Faculty Senate Meeting Minutes

Wednesday, April 18, 2007  

2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Fischbach Room, Folsom Library


Present: Henry Scarton, Patricia Search, Malik Magdon-Ismail, Mike Fortun, Larry Kagan, Achille Messac, Jim Napolitano, Irving Stephens, Roger Grice, Paul Hohenberg, J. Keith Nelson, Bruce Nauman, Bram Van Heuveln, Ning Xiang, Randolph Franklin, Christoph Steinbruchel, Heidi Newberg,  Robert Palazzo

Guests: Atsushi Akera,

Absent: Jacob Fish, Tamar Gordon, Satish Nambisan, Julie Stenken, Peter Persans


Approval of Minutes 3/21/07 FS Meeting and 4/4/07 General Faculty Meeting

Minutes approved with minor changes

Approved 9; Opposed 0; and Abstentions 0


Item A:  Ratification of Faculty Senate 4/4/07 election results presented by Larry Kagan

Vice President Larry Kagan presented the Faculty Senate election results from the 4/4/07 electronic election.  Of note was the significantly low response rate.  There was discussion as to why participation was low some thought it was an email issue.  Considering the low participation members thought that it might best to send both a hard-copy and an electronic ballot. The Acting Provost will check on validity of emails.

                        Item B1:  Nominations for Special Electronic Election

Overall what has been found is that a better response is achieved if someone else nominates a person rather than hoping that someone will self-nominate.


Professor Joe Warden has agreed to run for Secretary of the Faculty.  The Management Senator candidate was submitted late – Professor T. Ravichandran – will be part of ballot for new election. Professor Curt Breneman will be student rep on P&T.


Professor Kagan discussed list of nominees that were received as write-in on the ballot and asked for nominations from the floor for Vice President.  No VP nominations were received from the floor. Larry said that via email he contacted everyone who was nominated on the list. Bruce Nauman stated that he did not receive his email notifying him that he was a write-in nominee for Vice President.


Professor Kagan received the following results from his contacts with the write-in nominees:


 Vice President

1 yes:  Bruce Nauman

11 no

2 no response (that means no)


Secretary of the Faculty

1 yes:  Joe Warden

9 no

1 no response


Senator Management:


T. Ravichandran


Senator At-Large

4 yes:  Suvranu De,

Minoru Tomozawa,

Atsushi Akera,

Bulent Yener

5 no

1 no response


Called for motion to send out a special election electronic ballot.


Professor Nauman suggested that if he were elected vice president that whoever comes in second in the Senator-at-Large category should get the resulting opening.  Subject to this understanding, the ballot was approved for submission to the faculty.


A. Messac moved, P. Hohenberg seconded

Vote:  Approved 12; Opposed 0; Abstention 0


Item B2:  Discussion of Options for the Future of Faculty Governance

Faculty Senate President Jim Napolitano apologized for not being able to do as good a job as he would have liked in this past year.


At the last senate meeting ideas to bridge the gap on how to deal with the definition of faculty were discussed. The consensus was to form a group to research what peer and aspirant universities are doing.  This group would include faculty and representatives from administration and the BoT.  The proposed purpose of this group and the research it would compile is to come to consensus as to the terminology of “faculty”; however, when Achille, Larry and Jim met with the President and Acting Provost, the President rejected this approach.   


He continued to say that there is the issue of a long standing grievance that has been sitting on the President’s desk since November, 2006.  To him, it represented another disregard of the necessity of following handbook rules and some semblance of faculty governance.  He does not see how to get out of a terribly critical and important situation.  He invited discussion about this and the motion that Bruce Nauman made in the last meeting.


The motion from the March 21, 2007 minutes made by Bruce Nauman reads as follows:


The Rensselaer Faculty Senate affirms that the Human Resource Policy Guideline 800.10, which reads in part “No faculty member or employee shall solicit to promote support for any cause or organization during his or her working time” does not apply to Rensselaer Faculty.


By consensus this motion was moved off the table for further discussion. It was noted that the motion as written does not remove all restraints on faculty as there are numerous ways to reprimand for unreasonable behavior.


Professor Kagan stated that when the FSEC met with the President she reminded them that this rule essentially applies to everyone on campus.  Therefore, we (faculty) should be reconciled to this.  The question is “who is it that has power to supervise faculty, HR or Provost and Deans?”  The real issue is the enforcement part of that which should be in the hands of those who are our supervisors (Chairs, Deans and Provost).  In order to discipline faculty, HR would have to follow the chain of command going through the Chairs, Deans and Provost.  If there is nothing we can do about the rule, we can maintain that there is a certain academic protocol that should be followed.


Professor Nauman stated that the reprimand was given to him by the Provost, not HR.  He continued to remind everyone that the HR Policy Guidelines claim that this rule and the other rules can be changed by HR at any time.  He believes that the faculty are not prepared to live with such a suppression of free speech.  He continued to say that the faculty handbook and the HR Policy Guidelines are in conflict; that there was not a person in this room that knew about 800.10 prior to his reprimand.


Professor Hohenberg spoke about the previous discussion the senate had about academic freedom, which does not mean that whatever faculty say is okay at any time.  If we were to take exception to the rule for faculty we should probably confine it to specify that it pertains to faculty to carrying out academic functions.  Academic freedom is a term of art; therefore this term should be included in the revised motion.


Professor Napolitano said that he is bothered about the definition of what is or is not academic; he used the example of asking students to join the American Physical Society, which he thinks breaks the rule.  His main concern is who makes the determination as to what is in violation of this rule. 


