Faculty Senate Meeting
November 14, 2018
Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library
Senators present: Graham Bader, Gwen Bradford, Nate Citino, Dennis Cox, Erik Dane, Daniel Domingues, Mahmoud El-Gamel, Julie Fette, Jeffrey Fleisher, Charles Geyer, Pat Hartigan, Christopher Johns-Krull, David Leebron, Angel Marti-Arbona, David Messmer, Marie Lynn Miranda, Ed Nikonowicz, Rob Raphael, Ray Simar, Doug Schuler, Scott Solomon, Kurt Stallman, Jesús Vassallo, Michael Wolf, Pablo Yepes, Colin Zelt
Senators absent: Lisa Balabanlilar, Martin Blumenthal-Barby (Proxy Lida Oukaderova present), Sergio Chavez, Michael Diehl, Christopher Fagundes, Marek Kimmel, Emilia Morosan, Laura Segatori
(To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email email@example.com.)
Senate Meeting Agenda (and actions taken):
Speaker Ed Nikonowicz called the meeting to order at 12:04 p.m.
Nikonowicz reminded senators that the plenary meeting to grant December degrees will be on Thursday, December 13th at 10:00 a.m. in Sewall 301. He said there will also be a reception for graduates later that afternoon at the Anderson-Clarke center.
Dean Robert Bruce was present to give an update on the School of Continuing Studies. He began by reviewing the different programs the school offers, including the Center for College Readiness which prepares AP and IB teachers, the Teacher Education program which grants the Masters of Teaching degree, the Masters of Liberal Studies, and professional certificate programs. He noted there are opportunities for growth in many of these. He said this year the school has about 18,000 students which is small compared to Rice’s peers. The school serves students as young as three (in their literacy programs) and as old as 100. The majority of students are in the 25-75 age range.
Bruce reviewed the landscape for continuing studies and said there is a rise in non-traditional students but there has also been an increase in post-traditional students (students who already hold a degree). In this landscape, he said, there is “extreme competition” for students. One important consideration, Bruce acknowledged, is that as programs increasingly admit non-traditional students, it can put stress on the infrastructure of the university.
He then looked at Rice enrollment compared to peers. He pointed out that UCLA has 80,000 students enrolled in continuing education but their revenue does not match that proportionally because they offer largely non-credit programs. He said some of the goals for the Glasscock School include engaging Houston, increasing teacher training programs through scholarships, and extending Rice’s regional impact. He also explained that increasing diversity for their program often means diversity in age. Bruce highlighted the success of the Data Boot Camp which exceeded enrollment expectations and could increase to more than 400 students by 2020 through extension into the Woodlands and other suburbs.
Dean Bruce concluded his presentation by saying the school has to think about “the who” – who are they trying to reach beyond the hedges and what are their needs. He said that none of what Glasscock does is possible without faculty. He reviewed a list of current teaching faculty at the school that included many senators in the room.
Senator Mike Wolf noted that summer school is financially important for his department and he hopes it continues. He asked if there had been calculations of the price of summer school and whether it is at the optimal price point. Bruce responded that he had not. Provost Marie Lynn Miranda added that there had been a study that looked at the prices and markets and there is some data coming in but it has not been clear. Bruce added that some schools, like Brown, do a lot of marketing in the fall for their summer programming because parents are often making decisions about summer plans early. He said Glasscock is beginning to look at those types of things.
Senator Scott Soloman asked who will teach the courses if the Glasscock School continues to expand their programs. Bruce said the best case scenario is having Rice faculty teach the courses, but when it is not possible they recruit using professors in the practice.
Chris Johns-Krull, Deputy Speaker and Chair of the 2020-2021 Academic Calendar Working Group, presented the group’s report. He reminded the audience that the group had been formed as a result of concerns raised during the August meeting about an unequal number of class days in the fall and spring semesters. The charge of the committee was to look at one calendar year, not to rewrite the formula used for making the calendars. He said that there might be room for a different working group to work on larger changes to the calendar formula.
Johns-Krull said the committee examined calendars of many AAUP member institutions. They found that some schools have parity in the semesters while others have discrepancies as large as four days. The question for the committee was whether the difference is large enough to warrant change. He said many people didn’t realize the difference even existed, and so it is up to the Senate to decide if the difference should be addressed or not.
