Faculty Senate Meeting

September 21, 2005


Present: Achille Messac, Bruce Nauman, Jim Napolitano, Christoph Steinbruchel, Mike Fortun, Debbie Kaminski, Edward Woodhouse, Jeanne Keefe, Roger Grice, Paul Hohenberg, Bob Degeneff, William Randolph Franklin, Keith Nelson, Peter Persans, Patricia Search, Sandy Sternstein, Larry  Kagan, Dan Berg, Amir Hirsa


Absent: Ning Xiang, Satish Nambisan, Chjan Lim, Lou Gingerella


Guests: Henry Scarton, G.P. Peterson, Mike Hanna, Lester Gerhardt, Bill St. John, Prabhat Hajela

ATTENDANCE: Administrative and Non-Administrative Faculty, and other parties


-Approve Minutes from the 5/5/2005 and 9/7/2005 Faculty Senate Meetings


-Faculty Senate Student Advising Initiative- Prabhat Hajela, vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education


ATTENDANCE: Non-Administrative Voting Faculty


-Discussion of Revised Faculty Handbook

-Discussion of Reprimand of Former Faculty Senate President

-Where do we go from here?

Approve Minutes from the 5/5/2005 and 9/7/2005 Faculty Senate Meetings

Both sets of Minutes were approved; one abstention.


Faculty Senate Student Advising Initiative -

Prabhat Hajela, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education

Prabhat Hajela, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, said that the Undergraduate Office is working on several initiatives to renew Rensselaer’s commitment to undergraduate education.  The three important focal areas are undergraduate research experience, international experience, and immersive learning experiences.


He noted that academic advising will be a key initiative.  During the spring 2002 semester, the Provost had formed a task force to study the advising system and processes.  This task force was to find out:

-          what problems or shortcomings there were with the current advising system

-          what issues in the advising system pose problems for the faculty

-          what services or resources are currently available to students and faculty

-          how can advising be improved


Three subcommittees [that are not Faculty Senate committees] were then formed to address student issues, faculty issues and the advising process.  An external review of ALAC (Advising and Learning Assistance Center) and the advising program was also conducted.


Recommendations of the task force were:

-          ensure that yearly faculty evaluation acknowledges advising

-          expand resources to assist advising including a training program for advisors and a full-time advising staff

-          strengthen the early warning system for students

-          A better means to get answers to career related questions.  Often advisors feel they don’t have the tools to help students with career-related questions.

-          there should be rewards and recognition for advising

-          requirement of students to meet with advisors at least once during the academic year

-          Develop online resources to assist advisors and students


Prabhat Hajela, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, stated that since January 2005, he has had three focus group meetings in which students participated to get a sense of the advising status.  The students desire a faculty-centered approach to advising, they want great contact with faculty, they want to build a mentoring relationship with faculty, especially when there are similar technical interests and they want advice on career choices and extra-curricular activities that are sensible to their career goals.  He hopes that the person for the new position of Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education will be identified within the next few weeks.


The students advising expectations include:

-          Students want advisors to be knowledgeable about a particular curriculum

-          Students want advisors to be available and accessible to students.  A national survey shows that students try to make contact with faculty but were denied so they gave up.

-          Students would like to have a better relationship with faculty and to have an understanding of them as individuals.

-          Students would like career advice as well as the development of their curriculum to meet their career goals. 


The Advising and Learning Assistance Center (ALAC) is working with undeclared students to show them their choices.  Student retention and academic success has been a key objective for ALAC.  ALAC also provides advising resources for dual degree/major candidates.  ALAC is working with LA’s and TLA’s to work with students to hone learning skills.  ALAC has a complementary role in a faculty-centered advising system.


The Early Warning System (EWS) helps identify students having difficulty with course work.  The current retention rate is approximately 92%.  The function of the EWS needs to be expanded.  He would like to have greater faculty participation in the EWS in order for it to be successful.


Debbie Kaminski, Secretary of the Faculty asked about the faculty/student lunch program.  Provost Peterson responded that there is only data for three semesters.  During spring 2004, the program paid for approximately 800 lunches and during the last academic year, the program paid for approximately 1500 lunches.


