Faculty Senate Meeting
November 16, 2016
Founder’s Room of Lovett Hall
Senate Meeting Agenda (and actions taken):
I. Call to Order
II. Announcements and Presentations
III. Reports from University Standing Committees: CUC
IV. New Business: Proposed Changes to Degree Conferral Process (Approved)
Senators present: Graham Bader, Lisa Balabanlilar, Martin Blumenthal-Barby, Gwen Bradford, David Caprette, Daniel Cohen, Andrew Colopy, Scott Cutler, Erik Dane, Michael Diehl, Maryam Emami, Julie Fette, Jeffrey Fleisher, Charles Geyer, Christopher Hight, Christopher Johns-Krull, Kevin Kelly, Marek Kimmel, Steve Klineberg, Michael Kohn, David Leebron, Susan McIntosh, Marie Lynn Miranda, Stan Sazykin, Doug Schuler, and Kerry Ward.
Senators absent: David Alexander, Kate Beckingham, Keith Cooper, Anatoly Kolomeisky, Timothy Morton, Ed Nikonowicz, Fred Oswald, and Laura Segatori.
(To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org .)
I. Call to Order
Speaker Jeffrey Fleisher called the meeting to order at 12:00 p.m.
Professor Herb Ward, faculty chair of the Rice University United Way Campaign, detailed the pledges received to date from faculty and staff members for the 2016-2017 year. He noted that the School of Social Sciences has pledged more than $25,000, thus earning a matching $25,000 donation for United Way from Bobby Tudor, Chair of the Rice Board of Trustees. Ward and President Leebron encouraged all Rice employees to donate. See: United Way Presentation.
Speaker Fleisher announced that General Counsel Richard Zansitis and Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane have drafted a new University Policy regarding political activity. Fleisher said that the draft policy was presented to the Senate’s Executive Committee (EC) for an initial review, the EC requested some revisions, and the revised draft was now being presented to the full Senate for suggestions. To view the draft policy, please see: DRAFT POLITICAL ACTIVITY POLICY on the Senate’s wiki site, available to all faculty (net ID required).
Zansitis explained that because Rice is a 501(c)(3) organization, it is prohibited by federal law from participating in political campaign activities. (Information from the IRS website: To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.) Zansitis said that he and Thrane looked at the policies used by many peer institutions when drafting the policy, as well as consulting with Rice students and faculty.
The senators had several questions for Zansitis, summarized below.
Question: I am concerned that political activities are very broadly defined. In Part III, Permissible Political Activities, the language reads: “Classes, discussions, presentations or academic research relating to political issues, public policy or political techniques, if germane and appropriate to a department’s course or curriculum or part of a faculty member’s field of study, are part of the University’s educational mission.” I do not understand why this statement has to be included in the policy.
Answer: We wanted to allow academic freedom for faculty members when teaching their courses, but topics should be germane to the subject matter of the course, the curriculum, or be part of a faculty member’s research. The concern is faculty members taking partisan political positions on behalf of the university.
Question: I understand that it is meant to be an affirmative statement, but my concern is that it limits discussion of non-partisan political issues outside of our particular scholarly expertise.
Answer: The concern is, for example, a Biology professor who might discuss the recent elections with his/her students or take a political position; it does not relate to the professor’s subject matter. Faculty members have positions of power and authority over their students, and they need to be sensitive as to what the class is meant to achieve educationally.
Question: Please discuss this language from Section I: “While members of the Rice community are free to express their political opinions and engage in political activities, it is important that they do so only in their individual capacities and avoid the appearance that they are speaking or acting for Rice in political matters.”
Answer: Again, Rice employees should avoid the perception that their personal actions or statements are on behalf of the university.
Question: What if I post a statement on Twitter and my profile identifies me as a Rice professor?
Answer: That is okay, as long as you are speaking as an individual and not on behalf of Rice.
Question: It is reassuring to hear you say that, but what if someone else sees it differently?
Answer: Others would also say that faculty members may express their own views, as long as they are not speaking for the university.
Question: The draft policy is specific as to the use of facilities. If students were to organize a protest on campus, would that be considered as representing the university?