Johns-Krull reported that they heard from many members of the Rice community who do not support shortening the fall semester because the time for instruction is already too tight. The committee heard from some people who wanted to add days to the spring semester, but, Johns-Krull said, it is not as easy as one thinks because it would require beginning immediately after New Year’s Day or putting too much pressure on the registrar to have degrees certified. During the August meeting the idea of making Thanksgiving a full week was raised as well, as a way to equalize the semesters and also align with the HISD calendar. However, he said, the committee believed the time would not be useful to faculty needing to travel for research and it would leave only one week between the full week break and the end of classes. He noted that Rice is the only institution with only one full week of classes after Thanksgiving.
Given all of this, Johns-Krull said the committee was putting forth three options. The first option was to leave the calendar the same. The second option was to make the Fall Recess a full week long. The third option was to remove the day before Thanksgiving from the class schedule. He noted that it is a low attendance day and while not completely removing inequity, it would minimize the difference with little disruption to the existing schedule. He noted that most peer institutions allow for a 3-day Thanksgiving break. Finally, he said there was a general consensus among committee members that the Senate should look at some of the larger issues in the calendar formula. Senator Dennis Cox asked if most institutions had a break other than Spring Break in the spring semester and Johns-Krull answered yes.
Nikonowicz then called for a 15-minute discussion on the three options presented by the committee. Senator Scott Solomon said most NTT faculty believe that the status quo is not good and many faculty who teach the same course in both semesters report having to cut out entire topics or lessons because of the shorter spring semester. He said many would be in favor of adding days to the spring semester or lengthening the Thanksgiving break. He said of the three options, most faculty he heard from support option 3.
Johns-Krull responded that the sentiment on the working group was that some professors might “feel bad” asking students to come to class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but not the Tuesday before. He said his personal opinion as a senator is that the additional Thanksgiving day should be given for the 20-21 calendar but another working group should look at larger issues, such as adding days to the spring semester.
Senator Julie Fette asked about a comment on the wiki regarding length of individual class meetings. Tenney answered that his research showed the overwhelming majority of institutions use the same time blocks (50/75 minutes) that Rice uses. Several senators concurred that Harvard made recent changes to their meeting times for some courses and couldn’t be used as a comparison. Fette followed up by saying that given that Rice is within the usual range of meeting time, she wanted to plead for the 5-day fall break to give students possibilities for trips and projects they’ve never had before. Nikonowicz responded by saying this working group and vote just impacts one year so the Senate might need to be more conservative in this instance.
Senator Charlie Geyer said that the full week break would impact the scheduling of Shepherd School’s opera and therefore his school prefers option 3. Senator and working group member Gwen Bradford said that one concern with voting for a 3-day Thanksgiving break is that it could prohibit doing the full week fall break at a later time because an additional day would have already been removed from the calendar. Senator Graham Bader conceded that was a possibility but said the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is already an “iffy” class day and this calendar responds to that issue on its own. He said the “stray week” after Thanksgiving and the later start date are worth looking at.
Provost Miranda asked if there had been any conversation about reducing the number of exam days since recent reports showed most classes don’t offer final exams. Johns-Krull agreed that there is good reason to look at reducing the number of exam days.
Nikonowicz then conducted a straw poll of senators to determine which of the three options was preferred. Three senators preferred option A (leave calendar as is), six preferred option B (full week fall break) and fifteen preferred option C (3-day Thanksgiving break).
Johns-Krull moved to amend the 2020-2021 calendar to include the day before Thanksgiving as a holiday, reflecting the straw poll preference for option C. Senator Kurt Stallman commented that by granting the day as a holiday in 2020-2021 it would be difficult to “take that day back” later if the Senate decided to make more changes to the calendar. Johns-Krull answered that he was struck by how many universities already give the day before Thanksgiving off. He said he believes the Senate should add the day and could still look at other options. Solomon asked if the Tuesday before Thanksgiving would now become the “new Wednesday.” Senator David Messmer said he doesn’t like making students come to class on Wednesday but it’s fair to ask them to be there Tuesday. Several senators agreed that Wednesday is seen as a necessary travel day.
Wolf then asked if the motion to amend included a call to form a new working group. Nikonowicz said no, it did not, and the new working group would come from the Executive Committee.
Senator Jeff Fleisher moved to end discussion. Johns-Krull seconded it. Twenty senators voted for amending the calendar and four voted against. Johns-Krull then moved to end debate on the motion and called for a vote. It was seconded. Nineteen senators voted to approve the calendar, four did not approve, and one abstained. The voting record for both motions can be found HERE.
