General Faculty Meeting

 

Senate President Achille Messac

October 12, 2005

 

It is my pleasure to welcome you today to the constitutionally mandated Fall General Faculty Meeting.

 

This meeting is normally chaired by the Chair of the Faculty; but Professor Nauman is out of town today.  So I will serve as Chair. 

 

To put this meeting into perspective, let me read for you the relevant section of the Faculty Senate Constitution:

 

"The Executive Committee shall call a regular meeting of the general Faculty each fall and spring. Each meeting shall include a report from the President of the Senate on Senate business; and a report from the Chair of the Faculty on past and future issues affecting Faculty. The fall meeting shall include a report from the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute".

 

So, since Professor Nauman is unavailable, we will only have two reports: one from the Senate President, and one from the Institute President.

 

The Agenda today is therefore quite simple. We will begin with my remarks, followed by questions and discussions.

 

This will be followed by President Jackson’s remarks, which will also be followed by questions and discussions.

 

Any new business will then be addressed; followed by the conclusion of this meeting.

 

Well,   let me now begin…

 

As I joined the leadership of the senate as Vice President over a year ago, it was not clear to me that it would become such an eventful and exciting job! Well, with your help, we can face the challenge, and do what is right for our institution.

 

Let me begin by saying a few words about the senate; which is an elected body that has two broad objectives. One is to represent the interests of the faculty; and the other is to help carry out the academic affairs of the institute.

 

Some take the view that the interests of the faculty are the same as those of the institute. This might indeed be true in a utopic world.   However, I only believe that these interests are inextricably intertwined, but are not always identical. This incongruence of interests is indeed one of the main reasons for the very existence of the senate.

 

It is the administration’s responsibility to take the comprehensive and global view of the issues affecting the institute – with the authority to make ultimate final decisions, while it is the Faculty Senate’s responsibility to pay special attention to academic issues and to all other issues affecting faculty life. This is not unlike a US senator representing his or her state with vigorous dedication, while patriotically paying vigilant attention to our national needs.

 

With that analogy in mind, my continued objective is to lead the senate to vigorously represent the interests of the faculty, while keeping in mind that we are all member of the greater Rensselaer family. Importantly, we must do so while also aggressively advancing the academic objectives of the institute. In my opinion, there can be no compromise on this latter point. Our students expect no less from us.

 

As the senate represents the interests of the faculty, a certain amount of conflict will inevitable emerge between faculty and administration. This is the case at Rensselaer, as it is in most other first rate institutions. As Rensselaer becomes populated by an ever increasing number of world class faculty, the increased independence of the academic portfolio will need to become part of the administration’s priorities.

 

These are issues that affect the faculty, and that need to be addressed.

 

Well, I just made some general comments regarding the interaction between faculty and the administration. At this point, we can ask the question: How are we doing, and what are the critical issues that we must address?

 

First; how has the senate been doing?

 

Although the survey of last year gave the senate high marks, I must tell you candidly that, in my opinion, the senate has a dubious report card. When I became president of the senate last spring, I devoted a Herculean effort to try to reverse the highly charged path on which we were embarking. It was my belief that we should pursue the worthy objectives of the faculty in a constructive way. Well, we have indeed had some success in bringing greater collegiality in the faculty administration interaction. However, we have so far been less than successful in advancing the worthy interests of the faculty.

 

As I said before, should it become clear to me that my approaches are incompatible with the situation on the ground, my potential resignation will allow you to take the alternate course that you feel will yield results. However, for as long as I am senate president, I will not deviate from the constructive approach that I have so fervently advocated. In fact, I want to let you know that I plan to vigorously renew my efforts to get results in improving the interaction between administration and faculty; and to also obtain tangible results that are pertinent to faculty life.

 

As you know, I began my tenure as president by positively engaging the administration in the spring. At some point, it made sense to make specific requests from the administration; which was done through a set of memoranda. You have received all related communications. I must say candidly that the lack of results so far has set us back considerably. However, very shortly, I intend to explore new venues to positively engage the administration.

 

Let me say a word regarding what each of us can do. I would like to bring attention to the fact that there are many areas of divisions that we can all help address. With regard to the difficulties between administration and faculty; all of us, the administration, the senate and the faculty will need to work together to address it.

 

In addition, there is uneasiness between the new bio-nano-info crowd, and the traditional mainstay of the institute. There is also uneasiness between the newer assistant professors and those closer to retirement. I do not have the answers, but I invite each of us to be imaginative in finding ways to make incremental progress in bridging these gaps.

