General Faculty Meeting

April 7, 1998



·        In Memoriam:

Ernest F. Livingston, Professor Emeritus of German and Head of the Department of Arts, remembered by Angela Frascarelli, Professor Emeritus of Arts


Stephen W. Yerazunis, Associate Dean of Engineering and Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering, remembered by William W. Shuster, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering


Kurt Bing, Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences remembered by Edith H. Luchins, Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences


Nicholas J. Hoff, Clark and Crossan Professor of Engineering, remembered by Erhard Krempl, Rosalind and John J. Redfern Jr. Professor of Engineering


Herta Leng, Professor Emeritus of Physics, remembered by Walter Eppenstein, Professor Emeritus of Physics


Robert H. Wentorf Jr, Distinguished Research Professor of Chemical Engineering, remembered by Michael M. Abbott, Professor of Chemical Engineering


·        Report from Provost Search Committee – Bruce Watson, Chair of Committee

·        Report on Senate Business –William Wallace, President of the Senate

·        Past and Future Issues Affecting Faculty – John Newell, Chair of the Faculty

·        Annual Report on Faculty Compensation – Jack Wilson, Acting Dean of the Faculty

·        Drawing for door prize.  Must be present to win.


Report on Senate Business –William Wallace, President of the Senate

§         The position of Provost was re-established and a search process initiated; Professor Watson will discuss the status of the search at this meeting.

§         Continued discussion of Institute priorities, following the Faculty Senate forums held during the 1997-1998 academic year.  Professor Wilson will present a status report at the next Faculty Senate meeting, April 14th.

§         Recommended that a representative of the Faculty Senate be appointed to the Executive Budget Committee.  Professor Rogers accepted the appointment and will present a report on the current budgeting process at the next Faculty Senate Meeting.

§         Held a review of the “Rensselaer at Brookhaven” proposal process.

§         Based upon a resolution presented to the Board of Trustees, a Task Force for Quality of Educations Services was appointed by Professor Wilson and Professor Wallace and chaired by Professor Messler.  A preliminary report was presented to the Board at the February meeting, and a final report will be completed for the May meeting.

§         The Faculty Senate and the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee approved a new BS in Information Technology Degree, which is part of the Strategic Initiative in Information Technology.

§         A draft report on electronic citizenship was reviewed by the Faculty Senate.  A final version will be prepared for review during the fall semester.

§         The Faculty Senate reviewed the process of selecting a Dean for the Lally School of Management and Technology, and expressed its concern to the Board of Trustees that a candidate was selected that was not recommended by the Search Committee.

§         The President of the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Senate Representative to the Budget Committee participated, as part of the final review committee, in the Strategic Investments Solicitation held in fall 1997 and spring 1998.

§         Members of the Faculty Senate worked with the Registrar in the implementation of Banner.

§         Following the appointment of a Dean of Engineering, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution stating that the appointment needed to be rescinded because of lack of faculty involvement in the selection process.  The appointment was rescinded.

§         Upon receipt of a petition from the Senator from the School of Engineering, Professor Salon, the Faculty Senate voted to conduct a vote of no confidence on President Pipes.  The Faculty Senate also voted its lack of confidence in President Pipes.



Past and Future Issues Affecting Faculty – John Newell, Chair of the Faculty

There are so many serious issues concerning the Faculty that it’s difficult to know where to begin or how to order the discussion.  Let me start with our academic leadership.


The Institute has no President.  An Acting President will be named by the Board very soon.


The Institute has no Provost.  An Acting Dean of the Faculty is in place.  The Provost Search has identified four candidates publicly, but the search process is now on hold.  A separate report on this topic will be presented at this meeting by the Chair of the Search Committee.


The Engineering School has no Dean.  An Acting Dean of the Engineering School, James Tien, was appointed last Friday by Board Chairman Sam Heffner.  Appointment of a Search Committee for a permanent Dean was to have begun shortly by Byron Pipes, with the advice of a 5-man Advisory Committee.  I expect that a formal search process will begin very soon after the new Acting President is on the job.


