Minutes of the Faculty Senate Meeting
February 18, 2009
Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall
II. Interdisciplinary minor in Jewish Studies
III. Report from Working Group on Admissions
IV. Report from Working Group on Teaching
Senators present: John Casbarian, Ed Cox, Steven Cox, Michael Deem, Deborah Harter (Speaker), John Hempel, Matthias Henze, Ben Kamins, Tom Killian, Phil Kortum, David Leebron, Eugene Levy, Don Morrison, Peter Mieszkowski, Matteo Pasquali, Caroline Quenemoen, Dale Sawyer, Gautami Shah, Evan Siemann, Meredith Skura, Michael Stern, Randy Stevenson, Devika Subramanian, James Weston, Duane Windsor (Deputy Speaker), Jim Young.
Senators absent: Randy Batsell, Sarah Ellenzweig, Michael Emerson, Rob Raphael.
I. Announcements (Deborah Harter, Speaker)
II. Interdisciplinary Minor in Jewish Studies
John Greiner, Chair of the CUC Subcommittee which reviewed the interdisciplinary minor in Jewish Studies proposal, stated that the proposal had received unanimous approval from the CUC. He also summarized a few key points from the proposal: the Jewish Studies program is grouped into three subject categories, and students are required to take core courses from each of these categories. He also stated that the current proposal was reorganized from the original proposal and now contains more breadth of courses. In order to obtain a minor in Jewish Studies, students must take six courses in this program; they must take three upper-level courses; and they can apply no more than two Hebrew or Religious Studies courses towards this total.
Matthias Henze, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, introduced and thanked his colleague Gregory Kaplan, as well as the Committee for Undergraduate Curriculum for their help in improving the proposal throughout the review process.
James Weston made a motion to approve the proposal, and Randy Stevenson seconded.
Matteo Pasquali said that Rob Raphael, a member of the Senate’s Executive Committee, had asked for input from some faculty members, and Pasquali had sent him two questions. First, Pasquali had noticed in the proposed Jewish Studies minor that two faculty members (Henze and Kaplan) will teach nine courses. Pasquali wondered what would happen if either of these two professors were on sabbatical or were to leave Rice. Second, Pasquali said this was the first time that Rice is offering a degree (a minor) which is tied to a specific culture/religion. He said he had asked Raphael if this second question had been discussed with constituents, especially students from other cultures/religions, to see how they felt about it. Pasquali said he sent Raphael these questions and hoped they were in time to reach the CUC’s subcommittee.
Greiner stated that neither of these questions had reached his committee. However, regarding the question about only two professors teaching most of the courses, Greiner stated that there is a long list of courses taught by a variety of faculty members, and the hope is to expand this list. Regarding the second question as to whether student constituents were consulted, Greiner said this concern was not discussed.
Harter recapped the process for new academic programs: the Senate receives the request and forwards it to the CUC. The CUC sends it back to the Senate asking for its initial response, then the CUC reviews the proposal, and if approved by the CUC, sends it back to the Senate for final approval. Harter said that at each stage, questions are asked, and these questions from Pasquali were just brought up at the recent Executive Committee meeting.
Henze replied to Pasquali’s second question first, stating that this proposal is not a minor in Religious Studies, and it will not be housed in Religious Studies. It involves Religious Studies, he stated, but it also involves history and language, and does not undermine any other religion.
Pasquali said that he wanted to make sure that the announcement of this minor is not misunderstood. He suggested that someone with an Islamic background be consulted prior to any announcement.
Henze stated that he has had extensive discussions with a variety of professors, including one who is a critic of the state of Israel, and this professor is willing to have his classes on the Israeli-Arab conflict count toward the proposed interdisciplinary Jewish Studies minor. Also, Henze stated that this proposal was formed from classes that have been taught at Rice for some time; they are not new to Rice.
Randy Stevenson, Senate liaison to CUC, suggested that if the concern is making the appropriate announcement of this minor and its reception, perhaps the title could be changed to better reflect its content: Jewish Cultural Studies or Jewish Culture and Religion. On the other issue regarding the limited number of faculty teaching the courses, Stevenson stated that the various departments are making a commitment to Jewish Studies and must continue the program even if Henze or Kaplan were to leave Rice. In this case, the CUC has confidence that a real commitment has been made. Recently, Stevenson stated, the CUC has received several proposals for minors, and he expressed some concern that each department involved consider its resources long-term.
Robin Forman, Dean of Undergraduates, stated that the students have been informed of this minor in an informal way through the student newspaper, The Thresher. Forman said that all of the responses of which he is aware were positive.
Quillen added that Jewish Studies is an established academic discipline at many universities.