J. Keith Nelson, Senator-at-Large, asked whether they should mandate that students see their advisor in order to register for courses.  He suggested that faculty could notate when students visit them for advising.  Prabhat Hajela responded that there are some issues such as how many times should students see their advisor.  He added that the mechanism is also being debated.


President Messac asked Prof. Hajela what he sees as the next step since there is a sense that advising is still a big problem.  Prof. Hajela responded that there are clear issues.  One issue raised is that some faculty are not sure how to help the students.  He thinks that increased faculty training would be helpful so the faculty know how to help or where to get help.


Amir Hirsa, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, disagrees that a signature from the faculty is the best option.  He thinks it is important to have a more people-friendly system.  He believes there may be other underlying issues that a “check mark” for meeting with the advisor does not address.   Prabhat Hajela agreed that the culture at RPI will have to change if the initiative will be successful.


Sandy Sternstein, Senator-at-Large thinks that effective advising is very important.  Ineffective is as useless as no advising or worse.  In the past, the task of advising was given to the faculty with the lightest teaching load, almost as a penalty.  He believes that if advising is done properly, all faculty, including constellation professors, will be required to advise students.


Bob Degeneff, Senator-at-Large said that part of the problem is the amount of time that faculty have for advising.  It takes time to get to know a student.  J. Keith Nelson stated that he used to sit down with his students every semester to discuss curriculum and career aspirations.  It doesn’t happen any more and he feels that it should.  He thinks if checking a box on their registration form would help, he thinks it should be a requirement.


Peter Persans, Senator-at-Large, has heard how the advising system used to be.  He thinks the process needs to present a list of achievable items and things the Faculty Senate can take as initiatives as well as a committee charged with focusing on effectiveness.


Jim Napolitano, Vice President of the Faculty Senate, thinks that some mechanical aspects of advising could be handled by a competent staff member.  Larry Kagan thinks that advising is a department issue.  He believes the chairs should be charged to evaluate how effective their advising is and how to improve it.  He feels that what works in one dept may not work in another. 


Prof. Kaminski thinks it is the role of the Senate to put together programs to make sure that faculty and students get together.  She suggests a joint committee of the Faculty Senate and Student Senate to build upon what has been done in the past.  Ned Woodhouse, H&SS Senator, thinks that a structural basis should be put in place that requires faculty to meet with their students.


Provost Peterson encouraged the Faculty Senate to take on the advising initiative.  He thinks the students want more contact with the faculty, not just advising.  There are not many problems where students don’t meet requirements; it’s more of a need for mentoring and interaction other than curricular advising. 


Secretary of the Faculty, Debbie Kaminski, made the following motion: “Move to form a small committee and invite the Student Senate to review the report and make recommendations to the Faculty Senate.  Seconded by Roger Grice, Troy Clinical Senator.  Motion passed; 15 in favor, 1 opposed, 3 abstentions.


Troy Clinical Senator, Roger Grice; Secretary of the Faculty, Debbie Kaminski; Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, Prabhat Hajela; former Troy Clinical Senator, Bill St. John; and Senator-at-Large, Peter Persans volunteered to be on the committee. Prof. Kaminski accepted President Messac’s invitation to serve as Chair of this committee.


Professor Hajela's complete presentation

ATTENDANCE: Non-Administrative Voting Faculty


Discussion of Revised Faculty Handbook

The current revised faculty handbook had been submitted to the Faculty Senate during the spring semester for comments.  Since there were no comments or suggestions, it was posted to the Faculty Senate website and the general faculty was notified and asked for their comments. 


Debbie Kaminski, Secretary of the Faculty, made the following motion:  Move that we approve the handbook now currently on the web.  Mike Fortun, Secretary of the Senate, seconded.


During discussion, several issues arose including the tuition reimbursement, the grievance procedure and whether the administration follows the terms of the handbook.