My next concern is with the level of discontent among many faculty.  Faculty are very concerned that some administrative practices and procedures initiated by the President have caused, and may continue to cause, unnecessary division among the faculty.  Of particular concern is the recent adoption of a new budgeting process which forces the schools and their faculty to compete for resources.  


Many Faculty are uncertain about the sincerity of the Institute’s avowed commitment to research and doctoral-level education.  This is accompanied by a sharp downturn in graduate student enrollment.  Many Faculty feel they have received mixed messages about the value of doctoral-level research.  The Faculty need to feel they have a louder voice in the allocation of resources, particularly in the balance between graduate education and research on one hand and innovation in the undergraduate curriculum on the other.  There is a suspicion that money has been used as a weapon to accomplish the Administration’s agendas unilaterally, without adequate faculty input to that process.  This suspicion may dissipate with a new administration if it is addressed directly.


In the recent Faculty Senate debate over its confidence in the President, a formal declaration of concern with the management of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences was made.  The resignation of three of the five Department Chairs in that School underscores his concern.  Although events at the Institute level have eclipsed this issue in recent days, it remains unsolved.


The issue I’d like to address in more detail this afternoon is our relationship with the Board of Trustees.  In my view, there’s a big bad misunderstanding and lack of trust on each side for the other.  There are exceptions, of course, but I think there are too many Faculty who view the Board as a monolith of successful business people who don’t understand many of the basic ways in which a University differs from a business.  I also suspect that there are too many Trustees who view the Faculty as a conservative collection of scholars with no concern for fiscal realities, who are unwilling to adapt to a changing world outside the ivory tower.  Rensselaer has changed in many ways since the Trustees, many of whom are alumni, were undergraduates.  The most profound of these is probably the growth in research and graduate education.  The fauclty who made that growth are probably very different from the people who were professors when the Trustees were students.


I have proposed to Board Chairman Sam Heffner, and am now proposing here, that the Trustee-Faculty communication gap be addressed directly.  The present structure works very well in many ways, and should not be replaced or changed.  What I proposed is a new dialog on a theme like “Getting To Know You”.  It is based on several premises, two of which are:


-          The Boards I not sure what properties to look for in the next President, and neither is the Faculty.  Each group starts out with some beliefs about Rensselaer and its future, some conflicting and contradictory expectations, and some uncertainty about how the members of the other group would answer these questions.

-          The Pipes resignation has energized everyone to work on finding new leadership.  Some of this energy can be used to address long-term, structural issues concerning the Board and the Faculty and how they interact.  One such issue is the understanding each group has of the other, and the communications between them.


The proposal is to identify about six members of the Faculty and six members of the Board to engage in a discussion of Rensselaer’s recent history of Board-Faculty actions and decisions.  What has been done well, what hasn’t and why?  The objective of this discussion would be for each side to articulate its starting assumptions, basic beliefs, the places where it suspects the other side gets it wrong.  The responsibility of each person would be to be sure everybody in the group “gets it”.  Not that they necessarily agree on anything.  Only that they understand each other’s basic value scheme and starting assumptions.  The suggested starting topic – a review of historical decisions- is no more than a suggestion.  Different or additional topics could be used.  The goal would be to have a frank exposition and discussion of one’s basic assumptions.


The questions I put to you, the Faculty, are these:

-          Do you think this is a good idea?

-          Would you want to be a participant?

-          Who would you trust to be a participant able to articulate your viewpoint if you weren’t there yourself?


This proposal is in a very early state, and I ask these questions because I seek to know the answers.  If you’d like to help, or if you think it’s a bad idea that should be dropped, please drop me a line.


I will conclude where I began.  The issues facing the Faculty today are as large and distressing as at any time since I came here 24 years ago.  The outgoing administration has communicated its avowed goals in ambiguous ways, and the mixed messages we have received have left us in disarray.  We are divided, probably more than is inherent in our structure, and possibly by intent, and we are thereby weakened.  But we as a Faculty have acted, and we have rescued our governance from what I now believe was a deliberate attack.  The problems imposed by the outside world remain formidable.  We will be better able to solve our real problems if we can move beyond the weakness that is caused by our division




Jonathan Newell

Chair of the Faculty


JEC 7038