Harter said that she would contact the head writer from The Thresher and ask the reporter to interview Henze for a full description of the minor, and she will request that the article appear in this Friday’s edition of the newspaper.
Susan McIntosh, Chair of the CUC, stated that input had been requested early in the process, including from the Faculty Senate, with a desire to avoid unanticipated last minute questions. She asked that a procedure be established to help avoid new last minute issues happening in the future.
Harter said she will try to remind people to raise their questions earlier, and she asked Pasquali if his main concern was over the announcement, and not the program itself. Pasquali replied that the perception is what concerns him; he does not want Rice seen as having preference for one group over another. He said his other questions had been satisfactorily answered.
Since a motion to approve the minor had been passed and seconded earlier, a vote was held on the Jewish Studies minor, and it was approved unanimously. Please use this link to view the proposal: Jewish Studies.
III. Report from Admissions Working Group
Harter stated that the work of the Admissions Working Group is not meant to undermine or replace the work of the Admissions Office. Instead, she said this group is looking for ways in which faculty might be able to enrich the work of the Admissions Office. Harter asked that the document from the Admissions Working Group, previously sent to the Senators, be kept confidential.
Meredith Skura, Chair of the Senate’s Working Group on Admissions, stated that this group was asked to look at how the admissions process operates and then come up with a statement of goals for possible improvements and increased faculty involvement. After running an informal survey of faculty leaders, the Working Group met with Chris Munoz, Director of Admissions, and has now drawn up a list of possible actions. She said that the Working Group learned very quickly that the admissions process is very complicated. However, she stated that perhaps the most effective way for faculty to have input is to create a structure in which faculty and admissions officers meet regularly to discuss questions of process so that faculty priorities might be made a more integral part of the admissions process.
Harter then read the entire list of suggestions on how faculty priorities might better be served before, during, and after the admissions process. She also identified the other members of the Admissions Working Group: Ben Kamins, Tom Killian, and Dale Sawyer.
Stevenson stated that he sees two important messages in the working group’s report: first, the principal dissatisfaction expressed by faculty members, as originally stated by the previous Speaker of the Faculty Senate Marj Corcoran, is a feeling that students are not good “at what I do”—a department-specific complaint. Second, Stevenson said that the working group has reported that the admissions office personnel, when given a specific set of goals, are very good at targeting those students. He said that the general charge going forward for the working group should be to remove faculty from the admissions process in general and instead, to find a way to create input from the departments. For example, he suggested an optional second essay for application to the English department, and that department would be responsible for doing the work required to review the submitted essays. In general, Stevenson suggested that the admissions process be decentralized to allow departments some authority and responsibility. If the students that a department has selected choose to attend college elsewhere, then the department will know it has work to do to improve its acceptance rate. Any departments which might not think this is a priority for them do not have to invest their resources to participate in the process.
A question was raised as to why a representative from the Admissions Office was not in attendance at today’s meeting. Quillen replied that she had discouraged Chris Munoz from attending because she thought the Senators preferred to discuss the matter without him being present.
Tom Killian stated that traditionally faculty played a part in the admissions process at Rice, but currently there are no structures in place for faculty to participate. He said he sees the working group’s report as a way to structure faculty input. Harter added that the faculty in Rice’s professional schools (Architecture, Music) participate in their schools’ selection process; there is much to learn from them.
Jim Young said that a lot of the comments from faculty queried in the survey reflect the difficulty that faculty have in articulating what they are looking for in prospective students. They might experience this same difficulty if asked to complete tasks such as reviewing student folders.
Young also said that only about 30% of the students that Rice admits accept the offer. He suggested that instead of what is recommended in the working group’s report (seeing which students were not admitted but perhaps should have been), what the faculty should do is focus on the students Rice admits who choose to go elsewhere. He also said that there is a good chance that the students that the faculty wants admittedwere admitted, but these students were in the portion of the admitted pool that chose to attend college elsewhere.
Caroline Quenemoen expressed concern with the department-specific model that Randy Stevenson had proposed, saying that many 18-year old applicants might not have a specific idea of what they want to study, and she suggested that the faculty have more input on the selection of the very high-level students.
Forman stated that the faculty members at Rice’s peer schools are all saying the same things, and he said that there is a reliable study showing that this generation of students is not willing to go “outside the lines”—it is not a Rice-specific phenomenon. He said that if the faculty ran the entire admissions process, the difference in the student body would be minimal. He said that he feels that this issue is not worth faculty time; he said he prefers that the Senate take some of the energy which has been devoted to this admissions issue and instead address the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum.
