Faculty Senate Meeting
March 20, 2019
Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library
Senators present: Graham Bader, Lisa Balabanlilar, Martin Blumenthal-Barby, Gwen Bradford, Dennis Cox, Erik Dane, Michael Diehl, Daniel Domingues, Mahmoud El-Gamal, Christopher Fagundes, Julie Fette, Jeffrey Fleisher, Charles Geyer, Christopher Johns-Krull, Marek Kimmel, David Leebron, Angel Marti-Arbona, David Messmer, Marie Lynn Miranda, Ed Nikonowicz, Rob Raphael, Doug Schuler, Ray Simar, Scott Solomon, Kurt Stallman, Jesús Vassallo, Michael Wolf, Pablo Yepes, Colin Zelt
Senators absent: Sergio Chavez, Nate Citino, Pat Hartigan, Emilia Morosan, Laura Segatori
(To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Senate Meeting Agenda (and actions taken):
Ed Nikonowicz called the meeting to order at 12:04 p.m.
Bobby Tudor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said he would take a few minutes to demystify the work of the Board. He said it is primarily a governance institution. He explained that the board provides governance, but not management, and that the trustees are very sensitive to the line between those two. He said trustees are not involved in admissions decisions or tenure decisions. Tudor said that the board does approve the budget, big capital expenditures, and major strategic initiatives like the V2C and the V2C2. Tudor explained that there are 25 trustees. About two-thirds, he said, are Rice graduates. He said between one-half and one-third of the trustees live in Texas. They try to provide background, ethnic, and geographic diversity. Tudor said the Rice community is very lucky to have highly engaged trustees. He said it is a small group that can act as one unit.
Chair Tudor said that the board is crystal clear that the faculty of Rice are its strength. The board is highly committed to the V2C2 and that is a great strength and also their great challenge. He said that funding of the Rice Investment was a big issue over the past year and that it is clear the university will need to make ongoing investments to support that. He said the board also is looking at new revenue sources, including digital education, continuing education, and better use of the university’s physical plant. Tudor said another role of the board is to help the university respond to the negativity currently surrounding higher education.
Trustee Rob Ladd then introduced himself and said he graduated from Rice with a degree in Economics and Managerial Studies. He said as chair of the finance committee, he gives advice on fiscal matters. He explained that Rice carries around one billion dollars in debt, which is comfortably serviced. He said the finance committee meets between four and six times a year, looks at tuition rates, and advises on the V2C2 capital plan. Ladd said he wanted to remind everyone how important the endowment is. He said 43 percent of the university’s revenues come from the endowment and Rice has a AAA credit rating.
Trustee Donald Bowers then introduced himself as a class of 1991 graduate with a degree in Managerial Studies. He said he serves on the development and alumni relations, building and grounds, and IT committees. Trustee Bowers said recently the Association of Rice Alumni has seen the Rice Investment as an opportunity to focus on development. He said alumni will be out in front of the yearly campaign that begins on April 4. He said there had also been great work honoring the 50th anniversary of the first black student at Rice University.
President Leebron explained that a few years ago they decided the Speaker and Deputy Speaker could attend the general Board of Trustees meetings and also give reports to the academic committee. Provost Miranda clarified that the Board does give final approval for tenure.
Senator Graham Bader asked the trustees to say more about how they were pushing back against the maligning of higher education. He asked what the board hears and how they push back. Tudor answered that they encourage trustees to be engaged with the community, work with Linda Thrane in Public Affairs, and talk to newspapers. He said one example is the involvement of the business community in the Midtown Innovation District. He said they are helping people to understand Rice’s commitment is to the world outside, not just the university. He said, additionally, the endowment and the Rice Investment help address the perception that there is a lack of affordability in higher education.
Senator Mike Wolf asked how a small university remains distinctive instead of fading into irrelevance. Tudor answered that universities can be great at starting new things and not at ending things, but that it is not a world of finite resources. He said the nature of the digital education conversation has shifted and the board wrestles with what it will look like in 25 years. He said what students want and expect is changing. Bowers said that trustees do set aside time to discuss those things and that information from departmental leads is part of that conversation.
Tudor closed the discussion by saying that senators should know that President Leebron brags about the Senate as a group. He said the trustees are very thankful to have a constructive, collaborative relationship between the board, the administration, and the faculty.
Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby was present to give an update on campus construction. His presentation can be viewed HERE. He began by saying the major capital projects at Rice have several goals: to support the V2C2, to take care of existing buildings, and to make the campus more resilient and reliable. Kirby then reviewed some of the recently completed projects, including the Space Science room and the new Clean Room. He updated senators on a number of current projects. He said Kraft Hall is a 15-month project expected to be completed in December that will have registrar-controlled classrooms. He noted that the new Music and Performing Arts Center is expected to be one of the world’s best performing arts centers, with 600 seats, and expected to open in July 2020. Kirby also noted a number of utility projects that were recently completed or currently underway to make campus more resilient and improve water pressure. He also said there are current studies for a proposed athletics practice facility.