Senator-at-Large, Sandy Sternstein, thinks it is premature for the Faculty Senate to approve the handbook since the grievance procedure is ambivalent.  Chair of the Faculty, Bruce Nauman said that if the revised handbook is not approved, the default would be to follow the current handbook which has the same problems.  He explained that during the review process, the Institute had tried to modify some sections, but the Faculty Senate Executive Committee did not approve them. 


Secretary of the Faculty, Debbie Kaminski, believes that the handbook review began in the Provost office since the current document was difficult to follow and ambiguous.  The Provost wanted it to reflect current practice.  For items of controversy, the original document wording was preserved.  She added that the grievance procedure has not changed in the revised handbook.  She suggested having a new approved document which would make it easier to work on the controversial items.  Vice President, Jim Napolitano, voiced a concern of a colleague regarding parental leave.  His colleague is concerned that the handbook reflects practice rather than what is in the current handbook.


Senator-at-Large, J. Keith Nelson asked Bruce Nauman, Chair of the Faculty, if he feels there is anything in the new version which he regards as a negative from the faculty point of view.  Bruce responded that he knows of no negatives and will vote for the handbook to pass.  Chair of the Faculty, Bruce Nauman, distributed a document containing some items that he feels need to be reviewed further, whether or not the document passes at the meeting.  He reiterated that the review was not to make any policy changes.


Senator-at-Large, Peter Persans, is concerned that there may be other items that have been overlooked.  He suggested that more time is needed for review and that the faculty need to be specifically told to review items of importance to them.


Chair of the Faculty, Bruce Nauman, made a motion to table the motion, seconded by Sandy Sternstein, Senator-at-Large.  Vote:  15 approve, 3 disapprove; motion passed.


Due to issues that need to be discussed and the next meeting being the General Faculty Meeting, a Faculty Senate Meeting was added for Wednesday, September 28, 2005. 


Discussion of Reprimand of Former Faculty Senate President

President Messac distributed the email that he had sent to the general faculty regarding the reprimand.  He feels that the idea of a Faculty Senate President being given a reprimand for the actions of a committee that was sanctioned by the full senate is extremely disturbing and wrong. He stated that, even though he was often a vocal critic of former President Nauman last year, he finds this reprimand may have a chilling effect on future Senate Presidents.


Where do we go from here?

Senator-at-Large, J. Keith Nelson, made the following motion: 

At its meeting on April 6, 2005, the Faculty Senate both passed a motion of confidence in its then President Professor Nauman; and unanimously called for the letter of reprimand to be removed from his file.  This Senate finds the Provost’s response dated July 6, 2005 unsatisfactory and renews its demand that the letter of reprimand be rescinded immediately.  The Senate feels that the letter is both grossly unjust and that it is impeding normal relations with the Administration.”


Seconded by Bob Degeneff, Senator-at-Large.


Vote:  Passed unanimously.


President Messac said that the Faculty Senate Executive Committee will write a letter conveying the motion and outcome to the provost.


President Messac asked for the thoughts of the Senate on what other items of business need to be addressed.


Senator-at-Large Sandy Sternstein is concerned that the entire faculty may not realize what the real issues are, thus making it difficult for them to understand the problems between the faculty and the administration.  He thinks that it is possible that the Senate is not being effective in conveying the issues properly and convincingly. 


President Messac stated that the memos sent over the summer were intended to be a strong way to make initial constructive connection with the administration, but that it did not turn out to be so.  The Senate and the administration are at a crossroads.  He added that if positive results are not forthcoming, and the faculty wishes to pursue approaches that are at variance with his, he will step down as President to let the senate explore other venues.


It was suggested that the Secretary of the Senate publish a monthly or weekly report in the Poly in an attempt to address some of the issues, and to allow the campus community to understand them better.  It was also suggested that it is the responsibility of each senator to talk within their departments or to their constituencies.  Distributing a satisfaction survey would also help gauge the faculty concern and interest.


President Messac asked the senate to search for volunteers for the Institute Retirement Committee. He reminded the senate that he had been asking for volunteers since the first meeting of this semester. Vice President Napolitano is in charge of finding volunteers.