Faculty Senate Meeting Minutes
Wednesday February 7, 2007      
2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Fischbach Room, Folsom Library

 

Present:  Patricia Search, Jeanne Keefe, Prabhat Hajela, Larry Kagan, Christoph Steinbruchel, Achille Messac, Jim Napolitano, Roger Grice, Paul Hohenberg, J. Keith Nelson, Ning Xiang, Peter Persans, Jacob Fish, Henry A. Scarton, Julie Stenken, Tamar Gordon, Mike Fortun, Malik Magdon-Ismail, Bruce Nauman, Satish Nambisan

Absent: Lou Gingerella, William Randolph Franklin

Guests:   Robert Palazzo, George Nagy, Lester Gerhardt, Mike Wozny, Curt Breneman, Joe Chow, Tom Willemain, Deanna Thompson, Bram Van Heuveln

 

Professor Napolitano announced that Professor Phil Casabella died this week. 

 

Approval of Minutes from the 1/24/07 Faculty Senate Meeting. 

Minutes not complete, to be approved at next meeting.

 

Election of Senate Replacements for Senator from H&SS

Tamar Gordon was the only candidate. 

Vote: In favor 15; Opposed 0; Abstention 0. 

 

Item A1: Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee Report

by Mike Wozny, Chair Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee

The Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee spends the first half of the semester until the catalog deadline approving courses, and templates, etc.  Key aspects that were reviewed are core outcomes and assessments which went to faculty vote and was not approved at that time for a number of reasons. By the end of school year we will have something to present to the Faculty Senate.  One of the other issues that came up for example was no grades in freshman year.  There are differing views on campus about these issues.  The process will be to learn what the broad assessment is and if it looks good develop a sub-committee to review it.  We are also reviewing courses that have not received permanent numbers, but have been on the books for years.  We want to ensure consistency when someone reads the catalog that they know these are courses that are offered. Sharon Kunkel has been analyzing these issues.  Small things that come up serendipitously is the plus and minus grading system.  An example of its affect is one student who did not receive tuition reimbursement from his company because his B minus did not meet the company’s requirement.

Professor Kagan raised a question about mid semester evaluations. 

Mike Wozny responded that the faculty should receive a memo from the Provost as to what the faculty requirements are. 

Professor Nauman mentioned that a part-time student received one B minus in a single course last semester and was told by the Registrar that he could not register, even though his cum was 3.45. 

Professor Steinbruchel said by default the Registrar looks at data from one semester only.

Mike Wozny responded that these are some of the issues with plus and minus grades that will be reviewed.

Mike then introduced Lester Gerhardt, Vice Provost, and Dean Graduate Education.

 

Item A2:  New Ph.D.  Requirements discussion

Professor Lester Gerhardt, Vice Provost, Dean Graduate Education, Chair of Graduate Planning Committee

 

Professor Joe Chow, Chair of the Ph.D. Requirement sub-committee was present to respond to questions. This sub-committee developed the report dated June 13, 2006 posted on the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee (FSCC) website http://www.rpi.edu/dept/fscc/catalog_updates.html

 

This report was submitted to the FSCC in November, 2006 and was unanimously approved.  It is now before the Faculty Senate.  The report proposes a minimum 72 credit hours for Ph.D. replacing the current 90 credit hour requirement.  The minimum 72 credit hours is left to discretion of the departments.  He acknowledged the importance of the knowledge gatekeeper, the students’ advisor, who determines whether the student has the knowledge base necessary for the Ph.D.

 

External requirements that impact Rensselaer are the New York State three year minimum residency requirement and the Immigration and Naturalization Service international student requirement.  Rensselaer’s restraint is to take 45 credit hours at Rensselaer.  Be aware that globally many universities have followed the body of knowledge approach, versus a credit hour approach.  That is the faculty and faculty advisor determine when the student has completed a sufficient amount of requirements and has the knowledge necessary to receive the Ph.D.