Professor Steinbruchel stated that the line will be defined when someone brings up challenge.  We had a recent example of this with Professor Nauman’s reprimand, an instance where someone had a survey sent out that the line was drawn.


Professor Kagan said that part of how we are evaluated is on service and community service.  If you define and start dealing with communities there are some things that are quite controversial.


Professor Newberg shared that years ago a student asked us to give a panel discussion on whether God exists, in doing so she shared information about what church she attends.  She questioned whether that could be construed as academic or non-academic?


The Acting Provost was asked to clarify how HR Policy Guidelines relate to the Faculty Handbook and the Constitution of the Faculty Senate and which takes precedence.  The Acting Provost responded that he did not feel he was able to discuss as he has not had time to review these policies.   


Professor Messac explained the background of this issue to Acting Provost Palazzo and the senate.  He stated that as President of the Faculty Senate, Professor Nauman presiding over the senate at the time an email questionnaire was sent at the request of the Faculty Senate.  What happened was in agreement of what the Faculty Senate agreed to, then that President was given a reprimand because the ad hoc committee had produced and sent a questionnaire that included a question about organizations.  As a result documents were confiscated and destroyed.  Many faculty members were in strong disagreement with how the FS President handled the senate presidency, but that is not the issue. Even those members of the faculty who were not in agreement with Professor Nauman were also strongly in disagreement with that reprimand.  Prof. Messac has not found any faculty member who was in agreement with this reprimand.  It would have been a very positive gesture to have put this behind us.  He continued to say that this reprimand remains an extremely intimidating issue for future Faculty Senate Presidents. 


Professor Nelson agreed, stating that he believes if this reprimand were removed it would be a huge advantage to the relationships between the Faculty Senate and the Administration. 


Professor Napolitano stated that according the Chuck Carletta, (General Counsel) that the reprimand in Bruce Naumans’ file could not be removed.


Bruce Nauman made the following amended motion that was formally seconded:  The Rensselaer Faculty Senate affirms that the Human Resource Policy Guideline 800.10, which reads in part “No faculty member or employee shall solicit to promote support for any cause or organization during his or her working time” does not apply to Rensselaer Faculty, because it infringes on academic freedom.


Vote on the amended motion:

11 in Favor; 2 Opposed; 0 Abstain

Motion passed.


Item B2:  Discussion of Options for the Future of Faculty Governance

A discussion of who can vote and how was begun as defined by the handbook and the BoT.  It was stated that the Faculty Senate also includes committees and decisions are made through committees, such as curriculum committee.  Until the constitution is suspended it would be advisable for the FS to comply with it to the letter. 

The Faculty Senate Constitution does not address the current situation of a one person controversial Vice President candidate.  Recording Secretary, Henry Scarton read the following excerpt from the Faculty Senate Constitution:

IV. Elections (paragraph three)

When an elected member or officer is unable to assume office or to complete a term, the person will be replaced for the duration of that term by the next ranking nominee for that position in the last-held election. If no ranking nominee is available to serve, the Senate shall either elect a replacement by majority vote, schedule a special election to elect a replacement, or allow the position to remain vacant until the next general Faculty Senate election; and a replacement for the duration of the term, if any, will be selected by ballot as part of the regular election process.

Professor Napolitano asked where are the people who are complaining about faculty governance when we need candidates for key positions.


Professor Nauman stated what he perceives to be two reasons for people not participating in faculty governance.  First, they do not want to be confrontational to the administration, as they have too much too lose and they clearly know that they would get into trouble. Second, even those who are confrontational gain nothing from it, therefore they have feel that nothing would change so why bother. The problems with governance come from the top and not from the bottom. Professor Nauman added that intimidation may also be a reason for non-participation.


Professor Franklin who has had four terms has found that in terms of faculty governance at Rensselaer the faculty is powerless that is why there is apathy on the part of faculty.  In his opinion this powerlessness is not the sign of a world class university, like Harvard in which faculty is more independent and are not treated like mere employees as though they worked at General Electric.  He continued that until we get over that and get more power from the top, we will continue to be a second rank university which is why, although he has been asked, is not running for VP because he doesn’t feel he could do anything.  


Acting Provost Palazzo adamantly refuted the statement that Rensselaer is a second rank university.  He stated that Rensselaer has been consistently in the top ranking because of everything this university has achieved. He continued to say that he has been listening to the opinions of a much larger group, not sure this group reflects the larger groups’ opinions. 


Professor Newberg asked for clarification as to whether she should join the Faculty Senate; after listening to Acting Provost Palazzo’s statement it appears to be an organization that is considered by him not representative of the larger body of faculty. 


Acting Provost Palazzo clarified and said that he does not disapprove of the FS governance. However, it is clear that FS does not have the mechanisms to resolve the conflicts that exist on the campus at this time.


Professor Fortun was asked to run for VP, but decided against it because he feels it cannot function in this environment.  The current situation reminds him of the time before the vote of no confidence when it was said that ‘this is a small minority’, which turned out to be the majority once the vote was tallied.  He stated that he has acted based on protocols, cases, regulations, etc. not just personal opinion or ill intent on administration.


Acting Provost Palazzo apologized for becoming emotional about comments he perceived as denigrating the university.  He said the frustration on lack of participation of the general faculty body may be due to frustration because of a lack of administration responsiveness.   


Item C:  Any other Business

No other business.


Meeting adjourned 4:00 p.m.