Faculty Senate Meeting
Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library
Senators present: Gwen Bradford, Gregory Chambers, Sergio Chavez, Nate Citino, Erik Dane, Michael Diehl, Daniel Domingues, Mahmoud El-Gamal, Sarah Ellenzweig, Esther Fernandez, Dawn Finley, Charlie Geyer, Pat Hartigan, Chris Johns-Krull, Eden King, Angel Marti-Arbona, Seiichi Matsuda, David Messmer, Emilia Morosan, Ed Nikonowicz, Doug Schuler, Scott Solomon, Colin Zelt
Senators absent: Dennis Cox, Christopher Fagundes, Marek Kimmel, David Leebron, Jun Lou, Jamie Padgett, Rob Raphael, Ray Simar, Jesús Vassallo, Nicole Waligora-Davis, Pablo Yepes
(To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Senate Meeting Agenda (and actions taken):
Faculty Senate Speaker Christopher Johns-Krull called the meeting to order at 12:07 p.m.
Johns-Krull reminded senators that nominations for the Faculty Service and Leadership Awards would be due March 3. He encouraged everyone to think about and nominate possible candidates.
Jennifer Wilson, Director of the Program in Writing and Communication explained that the FAB-PWC is a standing Faculty Senate committee. She said the Program in Writing and Communication was created by a Faculty Senate initiative, voted into existence in the fall of 2011, and has been in service since August of 2012. She said the office is unique because it is an academic program and a student support service. Wilson reviewed the many programs and services offered by their office. Tony Varilly-Alvarado, chair of the FAB-PWC said there had been changes in the office over the six months with the departure of previous chair Tracy Volz. He said the committee was happy to support Wilson through the restructuring that happened as a result.
Varilly-Alvarado said one of the biggest challenges for the FAB-PWC has been recruiting tenured and tenure-track (TTT) faculty to teach the Freshmen Writing Intensive Seminar (FWIS) classes. He said the total number of TTT faculty teaching now is nine. He said it is especially difficult to recruit in the STEM fields. Varilly-Alvardo said some of the possibilities the committee is considering are using incentives like the choice of an honorarium or D-Fund as compensation, and focusing on recruitment of recent hires and those nearing retirement. He said the PWC is promoting the FWIS program one department at a time by meeting with chairs. They are also suggesting that STEM faculty co-teach FWIS classes if they do not feel qualified to teach on their own. He said the FAB-PWC would be reviewing the FWIS program in March. Finally, Varilly-Alvarado said that the PWC is growing connections with other offices on campus, like the Center for Teaching Excellence.
Senator Scott Solomon asked if the writing retreats were available for non-tenure track faculty. Wilson said they were not currently but she would be very interested in investigating that. Solomon also asked if the financial incentives for teaching FWIS courses are available to NTT instructors and Wilson answered that they are. Interim Provost Seiichi Matsuda asked how many FWIS courses are taught by graduate students. The answer was about ten to sixteen a year. The slides from the presentation can be viewed HERE.
Johns-Krull said the report had been posted on the Senate wiki prior to the meeting. Solomon, who chaired the working group, reviewed the charge and actions of the group. He said they collected a lot information via surveys, focus groups, a meeting with the Student Association President, data from the registrar, and pedagogical research.
He said the group found that overall students do use the pass/fail option and find it helpful. Over half of students have taken a course that they would not have taken if they did not have the pass/fail option. He said that 73 percent of students get a B- or above in their pass/fail class and that students are motivated to do well when using the pass/fail so that they can “uncover” their grade and reuse the pass/fail. Solomon said faculty opinions on the pass/fail system were highly divided but there were also some misunderstandings about how it works.
The working group identified three problems and resulting recommendations with the current pass/fail system:
Problem #1: Earning a “P” requires only a D-, providing only minimal incentives to stay engaged. In some courses, having a subset of students take the course Pass/Fail may affect other students.
Recommendation: Change the minimum grade for a “P” from a D- to a C-.
Problem #2: The current system was intended to allow students to take a total of four courses as P/F, but a student who earns a P and later converts the P to a letter grade is able to reuse that P/F for another course. In effect students can take a course P/F every semester. Students are not encouraged to be selective about which courses they designate P/F.
Recommendation: Update the policy so that a P/F designation that remains in place after the P/F designation deadline counts as one of the maximum of 4 P/F designations allotted to a student. This includes grades of P that students later convert to a letter grade.
Problem #3: Students can convert a grade of P to a letter grade beyond the deadline if it is a requirement for a major or minor. Students are taking major/minor requirements P/F. GPAs for Rice students applying for internships/jobs/graduate programs appear artificially high. While this practice is widespread among Rice students, any student that is unaware of this loophole may be unfairly impacted by appearing less competitive.
Recommendation: Update the policy so that (1) students may apply one class that is required for a major or minor with a grade of P toward their graduation requirements; and (2), A grade of P can no longer be converted to a letter grade after the deadline (currently the end of the first 2 weeks of the following semester).