 

Professor Gerhardt read the following excerpts from the report:

 

(From page 3) The Institute minimum PhD requirement will be 3 years of full-time residency beyond the baccalaureate degree, with a minimum credit hour of 72. Individual programs may set their minimum requirements to be higher than the Institute minimum to ensure an adequate body of knowledge and time for thesis research.

 

For a student entering Rensselaer with a MS degree in an appropriate field from another university, the Institute minimum PhD requirement will be 2 additional years of full-time residency, with a minimum credit hours of 48. Individual programs may set their minimum requirements to be higher than the Institute minimum to ensure an adequate body of knowledge and time for thesis research.

 

(from page 4) V. Benefits and Issues of Credit Hour Reduction

Some of the benefits and issues of a reduced PhD credit hour requirement are clear, whereas some others are not. The following deliberation necessarily contains some speculations.

1. The reduction of PhD credit hour requirement will portray a more progressive PhD program, without significantly affecting the full-time PhD program. Based on the experience with the current policy, we do not feel that the quality of the PhD program will suffer as a result. Furthermore, the ability for individual programs to set their own minimum requirements allow each program to maintain its quality.

2. Some students may be able to graduate earlier with a lower credit hour requirement, but we expect that the number of such students will be small. The loss of tuition income will be small, and compensated by having new students transitioning into vacant research positions.

3. If the credit hour requirement is lowered, it is possible for students to register in absentia (RIA) sooner. However, an RIA application results mostly due to the availability of funds from the research advisor. Reduced credit hours may create a spike of RIA requests in the transition years. In steady state, we do not expect RIA requests as a ratio to the total enrolled full-time PhD students to be different from the current ratio.

4. If the part time PhD program is made consistently with the 72 credit hour recommendation, it will make the completion of the PhD program within the specified time frame more realistic for working professionals, potentially resulting in a higher enrollment of such students.

5. Rensselaer undergraduate students can apply for early admission into graduate programs under the 18-hour rule. This rule should be revisited in light of how the early admission would count toward the 3-year residency rule.

6. One of the current PhD requirements is that a student must have at least 45 credit hours from Rensselaer, out of the 90 credit hours required. This requirement should be revisited if the minimum credit-hour requirement is reduced to 72 credit hours.

 

Professor Joe Chow, Chair of Ph.D. Requirement Committee: He stated that the ninety credit hour rule has been in effect at Rensselaer for many years.  The Ph.D. Requirement sub-committee met to discuss changes and many suggestions were entertained.  The outcome was to decentralize and push the decision making process down to the departments and programs.  Ninety credit hours are more than the three years residency as required by NYS.  What the committee felt was best was to set the Institute minimum at three years and the credit hours at 72 credit hours; thereby leaving the decision to the advisor to require enough core classes to ensure that the student has the body of knowledge necessary to complete their research and thesis.

Professor Curt Breneman, Chair of Planning and Resource Committee.  He stated as Chair of this committee my job is report on the information we collect and the information we require in assessing the impact of this program.  Several members of the committee are here to share their views.  Initially it seemed like a good idea, however several issues came up.  The first concern was the perception of reduction in quality of degree and second is the financial impact of reducing credit hours.  It was mentioned that it would be possible for a faculty member to pass a student out with a Ph.D. if a 90 credit hour were still in force.  We would like to see an analysis as to how much money per year would we lose by using this type of program.  Some departments require up to 30 extra credit hours beyond the thirty that would be used for a Master’s, the question became where would the credits that would be reduced come off, the required course side or research side.  He then invited other P & R committee members to voice their opinions.

Professor Gordon stated that it appears that nothing changes for us because it is just a minimum and decisions are left up to the advisors and programs. 

Professor Steinbruchel asked if every department chair had reported to the committee as to what the consequences of this change would be.  He continued to say, the Faculty Senate cannot really make a determination without such input.

Professor Nauman wanted to know what problem was being solved other than a consistency issue.  He asked what students have been affected by this, or had to stay here longer after finishing their thesis because they lacked 90 credit hours. 