Senator Julie Fette asked how the size of the new performing arts center compared to others. Dean Robert Yekovich answered that the seating capacity is smaller than Wortham (which has 3,000 seats) because younger voices cannot project as far. Fette asked if the facility would be rented out. Yekovich answered that like Stude Hall, the new center would be rented out for a revenue stream.
Fette asked about Kirby’s comment regarding asbestos removal. Kirby Kirby answered that there were still places around campus with asbestos but currently Sewall was the “major place” with problems.
Fette asked how the proposed athletics practice “bubble” would affect parking. Kirby answered that the university would lose about 400 parking spaces. He said the facility is to support student safety because it can be up to 140 degrees on the field when football players are practicing. He said the facility could benefit students across campus, who are some of the most active in the country.
Senator Marek Kimmel asked when the engineering quad would become a mess. Kirby answered that construction would begin about a year from now in the mechanical lab and then move to Abercrombie.
President Leebron commented that renovations are funded completely by donated funds. He said the athletics bubble would be donor funded as well. He said often with projects it is about matching a donor with a need.
Senator Scott Solomon asked if there was a net gain of classroom space with the current projects. Kirby answered that the university is adding classrooms but that they also need rules about appropriate use of space. He said Registrar David Tenney has a committee that manages classroom space and usage. Tenney added that his office is “thrilled” with the new classrooms and that they will be “flexible” rooms.
Wolf asked what goes into determining building appearances. Kirby responded that he wants to make sure the mechanical lab stays beautiful. Associate Dean of Humanities Lora Wildenthal asked how day-to-day appearance, such as custodial services, were accounted for in the budget. Vice President for Finance Kathy Collins said that her office adds operating costs to the budget when new buildings open and donors do not cover that expense.
Christopher Johns-Krull, chair of the NEC, reviewed the dates for upcoming Faculty Senate elections and University Committee assignments. He told senators they should encourage their colleagues to run for the eight seats available.
Nikonowicz then called to reorder the agenda so that the proposal for a minor in Religion could be presented before members of the Senate needed to leave.
Leo Costello, RUAC Chair, said he was happy to dispel the notion that the committee is an athletics cheerleading group. He said the committee provides faculty oversight for athletics, and the group is neither pro- or anti-athletics. He said the Athletics Department is very open and transparent with the group. He said when there are issues at Rice, his committee considers them from the perspective of student athletes. He explained that RUAC provides both budget oversight and compliance for athletics and Rice, and makes sure the school finds violations when they occur. Costello said some examples of topics the committee covers include schedules, academic oversight, and concentrations within majors or departments. He said around one time a year, a particular topic will come up relative to a change in the environment, like concussions, and his committee will consider the issue and exit interviews for athletes.
Senator Mike Wolf asked what the committee would do if they uncovered a problem, such as an entire team concentrating in one major with very high grades. Costello answered that a problem like that would be reported to the provost. Wolf added that there is a difference between compliance and consistency with Rice values. President Leebron responded that this was an excellent distinction and that the issue rests with his office. He said if a coach is hired that does not share Rice’s values, it is not usually the NCAA rules that will uncover that.
Senator Doug Schuler referenced an article in the Thresher that stated the new practice facility was mainly for football and thus would have a disproportionate impact on men’s athletics. He said he hoped men and women athletes would have equal access to the facility. Costello answered that he had an upcoming meeting scheduled to discuss the issue. Provost Miranda added that Dean Gorman was also concerned about the issue.
Fette asked how we avoid problems in other university athletic programs and admissions that we see in the news. President Leebron said that there is an independence between the athletics and enrollment sides. But, he said, the university would be reviewing their process anyway. He said the university’s culture is ambition and advocacy for athletics. Costello closed by stating that his committee is open to questions or suggestions from the Senate.
Farès El-Dahdah said that the IT Council is new and that their job is to advise on the “invisible campus.” He said their committee has large subcommittees and he reviewed the current discussion topics of the committee which are organized into academic technology, administrative technology, research computing, and networking. He reviewed issues IT is currently addressing. For instance, the committee is considering how to standardize the many labs across campus. He said the committee is also participating in the process of replacing Esther and Edgar as well. They are also addressing the replacement of supercomputers and how to take advantage of cloud services. The slides from El-Dahdah’s presentation can be reviewed HERE.
Senator Jeff Fleisher, CUC Chair, introduced the proposal by saying that departmental minors receive expedited reviews by the CUC. April DeConick, Religion Department Chair, said there had been discussions regarding the development of the minor for a few years and that the proposal was encouraged by the Dean of Humanities. She said the program is similar to the major, but with fewer electives. Fleisher moved to approve the proposal. Fette seconded. Bader moved to end debate. The proposal passed with a vote of 27-0-0. The voting record can be viewed with a NetID HERE.
The Senate moved into closed session at the end of the IT Committee report and was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.