General Faculty Meeting

4-19-2006

 

Present: Colette Holmes, Jeanne Keefe, E. Connie Powell, Fran Scott, Patrick Page-McCaw, Lee Ligon, Jackie Turner, Curtis Powell, Joe Ecker, Mark Holmes, John Kolb, Chjan Lim, Henry Scarton, John McDonald, Peter Parsons, Kristin Bennett, Bob Linhardt, Morris A. Washington, Lester Gerhardt, Virginia Gregg, Barb Cutler, Jeff Trinkle, Tom Willemain, Christian Wetzel, Lester Rubenfeld, Malik Magdon-Ismail, Sandy Sternstein, Martin Glicksman, James Tien, Linda Schadler, Fern Finger, Ted Krueger, Robert Palazzo, Omkaram Nalamasu, Alan Balfour, Carlos Varela, A. Kapila, Chuck Stewart, H. McLaughlin, Gary Saulnier, Mary Anne Staniszewski, Lois Peters, Richard Bopp, Caren Canier, Mark Mistur, T. Abrajano, Shawn Lin, Jong-Shi Pang, Frank Spear, Bruce Watson, Joseph Warden, Partha Dutta, John Brunski, Pawel Keblinski, N. Stoloff, J. Crivello, L. Interrante, Michael Century, Eddie Ade Knowles, W.R. Mielke, Jr., Judith Frangos, Cheng Hsu, J. Keith Nelson, Sam Wait, John Schroeder, Rob McCaffrey, Roger Grice, Victor Roytburd, Isom Herron, Wolf von Maltzahn, Peter C. Wayner, Jr., Joel Plawsky, Julie Stenken, Bob Parsons, Tomie Hahn, Sharra Vostral, John Woods, Jeff Durgee, Lee Odell, Roger Wright, Peter Persans, T.M. Hayes, Linda McGown, Ken Connor, Carl McDaniel, Heidi Newberg, Harry Roy, Richard Smith, Charles Malmborg, Dan Berg, Kevin Craig, Heinrik Hagerup, Bob Degeneff, Shep Salon, Deborah Kaminski, George Nagy, Randolph Franklin, Rich Radke, Steve Breyman, Larry Kagan, Alan Cramb, Euan Somerscales, George Handelman

 

Welcome – Professor Achille Messac, Faculty Senate President

During the Faculty Senate Meeting held on 4-12-2006, the senate passed a motion to hold a General Faculty Meeting to discuss and vote on 6 items. The motion passed: 14 in favor, 1 against, 1 abstention.  The motion was presented to faculty via email.  The only item on the agenda for this General Faculty Meeting is the consideration of the motion.  President Messac reminded the faculty that there may be strong feelings on many sides of the issues and requested that the debate be done collegially. 

 

Chair of the Faculty, Bruce Nauman, presented the 6 items of the motion and what actions could be taken during the meeting.  1.) Disband the Faculty Senate.  The group cannot be disbanded by the general faculty, Faculty Senate or the Executive Committee.  2.) Regarding no confidence in President Jackson,  a vote of no confidence will not be conducted during the meeting, rather today’s vote is to determine whether to hold a vote in the future by secret ballot.    3.) Implement some concrete and visible form of protest by the Faculty.  If this item passes at the meeting, the Faculty Senate would make it an action item.  4.)  Publicize in the Chronicles of Higher Education that Rensselaer is contemplating a reduction in its pension plan.  5.) Filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging age discrimination could be originated and be undertaken by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, but the complaint itself would need to be signed by individuals.  6.) Request that the Institute provide the Planning and Resources Committee financial information and sufficient detail and lead time so that the group can have meaningful input in the budget planning process. 