Professor Nelson asked how is a part-time Doctoral student affected by this?

Professor Fish stated that in Europe Ph.D. candidates do not have credit requirements. 

Professor Deanna Thompson stated that the Institute requires 45 credit hours of course work and asked if the minimum were to drop what would that mean, would 50% still be course work?

Professor Steinbruchel commented on the reason why the Europeans do not have credit requirements.  He stated that it is because when they start their Ph.D. they have had many more credits; sixteen credits would be considered part time there.

Professor Gerhardt stated the impact on reduced credit hours would not have a negative effect on finances under the full time graduate tuition policy that is currently in effect.  The committee consisted of representatives from all five schools as well as Institutional Research and Finance. 

It was not expected that the current time of five years to Ph.D. would be reduced.  

To address the perception of reduction in quality of degree the committee determined it was not an issue, there was no dilution of it either in content or quality; it is up to faculty members to ensure that.  Reduced credits would be determined by the department and was intentionally not specified in the report leaving it to the judgment of the department.

No students have been affected in period of five years, the likelihood of this reducing time to degree is nil.  In terms of a PR issue we are hurting ourselves by offering a 90 credit hour Ph.D. It appears that this change will have no adverse affects on students or Rensselaer’s finances.

 

To address the question of part-time students Lester read from the report: 

Section V. #4. If the part time PhD program is made consistently with the 72 credit hour recommendation, it will make the completion of the PhD program within the specified time frame more realistic for working professionals, potentially resulting in a higher enrollment of such students.

 

Professor Napolitano asked Professor Gerhardt what was needed from the Faculty Senate at this time.

Professor Gerhardt stated that there is an urgency to have this approved, the report completed last spring and approved by FSCC in November, 2006.  If we don’t get it in the catalog it is delayed another year consequently the catalog would not up to date.

 

Professor Nauman made a motion to put this issue on the next General Faculty Meeting ballot. Professor Scarton seconded the motion.

Vote:  In favor 13; Opposed 4; Abstention 1

 

Item B: Faculty Definition Considerations

Chair of the Faculty, Professor Achille Messac

Professor Messac referred to the email he sent on February 6, 2007 regarding the current impasse and how to move past it.  He stated that there is a segment of our colleagues who don’t know where they stand namely clinical faculty, emeriti, research, librarians and archivists.  The Faculty Senate is in a situation in which if there is a vote and those voting do not fit the definition of faculty as declared by the Board of Trustees, they [BOT] have said they will ignore the vote.  The Faculty Senate Constitution defines who shall vote, but the Board of Trustees will not accept it because they will only accept their definition of faculty which is ‘tenure and tenure track faculty’.

The Board asked that the Faculty Senate (FS) make changes to the FS Constitution. They say they will only abide by the definition they set forth.  The Board has the authority to accept or reject our vote. Professor Messac said he and the President would meet on Friday at which time he would share these concerns with her.  He continued saying at this time, the votes of the Senate may not be accepted by the Board.  He welcomed ideas and discussion related to this issue.

Professor Nauman suggested that this be brought to the next General Faculty Meeting in which all members of the faculty who conform to the Board’s definition of faculty can vote.  Therefore, we would have at least put it out to the whole faculty to vote, faculty as defined now. 

Professor Nelson said he was torn by this issue stating that he has served at a University where there was the equivalent version of what the Board wants to see.  He acknowledged that those other than faculty such as librarians et. al. need a forum to express their views.  The Senate may decide it would change the Constitution to have a standing committee reporting to the Senate that had people serving on it who were among the non-approved categories.  In that case there would be a compromise because clinical faculty, emeriti, research, librarians and archivists would still have a voice and that would pass through the Senate.  Moreover, their voice may become amplified because it came through FS. 

Professor Fortun said he looks at this strictly on constitutional grounds and it’s the Constitution that defines what faculty is, not the Board or the President.  Thus any recognition given to that command is defeating.  That statement doesn’t occur under the realm of what can be made under the Constitution.    