 

 

Let’s now talk about the specifics of the activities of the senate:

 

Let me begin by saying a few words regarding the structure of the senate, and what the activities of each of its components have been.

 

To address academic and faculty issues, approximately 60 members of the senate and of its committees are hard at work serving our institution. They are doing this in addition to their work as members of the faculty. They deserve our great appreciation. So, when you hear someone tell you that the senate is not doing much for anyone, I hope you will correct them.

 

Let me begin by mentioning committees or components:

    The Curriculum Committee;                                    

    The Promotion and Tenure Committee;

    The Planning and Resources Committee;

    The Honors committee;

    The Election Committee, and

    The Executive Committee

This is in addition to 15 senators who represent the interests and perspective of the different schools.

 

Let me now give you a report of the main committees, which its chairs have given me: They are: the Promotion and Tenure, the Curriculum, and the Planning and Resources Committee. (I am reporting them verbatim)

 

Promotion and Tenure

This report is from Professor Larry Kagan

[I fixed some typos]

 

The committee had its first organizational meeting on October 3rd to introduce new members, review procedures and consult with the provost on this coming semester's workload. The committee asked the provost to request departments to standardize some items in the dossiers in order to facilitate the committee's work;    and he has subsequently sent out a memo requesting those changes for future case submissions.

The deadline for P&T dossiers was October 7th and we have 13 P&T cases on the list, with a possibility of some additional anticipated hires as well. This is a substantial work load which may require the committee to schedule more meetings than usual. Our first business meeting was on October 11th.

 

Curriculum Committee

This is from Professor Amir Hirsa

 

The FSCC is primarily charged with the upkeep of Rensselaer’s catalog, and in turn the continual assessment and improvement of the curricula. Institute-wide changes that have recently been adopted and are now in the process of implementation include the following:

i)                    Use of grade modifiers and their implementation at various levels starting this semester.

ii)                   Adoption of higher standards in communication requirements and setting standards for courses that will receive the designation “communications intensive.”


This effort is lead by Lee Odell and his colleagues. Both of these will need the assistance of the entire faculty in providing feedback in order to make necessary adjustments and address any unintended consequences that may arise.

 

An on-going evaluation of the four-by-four curriculum is also part of the agenda for the FSCC. Issues related to this range from logistic matters such as scheduling of classes     to broader issues such as increased flexibility offered by 3-credit-hour based curricula,   which more readily facilitate the addition of a course in biological sciences across curricula. There is some urgency in articulating a policy regarding the future of four-by-four   since new curricula are being developed, for example in the School of Management. The FSCC is seeking input from each department on this issue, since many programs have undergone significant changes to satisfy accreditation requirements by ABET, for example in the case of engineering programs; and a four-by-four curriculum has been adopted in the School of Engineering for nearly all the freshman and sophomore classes. A new round of curricular overhaul does not appear to be favored by faculty in many departments.

 

One of the major tasks of the FSCC is the revision of the Rensselaer Core Curriculum Outcomes document. Another issue that this committee is beginning work on is assessing how the institute-wide changes to graduate student policies affect pedagogy. Specifically, we are asking various department chairs, including math, chemistry, and physics to provide feedback regarding how the current TA allotment compares to the needs    and if and how instruction in these subjects have been affected.

 

Planning and Resources:

This is from Professor Dan Berg

[I fixed some typos]

 
The Planning and Resources Committee has organized itself into two subcommittees at present:   The Graduate Student Policy Issues is one under the chairmanship of Professor Isom Herron,   and the Library Resources is one with Pat Hults as Chair. Other subcommittees are under consideration awaiting full committee membership.
 
The full committee membership is not set – with the needs of two additional school representatives from Architecture and Management. Also, according to the Faculty Handbook the full representation of the Administration has not been completed, but we now have Finance included with the recent addition of Russell Giambelluca. The Deans are eligible to serve as ex-officio members with the consent of the President, but that has not occurred yet.
 
Discussion on the membership and the duties of the Planning and Resources Committee as outlined in the Faculty Handbook was held with V.P. Gregg, and Institute General Counsel Carletta. Cooperation is fully forthcoming.
 
Provost Peterson has suggested that the Planning and Resources Committee hold campus-wide school-by-school reviews by the Deans of their schools performance plans. This will be discussed at our next meeting immediately following the Senate meeting for decision.