Provost Gene Levy stated that this issue has been discussed for years at Rice and the focus of the discussion is always the process of admission, but this is the least rewarding place to focus. He said a retreat with senior administration personnel from Rice and some Board of Trustees members was held some years ago. A mock admissions session was held using real student application files. An entire day was spent reviewing the process, and the outcome was that this group could not improve the process used by the admissions office. Levy said that much time is spent on selection, but getting students to actually matriculate should be the goal. He said he does see some value in taking more risk, but overall, he thinks the process is effective.
Weston said that he could not imagine how faculty input could significantly shrink any errors made by the admissions office in the decisions made regarding which students to admit. Further, he assumed that the admissions personnel on any campus are qualified to make these decisions. He wondered how other universities handle faculty input in the admissions process—what is the level of input by faculty at Harvard, Yale, or Princeton?
John Hempel said that any admissions office personnel who are going to consider all of the faculty desires in their process will get a well-rounded group. He stated that the challenge is in choosing the exceptional, unique student who can succeed, and he would like to see a system for identifying these exceptions.
President Leebron said that this was the conversation he had hoped to have regarding the faculty role in admissions, and that this conversation is important for the faculty to have periodically, even if the result is that they are happy with how things are operating. He stated that such high-level guidance is important, and that he occasionally conducts high-level guidance of the admissions office, giving examples of two of his directives: 1) expanding the size of the international student body, and 2) increasing the racial diversity of the student body. However, Leebron stated that academic quality trumps all other factors and this is the instruction that Chris Munoz receives. He said that this year, he added an instruction to Munoz: take some risks. The faculty can help in this regard, stated Leebron, by identifying flags and providing this information to the admissions office. He said that the students the faculty wants are being admitted, but many are not choosing to come to Rice. If the faculty wants to affect which students come here, they need to attend events such as the recent Vision Weekend, which Nobel Prize Winning Professor Bob Curl regularly attends. Leebron encouraged the faculty to recruit students in such ways. In summary, he said that the faculty has to be sensitive to the fact that Rice now receives 12,000 applications and must consider the costs involved to follow the procedures being suggested.
Harter asked the Senators, in light of this discussion, if the Working Group on Admissions should continue its work. Killian replied that he would like to see some sort of structure created for faculty input on admissions. Shah said she would be interested to know how all of the faculty feel about admissions; is this problem limited to just a few departments? She also stated she would like to know why admitted students do not choose to come to Rice. Forman repeated the previous statement made by others that the students the faculty want are being admitted, but many do not accept. He said one place faculty can help is by identifying flags to the admissions office (such as the Math Department has done) and by recruiting students.Stevenson repeated his suggestion for a “departmental approach.” Ben Kamins said that the faculty should get away from being concerned with the admissions process, and instead, focus on increasing faculty involvement to improve the yield of desired students. Harter asked the working group to continue its work.
IV. Working Group on Teaching
Jim Young, Chair of the Senate’s Working Group on Teaching, acknowledged and thanked the other members of his committee: Ed Cox, Gautami Shah, and Randy Stevenson. He then stated the charge of this working group, which is to examine the structures at Rice that support, encourage, and reward effective undergraduate teaching. Young started this process by compiling a list of questions. After seeking the answers to these questions and distributing the group’s report, he received additional information in the replies it generated. Young then summarized each section of the report and made corrections where necessary. (To view the entire report, please use this link: Senate Working Group on Teaching.)
Young then asked for questions and comments. Mike Stern recalled that Randy Stevenson had suggested previously that additional, factual questions be added to the survey in order to determine what is going on the classroom, such as how many papers are being written by the students.
Young replied that he disagreed with this suggestion, saying instead that the survey should reflect the benefits the students think they are getting from the course. For example, one survey Young reviewed allowed a faculty member to rank-order questions according to his/her priorities. One professor might rank highly a question such as, “Did this course help you to strengthen your communication skills?”, but this question might not apply to a course where the goal is to obtain factual knowledge and information.
Harter summarized the report from the Working Group on Teaching:
· Evaluations are useful tools, but we are not using them correctly
· The way we reward excellent teaching needs to be reviewed
· It is not clear that departments are providing any systematic feedback to their faculty regarding their teaching
· Rice does not have the best support in place for improving teaching
She then asked the Senators how the working group should be directed in the future.
Forman stated that he thinks an ambitious approach should be taken regarding teaching support and evaluation, and that faculty needs to recognize internally what they mean by good teaching; then see if we can measure that. He also stated that while flawed, the Brown Teaching Awards always seem somehow to arrive at the right winners.
Stevenson said that he wants to motivate teaching effort.
Harter thanked the two working group chairs, Skura and Young, and encouraged the faculty to attend the upcoming faculty forum on the Baylor College of Medicine. She also told the group to be looking for the report from the Working Group on Amorous Relations which will be sent to them prior to next month’s Faculty Senate meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:05 p.m.