Professor Hohenberg stated that he saw two issues.  First, the substance of how those who are not core faculty (i.e., active, tenure and tenure track) are recognized, in terms of whether they are represented directly on the Senate or participate in voting, etc.  The second issue that has a lot of people upset is how it has happened that the Administration has unilaterally changed the definition and instructed the faculty to make the changes in its’ constitution.  He believes this   violates the spirit and the letter of the Constitutional process that states changes in the constitution require agreement by faculty (Faculty Senate) and Administration (Board of Trustees).

Professor Messac stated that he has received many emails and communications that amplify Professor Hohenberg’s concerns. Namely, when the word says ‘henceforth, that is what we shall do’ that has created discomfort, not necessarily the proposed changes in the Constitution.  What has been mentioned seems doable and reasonable. 

Jeanne Keefe read the Presidents memo which encouraged those who would be left off the Senate to participate in committee work.  She reminded us that this concept cannot be used as a negotiating point as suggested earlier as it is already in the memo.

Professor Persans requested clarification on the status of the Faculty Senate Constitution with respect to who is bound by the Faculty Senate Constitution?

Professor Messac responded that it is his understanding that the Administration and the Board are observing the current Constitution; and noted that they can approve it, and suspend it.

Professor Persans said the Board is approving the rules by which the FS runs therefore he is not clear on how they are bound by it.

Professor Nauman said he understands Professor Persans concern as the administration appears to violate the Constitution specifically because the Constitution specifies that the Planning and Resource Committee will review certain financials and the Vice President of Finance has said we will not do that.  It is clear that in the past they have elected not to obey the Constitution.

Professor Napolitano stated that the problem is not so much what was done as to how it was done.  He continued saying that Professor Nauman’s point is that this is how things have been done in the past.  He continued to say that when there is disagreement it is best to search for the common ground and build on basis of consensus.  This particular instance was a problem for him because it felt like a dictum and that is not the way to build a great university faculty.  He cautioned that if that is not reversed we may have larger problems than determining who is and who is not a voting faculty.

Professor Gordon said she did not think that the road to building a great faculty is predicated on disenfranchising some of its population.  The road to building a great faculty is to embrace every professional person who is involved in teaching and learning.

Professor Steinbruchel proposed that we bring back the motion that was tabled (from last meeting) to vote on it. Meanwhile, start discussion with our colleagues as to what they want and start discussion of changing the Constitution.  The motion of the last meeting “That the Faculty Senate go on record that we decline making the changes as requested by the President.”  Professor Messac stated that the motion was back on the floor and any further discussion should be in the context of that motion.

Professor Fortun reminded the Senate that it was the Board’s refusal to recognize that 88% of the faculty voted on this last year.  If we have a vote in the spring they have already said that they are not listening to what 88% of the faculty wanted anyway, so why have the vote?

Professor Persans said the argument in favor of the vote is that it is possible that the faculty as it is currently defined by the Constitution will actually vote to limit their representation.  If so, then we have solved the problem of the impasse then we can proceed as a body to do what the Board asks.  What he understood from Professor Steinbruchel’s motion is that the Faculty Senate is not accepting that instruction.

Professor Messac reiterated that if the faculty, as defined in the Constitution, vote to agree to limit themselves, it would be done constitutionally and would agree with what the Board requested.

Professor Kagan said we should ask the Board to tell us what they feel is their relationship to faculty governance.  If they are basically saying that they are not going along with an 88% vote of the faculty, then what is it that we are expecting the faculty to act as?  They have to tell us on what basis they make that kind of demand on us to essentially go against a standing Constitution. Professor Scarton stated that the Faculty Senate is only advisory and can only advise through the Chair of the Faculty to the President the views of the faculty.  The current Faculty Senate Constitution can be suspended by the Trustees but they have not done so.  Therefore, all current faculty members continue to have a vote.  He encouraged Professor Messac to come back to the Senate and share what was decided at the meeting with the President on Friday.