 

Honors Committee

This is from Professor Alan Nadel

[I had summarized parts of this report during my talk, but in the interest of accuracy, I am providing below the exact report submitted to me.]

 

The committee met in September to review the list of nominees for commencement speaker and for honorary degrees, prepared by the President’s office. The President’s list comprised the core of the nominations, with supplemental names provided by the student government, members of the faculty, members of the community, and trustees. In October, I participated in the President’s Honors Committee meeting, chaired by Cynthia McIntyre. The other members were Brandon Smith (student), David Haviland, Eddie Knowles, Bud Peterson, and Prabhat Hajela. The recommendations of that committee, along with the Faculty list and the student list, will go to the President who will base her final recommendations to the Trustees on the three lists.

 

The FS committee pointed out a few problems to the Chair of the President’s Honors Committee, and she took note of them:

 

1. The preparation of the nomination list comes too late in the spring term and, since faculty can’t be expected to work in the summer, the process is thrown over until the fall term and thus the Institute’s chances of getting its top choices for commencement speaker are diminished.

 

2. The nominee list seemed to be dominated by media people, military people, politicians, and entrepreneurs, but there was a paucity of intellectuals.

 

3. Although the nomination form explicitly states that no nominations will be considered unless the reason for the nomination is stated, the President frequently ignores that rule. Cynthia McIntyre indicated that the President’s nominations were the “core” list. I suggested that the rule be removed, but Ms. McIntyre felt it was necessary to have it for nominations from the rest of the community. I suggested that it be amended to say “Nominations other than from the President will not be considered unless the reason for the nomination is stated.” Ms. McIntyre did not care for that suggestion either.

 

The FS Honors Committee will meet again in the spring to consider nominations for the Fishbach Travel Award, the Early Career Award, and the Outstanding Faculty Award.

 

[End of Honors Committee Report]

 

With these comments in mind, let us now turn to the question “Where we go from here?”.

 

As you know, I have posed that question to the faculty some time ago. The senate has also discussed this issue at its last meeting. Unfortunately, most of the options advanced are less than desirable, and would markedly deteriorate faculty administration relations. They range from a vote of no confidence in the provost to other more forceful means. In fact, some of the considered options would actually be incompatible with my approach forward.  I use this opportunity to invite the administration to devote a renewed effort to help improve governance at Rensselaer.

 

True Partnership is not measured by the existence of, or the number of, mechanisms available for interaction, but by the willingness of each party to give-and-take – with the ultimate best interests of our institute in mind. It is my hope that we can be guided by the notion of true partnership. It is my opinion that RPI’s launch into the top tier of academic institutions strongly depends on the emergence of this true partnership. In kind, the faculty will need to renew its own efforts to help bring about this true partnership.

 

Let me now make quick mention of some of the important topics and issues that the senate is addressing or plans to address this year. They are as follows:

 

I plan to bring the Handbook to an up or down vote at the next senate meeting. As should become necessary, we also need to assert our view that the employee handbook does not apply to faculty.

 

The senate needs to continue to address the issues surrounding the Tuition policy.

 

There may be a possible crisis emerging regarding the availability of Library materials. I do not yet have the details, but I have received alarming complaints.

 

The issue of Pension needs to continue to be addressed.

 

We need to fully support the Undergraduate plan. In fact, I have invited Vice Provost Hajela to come and speak to the senate on this issue.

 

We need to continue our efforts in the area of student advising.

 

We need to address the issue of Mid-term grades.

 

Now the last item, which is important to me personally. It is my opinion that the progress that RPI has made in the area of Faculty Diversity is less than satisfactory. Interestingly, the fact that today, the two speakers are African American might actually convey the wrong idea. We are actually two of the only three African American tenured full professors at Rensselaer. It is my opinion that we can and should do better. [Let me clarify here that I do not advocate quotas, nor do I the lowering of legitimate standards in any fashion to accomplish this diversity. Unfortunately, these two false arguments are often advanced to hinder critically needed progress on the diversity front – gender, ethnic, and otherwise.]

 

I will end by letting you know that my sense of optimism has been dampened, but is still firmly in place. I plan to continue to help lead the senate using the constructive means that I have advocated; and I renew my invitation to the administration to help make this true partnership I described a reality.

 

Thank you for coming, and for listening.

 

I will now gladly take any question, or comments for discussion.

 

Our next speaker is President Jackson.