
    Faculty   Senate in time for meaningful input to the budget planning


During the discussion, it was made clear that this should be completed within two weeks, so that these issues are not postponed to next year.


VOTE: 14 yes, 1 no, 1 abstention.