 

President Messac said that following the discussion, a vote on each item will be by secret ballot beginning at approximately 3:05pm. (The actual voting actually started much later.) Staff and clinical faculty members can participate in the meeting, but cannot vote.  All votes will be counted after everyone has voted. He stated that in the interest of allowing the debate to proceed and to give everyone a chance to speak, that each person would be allowed to speak for approximately two minutes at a time. (Within this guideline, any person could – and several did – speak several times.) He added that if there is a vote on the affirmative for no confidence, a vote would be conducted next Wednesday from 2:00 – 3:00 PM at a general meeting. 

 

A faculty member stated that disbanding the Faculty Senate would contradict taking action on other items of the motion.  Professor Nauman said it is a vote of sentiment regarding whether the Faculty Senate has been effective and to show the frustration of the interaction with the administration. 

 

Professor Randolph Franklin read from a memo dated May 21, 1992, signed by Ed Hood (then Chairman of the Board) and Roland Schmidt (then President.)   This was at the time the defined contribution plan was imposed on new employees and when old employees were given an option.  “Concern: With the addition of the new defined contribution plan, the Institute may not continue to pay adequate attention to the contributory defined benefit plan throughout the lifetimes of those who will retire under it.  Response: The Trustees have voiced strong commitment to maintaining the defined benefit plan.”

 

Professor Lester Rubenfeld asked for an explanation of the changes to the defined benefit plan.  Retired Professor Paul Hohenberg stated that the proposed changes are not yet known.  Some time ago a change was proposed, and in principle decided, that would reduce the benefit to less than 100%.  The change was delayed due to protest.  The understanding is that some change will be announced or introduced soon.  President Messac added that it seems to be a reduction.  He was told that in a defined contribution plan, the employee takes the risk, but in a defined benefit plan, the employer takes the risk.  Provost Peterson said there have been two meetings in the past two days to discuss the issue.   Mr. Powell’s recent email stated that “There has been no decision or recommendation submitted to the President or to Rensselaer’s Board of Trustees regarding suggested pension changes.”  Mr. Powell stated that there have been a lot of issues.  He added that there is no proposal or recommendation “on the table.”  Furthermore, if there will be any changes or recommendations, it will be discussed before anything is decided or implemented. 

 

There was some concern regarding constructive communication not happening from either the faculty or the administration.  In addition facts are not being presented and the announcement of the pension meetings came the day of or the day before the meeting took place.  President Messac said the Faculty Senate Planning and Resources Committee should be getting certain information from the administration.  There are some complications since the chair of that committee, who would typically attend the finance meetings, was not allowed to.  The Faculty Senate decided not to change the chair. The Faculty Senate was also told that the budget process was almost complete at the time the chair would have attended the meetings.

 

A general concern was raised about changes not only to the defined benefit plan but also to the defined contribution plan.  Any small thought about a benefits reduction should be alarming to everyone.  President Messac said that to his knowledge, there is no such plan for other changes, but he has heard that some people think that having one change now could make it easier for others to occur.

 

Senator Cheng Hsu asked Curtis Powell, Vice President for Human Resources, if it was true that the institute plans to implement the changes July 1, 2006.  Mr. Powell responded that it is not true.  He added that no recommendation has been presented and nothing will be implemented before July 1, 2006.  He said that the issue will be discussed at the Board of Trustees meeting in May, but nothing will be approved because nothing will be presented to them for approval.

 

President Messac explained that he had sent an email to the faculty on 3/28/2006 with information that he had received from Mr. Powell:  “As you are aware, during the last two years the Divisions of Human Resources and Finance have worked very hard with our actuary to insure that Rensselaer’s defined benefit plan is appropriately funded.  Furthermore, we have recommended and discussed changes that would minimize the impact of projected funding of the plan due to the past few years of low interest rates and equity returns.  Since we did not implement the recommended changes two years ago, the current and projected expenses to the plan have increased significantly.  As a result, I will propose changes to the defined benefit plan to the President and to the Board of Trustees within the next month.”

Professor Mary Anne Staniszewski feels the benefit plans are a contract and should not be touched.  She asked, on behalf of the university community, whether the benefit plans will be touched.  Mr. Powell responded that he cannot say that the benefit package will remain as it currently is.  Changes have been made to the medical plans in the last five years and there are major issues to address in the benefit plans.  He added that if there will be changes, they will be discussed with the entire community before it goes to the Board of Trustees.

