January 26, 2006

Minutes of the Rice University Plenary Faculty Meeting

Thursday, January 26, 2006, 10 am

McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall


I. Presentation and Approval of Undergraduate Degree Candidates

II. Presentation and Approval of Graduate Degree Candidates

III. Brown Lifetime Teaching Award

IV. Summary of Faculty Senate Activities

V. Curriculum Reform and Reaccreditation

A verbatim recording of the proceedings is available by contacting the Faculty Senate at 713-348-5630.

Attendance: approximately 25

Faculty Senate Speaker Marjorie Corcoran called to order the Plenary Faculty Meeting at 10 am.

I. Presentation of Undergraduate Degree Candidates

Deborah Nelson-Campbell, Chair of the Committee on Examinations and Standing, presented the list of 84 candidates recommended to receive undergraduate degrees. David Tenney, Registrar, added one late entry to the list. Nelson-Campbell noted that there were no requests for exceptions.

The Committee on Examinations and Standing moved to approve the revised list of candidates for graduation. The candidates for undergraduate degrees were approved unanimously.

II. Presentation of Graduate Degree Candidates

James Faubion, Chair of the Graduate Council, presented the list of 137 candidates recommended to receive graduate degrees. Faubion noted that there were no requests for exceptions.

The Graduate Council moved to approve the list of candidates for graduation. The candidates for graduate degrees were approved unanimously.

III. Brown Lifetime Teaching Award

David Leebron presented the Brown Lifetime Teaching Award to John Ambler, Professor Emeritus of Political Science.

IV. Summary of Faculty Senate Activities

Marj Corcoran, Speaker of the Faculty Senate, provided a brief summary of the Senate’s activities during the Fall semester. During its first semester, the Faculty Senate:

  • approved a Constitution (9/21/05) and Bylaws (12/7/05);
  • received a report on the Online Writing Examination (9/21/05) and encouraged continuation of the online exam for at least one more year;
  • received a report from the Office of Admission on athletics admission (11/9/05) and reconstituted the three-member faculty committee that oversaw athletics admission as a subcommittee of the Committee on Admission and Student Financial Aid;
  • reviewed a proposal from the Provost and Dean of Undergraduates regarding final examinations (12/7/05), approving the elimination of self-scheduled exams and the recommendation to add a third, overflow final examination period in the evening and postponing approval of a change in due date for take-home examinations and final projects until further review;
  • reviewed a proposal for interdisciplinary minors (1/25/06), approving the concept in principle but electing to appoint a Working Group to review and flesh out some of the details more carefully; and
  • added two Senators to the Committee on Parking (11/9/05) to address concerns about evening and weekend parking.

The Faculty Senate’s website is www.professor.rice.edu/professor/faculty_senate.asp.

V. Curriculum Reform and Reaccreditation

Robin Forman spoke about the upcoming curriculum review and the ongoing reaccreditation process.

Forman outlined a three-step curriculum review process based on research of the processes used at other institutions across the country and conclusions drawn from past curriculum reform efforts at Rice University.

1. Development of a mission statement for the undergraduate program – learning objectives

A committee will be charged with developing a mission statement for the undergraduate program, stating in precise terms what students at Rice should learn. The committee will construct a statement of principle, state learning objectives, and devise strategy rather than grapple with tactics and precise detail work. The mission statement will be consistent with the university’s new mission statement approved by the Board of Trustees in December 2005.

2. Assessment of the current undergraduate program

A committee will assess how well the goals and learning objectives outlined by the first committee are achieved with the current curriculum. Decisions and analysis are to be based on full information rather than anecdotes.

3. Proposals for reform

A committee will make precise recommendations on curriculum, such as required courses and needs for new courses.

The membership of each of the three committees is expected to differ in order to enable as many individuals as possible to be involved in the process and to avoid overburdening one group with this multi-year task. Past experience has shown the value in separating the three steps to allow the establishment of a firm foundation for each next step.

Committees will have broad representation from faculty, students, alumni, and staff, and the process itself will involve engendering buy-in from all constituencies. All constituencies should have the opportunity for their voices to be heard, but the final vote on recommendations will rest with either the Faculty Senate or the entire faculty.

Forman hopes to build accreditation parameters into this curriculum reform process to avoid duplicative work. Rice University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and is currently undergoing a reaccreditation process that occurs once every ten years. Accreditation is required for the university to receive federal funding. There are two pieces to the process: compliance, for which there are roughly 50 criteria that Rice must satisfy, and the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).

In a preliminary review, Rice has been determined to be in compliance with some requirements and not in compliance with others. Each degree program must provide an outline of goals, assessment, and a feedback process by which it will better achieve its stated learning objectives. Leebron acknowledged the burden that the process places on departments and personnel, both in providing information and in managing the flow of information. Forman introduced Janice Bourdeaux, who is coordinating the effort to collect information from departments and compile it for SACS. Realistically, Rice will need to put in place some type of on-going assessment; the challenge is to find a means by which that self-assessment is simply the way in which the university does business rather than an anomaly.

The QEP is a new component to the accreditation process. The QEP selected by Rice is “The Intellectual Development of Rice Undergraduates in Urban Houston,” designed to keep the university’s mission statement and goals in mind: increasing student engagement with the community; involving students in active learning and undergraduate research; and helping students think about ways in which their classroom knowledge connects to their post-university goals.

In the fall, Rice will open the Center for Civic Engagement, which will include the Community Involvement Center, Leadership Rice, and a new group based on community-based research. The research group will work to get community-based scholarly projects into the classroom by helping students and community partners initiate projects and determining the suitability of proposed projects. These three groups will fall under one center because all of them embody ways in which a student can engage in the community. The objective is to connect students’ community experiences to their academic experiences. The highest levels of the university are committed to this idea and have promised SACS that the resources to make this idea a success will be committed for a minimum of five years.

VI. Adjournment: The meeting was adjourned at 10:50 am, with the next faculty plenary meeting scheduled for May 12, 2006.