Answer: The policy does not prohibit students from organizing, but they cannot use Rice facilities for fund-raising for political purposes.
Question: Who decides if there has been a violation?
Answer: If a faculty member violates any University Policy, the usual steps will be taken, such as possibly being referred to the department chair or dean.
Fleisher thanked Zansitis for his presentation. He said that the discussion page for the Political Activity Policy, currently on the Senate’s wiki site, was available for faculty members to post their comments. Zansitis asked the Senate assistant to forward the comments to him via email.
Diane Butler, Associate Vice President, Office of Information Technology (OIT), explained that her office has begun a pilot project aimed at reducing its response time when a technology problem arises during class. She said that cameras have been installed in 17 classrooms on the Rice campus that allow her team to troubleshoot technology problems remotely. She said that the cameras capture video only (no audio) and do not record the session. In addition, Butler said that the only access to the video is by her technology support team. Please see the OIT presentation: Cameras in Classrooms.
The senators had several questions for Butler, summarized below.
Question: Has there been a cost-benefit analysis done for this project?
Answer: No, but the cameras cost less than $100 and they were only added to classrooms where renovations were already occurring.
Question: Were there complaints with the current (in person) response system?
Answer: No, but we have a small support team who sometimes receives simultaneous calls from across campus.
Question: I have concerns regarding privacy. Is there an option for an instructor to turn off the camera?
Answer: Technically, it is possible, but to install this option would be expensive. We can investigate it further.
Question: What is the advantage of cameras over the IT Help Desk?
Answer: The Help Desk is only for assistance with computers. The systems in the classrooms are complex; they are not a single-tool platform. The problem is not usually with the computer.
Question: When is the camera on?
Answer: It is always on, but no one monitors it until you call us with a problem.
Additional comments by senators:
Butler was asked if she had discussed the cameras with the Rice students. She said that her plan was to approach the faculty first through the Faculty Senate, then speak to the students.
Following this discussion, Fleisher said that a broader conversation was needed. He asked faculty members to post their comments on the Cameras in Classrooms discussion page on the wiki site. He also encouraged senators to speak to their constituents. Fleisher said that the Senate would address this issue again in its January 2017 meeting.
Evan Siemann, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, explained that Academic Analytics is a company that provides data for benchmarking academic disciplines with similar disciplines at other institutions. He said that a system provided by the National Research Council, widely used prior to Academic Analytics, was criticized for time delays, ranking ranges, and data quality. He said that Academic Analytics uses consistent, objective data. He also said that Rice currently uses Academic Analytics in most of its departmental reviews. Siemann stressed that Rice has not used the Academic Analytics data for individual faculty promotion and tenure cases.
Siemann discussed the criteria used to compare departments and their corresponding weight schemes, including awards, books, citations, grants, articles, and conference proceedings. He explained that the criteria could be weighted by discipline. For example, Siemann said that his own field of BioSciences does not consider the publication of books or conference proceedings to be as valuable as other scholarly activities, thus no weight is assigned to them. Please see the full presentation: Academic Analytics.
One senator asked Siemann if a Rice faculty member could access Academic Analytics to view his/her own data. He replied that the department chair has access, but not individual faculty members. Another senator then asked how a faculty member could know that his/her data is accurate if he/she cannot check it for errors. Siemann said that when he was the chair of his department, he checked the data for the faculty members in his department and he did not find any errors. He said that if faculty members were being judged individually on this data, it would be important to check it, but they are not.
Fleisher encouraged senators to solicit feedback from their constituents regarding Academic Analytics. He noted that a discussion page for this topic exists on the wiki site, linked HERE.
Announcements from the Speaker
Fleisher said that during the previously announced reformatting of University Policy 201, several discrepancies and other substantive issues were discovered, thus the Executive Committee has approved the formation of a Senate working group to revise the policy.
Charge: The Working Group on Policy 201 will work to correct structural and usability problems in Policy 201 in the process of reformatting and revising it. This will include making decisions about contradictions and gaps that exist in the policy as it stands, and seeking to clarify the policy in places where it is now vague or undefined. This working group will work closely with the office of the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.