Johns-Krull proposed a friendly amendment clarifying the language and all senators voted to approve the amendment. He reminded senators that the proposal was a result of the EX&S report that indicated the committee spent a lot of time approving students’ requests to be allowed to audit a course they would otherwise drop. President David Leebron pointed out that the language might allow someone who wasn’t currently registered to add an audit, so the proposal was further changed to disallow that. Solomon clarified that students would still have to have instructor permission to audit a course and Tenney confirmed that was the case. The motion, now reading “Motion to extend the deadline to designate a course for which one is currently registered as ‘Audit’ to be the same day as the drop deadline (the drop deadline that applies to that course for all graduate and undergraduate non-first-semester students)” passed with 100% approval. The voting record can be viewed HERE.
Tenney said the new rule would be made effective in the upcoming spring semester. Solomon asked how students would be notified of the new rule. Tenney said that his office would work with academic advising to get the word out.
Nikonowicz then called on Scott Rixner, Professor of Computer Science, to present the proposed online Masters in Computer Science. Rixner said the goal of the program is to increase the department’s ability to recruit from the city overall. He said the degree is in very high demand with 1,100 applications and only 70 spots for the on campus program. He said there are many qualified applicants but the department cannot handle them due to capacity constraints and because it is difficult for working professionals to get to campus.
Rixner then took time to go over the details of the proposal, which can be found HERE. He said the program would use the existing academic calendar with a full length summer semester. He said a unique aspect of the program is that it will be highly interactive with opportunities for interaction among students and regular networking events. The first cohort will come in during the summer of 2019. Senators then asked questions about faculty hiring and the timing for rolling out courses. Rixner said that the conservative timeline allows faculty nine months to develop courses, which will not all be rolled out at the same time. He said new faculty have not been hired yet, but individuals have expressed interest.
Senator Pat Hartigan asked for more specifics on student interaction. Rixner answered that the interaction would mainly be online but the networking would be approximately once a semester on campus or at other central locations like downtown. Solomon asked whether the courses would be taught by lecturers or teaching professors. Rixner answered that it was up to the individual hired but that either way it would be critical that the instructors have multi-year contracts. Provost Miranda said that recently the Computer Science Department put up two instructors for teaching professor and both were approved. So, she said, there is understanding and enthusiasm for the process in the department. Solomon asked whether faculty would have duties outside of teaching that included face-to-face meetings. Rixner said that individual interaction could happen online and these faculty would have responsibilities that are exclusively online.
Several senators asked questions regarding how the online program would affect the reputation of the on campus program in terms of coursework, admissions selectivity, and faculty not in residence. Rixner answered that the coursework would still be rigorous, the online class sizes would be smaller than on campus classes, and there were so many qualified prospective students that it would not dilute the quality of admissions. He said that the teaching load of current on campus faculty was too high for them to take on the additional online courses but that the hiring standards for off campus faculty would be the same. He said the Computer Science Department was excited to grow their department in ways that wouldn’t have been possible previously and they would do everything possible to incorporate the new faculty into the department community.
Wolf asked if any of the new faculty hired would be tenure track. Miranda answered that there were discussions about that and it was a possibility. President David Leebron added that the online Masters in Computer Science is an opportunity to test a different financial model and the department had put enormous thought into the development of the program. He said the program will also play a role in the city of Houston and how it stands as a technology city. He said Rice needs to be seen as a participant in changing Houston’s status or it will abandon that ground to others.
Fleisher asked what the financial break-even point for the program was. Rixner answered 35 students per year and that their projection of 75 is conservative. Senator Rob Raphael expressed concern that a department could become primarily a producer of masters students and suggested the university might want to have a broader discussion about the expansion of PhD programs. President Leebron answered that professional masters programs produce resources for the university and while Raphael’s point was well taken, he felt it was a concern that should be addressed at the departmental level.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the Senate voted 24-0 to approve the new online Masters in Computer Science. The voting record can be found HERE.
President Leebron said there had been discussions about adding a commencement ceremony for students who graduate at times other than May. He explained that an increasing number of students are graduating in August or December. He said while there would not be a ceremony this December, there would be a reception on December 13th for graduates. Faculty are not obligated to attend but are welcome. He also noted that the response to the Rice Investment was overwhelming beyond expectations and seemed to resonate deeply with alumni.