Senator Eden King asked in regards to problem number three, what would happen if a student took a class pass/fail and then changed majors. Solomon said that is why the working group recommended allowing one pass/fail for a major requirement. But if there is more than one class for a major taken pass/fail, the student would have to retake the class. King also asked why it was a problem if students used so many pass/fails if faculty wanted them to explore different courses. Solomon said it goes back to original intent of the policy. It was not the original intent for students to take up to eight classes pass/fail. He said that also having too many students taking a course pass/fail in a class can impact the pedagogy and learning of students. He said reducing the overall number of pass/fail students in a class might reduce the number of group work problems.
Senator Pat Hartigan said that many graduate programs are eliminating the GRE as an application requirement, and the admissions focus is increasing on letters of recommendation and GPA. So, he said, grades in particular classes are becoming more important and he worried about having even one grade on a major requirement as pass/fail.
Senator Angel Marti-Arbona asked if it wouldn’t be easier if the registration system did not allow students to put a pass/fail on a class in their major. Registrar David Tenney said it would be very hard to implement and some students might wait to declare their major. Tenney added that one-third of degree recipients had at least one pass/fail on major requirements. He said it has become an increasing problem in the last five years. The final report from the working group can be accessed with Net ID on the faculty wiki, and the slides from the presentation can be viewed HERE.
Senator Doug Schuler seconded the motion to approve the proposal for a minor in History. Jeff Fleisher, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum (CUC), said the proposal was relatively straightforward and was fast-tracked by the CUC since there is already a departmental major. He said the proposal had the full support of the CUC. Lisa Balabanlilar, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of History, thanked Fleisher and Tenney for their help in putting the proposal together. The Faculty Senate unanimously approved the minor in History, with a vote of 22 to 0. The voting record can be found on the faculty wiki, which is available with Net ID login.
Schuler seconded the motion to approve the recommendations of the group. Johns-Krull began by clarifying that the second bullet did not specifically list the charge of the proposed working group, but instead if the recommendation was approved, the Executive Committee would hear feedback from senators and develop the charge. He said there had been a lot of discussion about the recommendations. He said he had a sense there were a lot of people who felt the rule should be dropped but not necessarily immediately. Johns-Krull said he also heard doubts about whether the proposed working group could be successful. He said he thought the Faculty Senate should try. He said he couldn’t promise the group would be successful, but even if they failed he asked if senators would still want the 60-hour rule. He said the university should still rely on distribution requirements for breadth.
Senator Sarah Ellenzweig said she was on the CUC subcommittee that wrote the report and the recommendations. She said she initially supported dropping the rule, but upon reflection and talking to colleagues she had changed her mind. She said she felt the Faculty Senate should solve the problem holistically instead of piecemeal. She suggested that maybe a working group considering Advanced Placement was necessary.
Senator Pat Hartigan read letters from a recent alum and a 30-year alum describing the challenges the rule created for them. He said the 60-hour rule was a bad rule and the students impacted should not be seen as leverage. Senator Mahmoud El-Gamal asked if EX&S could consider specific cases of students impacted by the 60-hour rule. Senator Doug Schuler said the recommendations were a matter of social justice. He asked why a student admitted to Rice should not be able to complete any major.
Senator Dave Messmer said that Advanced Placement credit is always an advantage for some students, and if the system is unfair perhaps the role of AP at the university should be evaluated. He asked why, only in this instance, should the moral high ground be considered. He said he was not advocating for the 60-hour rule, but for prioritizing a broad discussion on the curriculum. He said that Rice provides the bare minimum in terms of a broad education. Further discussion followed about the appropriate time to drop the 60-hour rule.
Carl Caldwell, Chair of the History Department, said he was originally on the fence about the motion until he read the report. He said there’s no positive effect of the rule and no one is arguing in favor of the rule. He said the university should get rid of something that is not useful.
Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman said her office sees students dealing with stress as a result of the 60-hour rule, often about paying for a ninth semester of classes. She said she agreed that the rule does not do what it is intended to do and should not be allowed to continue. Senator Gwen Bradford said she wanted to emphasize that there were two issues: the rule does not do what it was intended to do, and its impact is negative. She said the motion on the floor addressed both of those issues, along with starting a discussion on broad education. Fleisher said getting rid of the 60-hour rule would put faculty in a better place to have a discussion about broad education. He said the Faculty Senate is a diverse, young body that could have the discussion and the administration’s support would be important as well. Ellenzweig said that originally the CUC “did not want to touch distribution credits” and it was the Senate Executive Committee that put it back in the discussions and recommendations. She said this was indicative of the terrain the Senate was in. Johns-Krull clarified that he specifically asked the distribution credit discussion be placed back in the report. Bradford said she wanted to reiterate that the Executive Committee would write the charge for the working group and they were hearing the discussion. El-Gamal said he would vote for the motion but he felt the sequencing was wrong.
Schuler moved to end debate and there were no objections. The motion to approve the recommendations of the 60-hour working group passed 20-2. The voting record is available with Net ID on the faculty wiki.
Johns-Krull reminded senators to review the pass/fail working group report and adjourned the meeting at 1:38 p.m.