 

Professor Deborah Kaminski is worried whether a discussion will actually take place.  The Faculty Senate heard about the potential changes and requested an urgent meeting with President Jackson; she did not respond.  The pension plan is only one of the many issues where the Faculty Senate and faculty feel they are being ignored. 

 

A comment was made regarding the notification of this vote being presented to the faculty only 5 days prior to the meeting.  The communication between the Faculty Senate and the administration is not effective.  The question was raised whether the communication problem is due to structure or personalities.  Also asked was whether the Constitution defines governance and the relation between the Faculty Senate and the administration, and how issues are reported to the administration.  President Messac responded that according to the Constitution, the Chair of the Faculty presents issues to the administration.  Provost Peterson added that during the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 academic years, President Jackson met with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.  This past fall, President Jackson offered to meet with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee upon their request.  The only request made was about 10 days ago. President Messac agreed and clarified that after the President cancelled her regular meetings with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, she indeed invited the FSEC to meet with her upon special requests. At the end of the minutes is a pertinent amendment that was passed at the Faculty Senate Meeting of May 4, 2006 by a vote of 17 in favor, 1 opposed.

 

Professor Les Rubenfeld said that in the 39 years that he has been on campus, he has never experienced such a lack of community on campus.  He also feels that if the proposed pension changes are not discussed, changes will likely occur again.

 

President Messac stated that President Jackson has done a great number of significant things for Rensselaer, and that they cannot and should not be ignored in this debate. He further stated that he strongly supported her serious efforts. He also expressed his sense of disappointment about not having been able to work with the administration on a variety of issues.

 

Provost Peterson believes there is an underlying problem with communication.  The Institute is working to resolve it.  He thinks it is important to recognize the successes; both in the actions the Faculty Senate has undertaken as well as the Institution.  He disagrees with disbanding the Faculty Senate.  Some accomplishments of the Faculty Senate include: revising the handbook, undertaking the grade modifiers issue, strengthening the communications requirement, input on the Middle States Reaccreditation review, and the faculty passing the amendment allowing clinical faculty the right to vote.  His opinion is that the vote of no confidence should not be driven by the single issue of pension.  President Jackson came to Rensselaer when the institution was in a severe decline, student enrollment was down, and the number of faculty was down; all these trends have been reversed.  The quality of the institution has been improved.  These are the things to make decisions on, not the pension plan.

 

Chair of the Faculty, Bruce Nauman, received an email regarding pros and cons of the last few years: the School of Engineering graduate school rankings have declined from 17 to 37 during President Jackson’s tenure, graduate student enrollment has declined from 2850 to less than 1400, the net worth of the university in constant dollars is 30% less and the debt load will affect RPI for decades, senior faculty are leaving, there is a “hiring slow down”, Constellation hiring after 6 years is less than 25% of projected, and the trust and cooperation between the administration and the faculty is in crisis.

 

Professor Alan Cramb, Dean of Engineering, does not understand why the meeting has been run without Robert’s Rules of Order, without having motions, and that enough time has not been allowed for a full discussion.  President Messac said that, constitutionally, the senate does not operate using Robert’s rules, but uses The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure. President Messac added that in the present case the proper procedure is to have the Faculty Senate Executive Committee make the motion, which is what was done. He further added that this is the case because the Senate explicitly directed the FSEC to take the actions being taken. Regarding debate and information, no other information is available to be presented – other than what has been provided through regular mass emails and faculty senate minutes.  For those who feel they don’t have enough information, they can abstain from the vote, or vote no.  He added that he is simply fulfilling his responsibility to implement the Senate’s explicit demands.