Professor Persans reminded us that the 88% figure is a fraction of the faculty. If you look at the fraction that voted and what the percentages that were there it is possible that the vote could be flipped if we had a larger representation and if it were only tenure and tenure track faculty.

Professor Nauman said the issues are very different.  It seems that Professor Steinbruchel’s motion is unnecessary because by default we are doing what he said; these guys are still here they are still voting.  The question is do we have to respond in anyway to the Board of Trustees.  Professor Steinbruchel clarified that he made his motion for the purpose of going on record. Professor Grice said the response from clinical is interesting, what angered people more is that the faculty vote was overturned.  It appears that it is the tone of the action was the problem. Professor Hohenberg said in terms of the political ethics what the trustees did in not accepting the Faculty Senate vote was legitimate, they were within their rights to not accept the extensions to clinical.  But the unilateral elimination of librarians, research faculty, archivists and emeriti is at the core of the Constitution.  That is a unilateral change in the Constitution without the consultation that is at the core of that Constitution.

Professor Nauman asked what if the Senate perceived this as a request rather than as a demand from the Board, so that only tenure and tenure track faculty can vote. 

Professor Fortun commented that in addition the President has already stated that from now on we only recognize tenure and tenure track as faculty.  Any kind of a vote or positive response legitimizes that statement as a positive thing and I don’t think we should do that.

Professor Gordon wondered what the consequences would be.  Could the President suspend the Constitution? That would be a crisis.

Professor Persans suggested that the resignation of senate would provoke a response.

Professor Napolitano said we have been talking about the Constitution but the handbook is an even bigger issue.  The handbook doesn’t recognize clinical faculty, it does recognize emeritus, librarians, research faculty and archivists.  I think what they were really asking is that they would like to see the handbook changed.  According to the Handbook any voting faculty member can serve on an ad hoc committee per the handbook.  If the Handbook were to be changed then that to me is a more dramatic thing.  I think it’s really a handbook issue not a Constitution issue.

Acting Provost Palazzo clarified that the President’s will does not override the Board of Trustees.  When the Board makes statements it is incorrect to presume that they are speaking for the President.  The President serves at the Boards pleasure.  He cautioned the senate to be careful of how they interpret this because it affects how impressions and judgments that are made. Secondly, in reflecting on Board intent, he said he was not involved with these discussions and therefore could not presume to know the intent.  In terms of mechanism the Board made a statement that they recognize tenure track and tenure faculty and the issue of how that impacts the Constitution.  Constitutional change requires a deliberation and a recommendation by the faculty through the Provost, to the President and to the Board.  Change of the Constitution would require deliberations, recommendations and Board approval.  One thing that is clear is that the Board has veto authority.  However upset the faculty is, it is still the Boards ability to accept or not.  Second there is a process to change the Constitution that will require some mechanism of putting forward recommendations and then the Board will approve or disapprove the recommendations.

Professor Messac said that the main issue is not that the Board rejected it.  The main issue is that Board will only recognize and he quoted “from now on we will only recognize tenure and tenure track faculty”.  The communication approach may have created more discomfort than the substance of the matter.

Professor Palazzo responded that what is really being sought is clarification of what the Board’s intent was in terms of asking for this change.

Vote on Professor Steinbruchel’s Motion:  “The Faculty Senate go on record that we decline making the changes as requested by the President.”

Vote:  In favor 11; Opposed 6; Abstentions 1

 

Professor Nauman made the following motion: “Change the Constitution to embrace the will of the Board.  Put to vote to the faculty at the next General Faculty Meeting a modified Constitution that conforms to the desires of the Board. All people that will vote on that issue are the currently enfranchised people.”  This motion was seconded by Professor Steinbruchel.

Due to time constraints there was a vote to table Professor Nauman’s motion:  In Favor 17; Opposed 2; Abstentions 0. Motion tabled.