Chair: Carl Caldwell
Members: Kathy Matthews, Fred Oswald, Ann Saterbak
VPAA Office: Arnaud Chevallier, Paula Sanders
Fleisher said that in February 2015, a Faculty Senate working group made several recommendations to establish an ombuds for faculty. He said that the Senate endorsed these recommendations, which were sent to the president and provost. Fleisher announced that the process to appoint the first ombuds has begun and he/she will be selected from among Rice emeritus faculty members, with Faculty Senate input.
Fleisher said that he and Deputy Speaker Julie Fette recently attended the AAUP conference on shared governance where they learned that many Faculty Senates use anonymous voting systems. He asked the assembled senators for their opinion regarding anonymous voting, and he said he would ask for their opinions again via email.
President Leebron said that he has been talking to members of the Rice community regarding the strategic planning process, a topic he discussed at the State of the University Address in October 2016. Leebron said that he has been soliciting input from the Faculty Senate leadership and the deans of schools, as well as small groups of faculty members. He said that he wanted to determine the best process to use for the strategic planning before determining its substance.
Leebron also addressed the recent election for President of the United States and the reactions of Rice students. He said that many students are worried about their future, especially Rice’s international, Muslim, and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students. He asked that faculty members share with him the concerns that their students might express. Leebron asked that faculty members contact him, the provost, the Senate leadership, or Dr. Illya Hicks, the Faculty Advisor to the President.
Provost Miranda then presented to the senators the website for Rice LIFT, which stands for Rice Leading Innovation through Faculty Thought. Miranda said that the Rice LIFT project is designed to elicit, directly from the faculty, creative and innovative ideas for energizing Rice’s future. She provided important dates for project submissions: final proposals are due April 10, final presentations are due April 27, and the symposium will occur on May 2, 2017. Please see the Rice LIFT website (faculty net ID required for access): https://ricelift.rice.edu/.
III. Reports from University Committees: Committee for the Undergraduate Curriculum
Susan McIntosh, chair of the University Committee for the Undergraduate Curriculum (CUC), said that, as she has previously stated to the Senate, several problems with Rice’s Distribution System have been reported to the CUC. McIntosh said that she discussed these problems with the Executive Committee, which decided that a Senate working group should be formed to recommend improvements to the system, with input from faculty and students. Speaker Fleisher predicted that the working group would be formed before the next Senate meeting, at which time he said he would announce the charge and members of the working group.
IV. New Business: Proposed Changes to Degree Conferral Process
Speaker Fleisher presented the following three motions from the Executive Committee, which were provided to all faculty on the wiki site prior to the meeting. Fleisher noted that the first action, an August conferral date, occurred in August of this year.
1) Motion to add August Degree Conferral
Add conferral date of August, in addition to December and May, to each year of the official Rice University academic year calendar.
2) Motion regarding December Conferral Date
Faculty Senate will approve a preliminary list of degree candidates at the December plenary meeting with the assumption that degree candidates will successfully complete in-progress courses. After the grades are received, the Office of the Registrar will remove any candidates that failed needed courses, and the remaining degrees will be conferred. The Registrar will advise faculty of the final list at the January Faculty Senate Meeting and explain any variances.
3) Motion to approve endorsement of official degree candidate lists by Dean of Undergraduates and Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, instead of the University Committee for Examinations and Standing (EX&S) and Graduate Council.
Note: no change with regard to exceptions. An exception would still be presented to EX&S, and only if approved by EX&S would that exception continue through the process. (Please see the diagram linked HERE.)
Fleisher noted that the proposed changes to the degree conferral process originated with Registrar David Tenney’s office. Fleisher said that the proposals were discussed and approved by the Executive Committee for presentation to the full Senate. There was a motion to accept the proposals, which was seconded.
Fleisher asked for discussion. One senator asked if the Graduate Council agreed with Motion 3. Tenney assured the Senate that the Graduate Council was in agreement with the proposed motion.
The Senate vote was unanimous for approval of all three motions. The new degree conferral system will begin immediately.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:40 p.m.