 

VOTE RESULTS:

1. Disband the Faculty Senate.                                                 

            Yes - 8             No - 96            Abstain - 9


2. Conduct, by secret ballot, a vote of no confidence in President Shirley Jackson.                    

            Yes - 56           No - 47            Abstain - 10

 

3. Implement some concrete and visible form of protest by the Faculty

            Yes - 61           No - 42            Abstain - 10

 

4. Publicize, in the Chronicles of Higher Education or elsewhere, that Rensselaer is   
    contemplating a reduction in its pension plans.           

            Yes - 50           No - 54            Abstain - 9

 

   5. File on behalf of senior faculty and staff a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment  
       Opportunity Commission alleging age discrimination.          

            Yes - 35           No - 62            Abstain - 16

 

   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 process.    

            Yes - 93           No - 17            Abstain - 3

 

 

Appendix A

Amendment moved by Former Senate President, and Faculty Chair Professor Achille Messac, and seconded by Professor Keith Nelson.

 

Move that the Minutes of April 19th, 2006 be amended by the information below.

 

The information below is intended to avoid further confusion on the issue of meetings cancellation. The emails below explain how the President’s office canceled the regular meetings with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, to make way for meetings on “specific issues”, which were never called for by either party (except for the one 10 days ago). The information below confirms that the FSEC never cancelled any meetings with President Jackson during the presidency of Senate President Messac. The email of August 4, 2005 shows the cancellation of the regular meetings by the President’s office, which were being requested by the senate administrator in the preceding emails – on July 21st and August 2nd, 2005. Also, the record of cancelled meetings prior to President Messac’s presidency is as follows:

 

12/8/2004 meeting cancelled by FSEC (Chair of Faculty and FS President out of town)
2/15/2005 meeting cancelled by President's office (Pres. Jackson traveling)
3/02/2005 meeting cancelled by President's office (not known)
4/13/2005 meeting cancelled by President's office (Pres. Jackson traveling)
 

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From: DeCoster, Patrice M. [mailto:DECOSP@rpi.edu]
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 2:35 PM
To: Fredette, Francine M.
Cc: Peterson, Bud, G.P.; Novak, Cindy
Subject: RE: Faculty Senate Executive Committee Meeting with President
Jackson

Francine, so sorry about the delay in responding – just had to check
with the boss.  Anyway, Dr. Jackson says that she would be happy to meet
with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee anytime they have a specific
issue they would like to address with her, otherwise we do not need to
include her in the regular Faculty Senate Executive Committee meetings.
So at this time, we will not hold any meetings with Dr. Jackson unless a
request comes from your office.

Regards,

Patrice M. DeCoster
Executive Assistant to the President
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York  12180-3590
phone: 518/276-2286
fax: 518/276-8702


------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: Francine Fredette [mailto:fredef2@rpi.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, August 02, 2005 9:55 AM
To: DeCoster, Patrice M.
Cc: Fredette, Francine M.
Subject: FW: Faculty Senate Executive Committee Meeting with President
Jackson

Hi Pat,

I just thought I’d check in on the dates from below.  I know how the
President’s schedule fills up quickly.
Thanks,
Francine


------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: Francine Fredette [mailto:fredef2@rpi.edu]
Sent: Thursday, July 21, 2005 12:00 PM
To: 'DeCoster, Patrice M.'
Subject: Faculty Senate Executive Committee Meeting with President Jackson

Hi Pat,

I would like to get one or two meetings between the FSEC and the
President scheduled.  Is she available on:
9/14 between 10-1
9/21 10-2 or 4-?
10/5 10-2 or 4-?
10/19 10-1 or 4-?
10/26 10-2 or 4-?
11/2 10-2 or 4-?
11/16 10-1 or 4-?
11/30 10-2 or 4-?
12/7 10-2 or 4-?
12/14 10-1 or 4-?
Perhaps two of the above dates during the Fall semester will work.
Thanks for your help.
Francine
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Francine Fredette
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 8th Street
Troy, NY 12180
Phone: 518.276.8150
Fax: 518.276.8036
fredef2@rpi.edu