December 4, 2013

Faculty Senate Meeting - December 4, 2013

Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall

Agenda (and Actions Taken)

I. Call to order

II. Announcements

A. Update from Benefits Committee on possible changes in Health Benefits

B. Update on review of the Linguistics graduate program

C. Update on new Laboratory Safety Policy

D. Campus Space Task Force

III. Presentation and vote on proposals from the Working Group on Grade Inflation
(Tabled until the Spring Semester 2014)

Senators present: David Alexander, Robert Atherholt, Graham Bader, Kate Beckingham, Carl Caldwell, David Caprette, Keith Cooper, Scott Cutler, Jerry Dickens, Claire Fanger, Julie Fette, Jeffrey Fleisher, Jane Grande-Allen, Christopher Hight, Betty Joseph, Rachel Kimbro, Michael Kohn, Anatoly Kolomeisky, David Leebron, Jonathan Ludwig, Susan McIntosh, George McLendon, Helena Michie, Luay Nakhleh, Brian Rountree, Stan Sazykin, David Scott, Laura Segatori, Ruth Lopez Turley, James Weston, Michael Wolf.

Senators absent: Dawn Finley and Fred Oswald.

PROCEEDINGS (To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email

I. Call to order
Speaker Carl Caldwell called the meeting to order at 12:00 p.m. President Leebron addressed the group regarding a recent arrest by Rice University Police involving a bicycle theft. He said that although it would be improper for him to make statements regarding the issue since it is under external investigation by the Harris County District Attorney's office, he wished for the senators to know that Rice is fully cooperating with the investigation and that a serious internal review has occurred. Leebron was asked by a senator to clarify Rice’s private status. Leebron said that Rice University, being a private institution, is not subject to public disclosure laws, and the position Rice is taking regarding the release of information to the media is appropriate.

II. Announcements

A. Update from Benefits Committee on possible changes in Health Benefits

Elaine Britt, Assistant Vice President, Human Resources, and Janel Edson, Benefits Manager, provided an update to the senators regarding Rice’s health insurance program and she asked for their input regarding possible changes. View presentation slides.

Britt began by explaining the financial aspects of Rice’s health benefits program. She said that Rice moved to self-funded health insurance coverage in 2002; Aetna is only paid an administrative fee. Britt said that that factors which may cause Rice’s health costs to rise in the future include the state of Texas opting-out of Medicaid expansion and the average age of the Rice employee being 45.6.

Regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Britt said that in 2018, a 40% excise tax (“Cadillac Tax”) will be instituted for programs in excess of the upper limits set by ACA. Britt described the ACA guidelines as a box: insurance plans which are above the box (greater) are required to pay a 40% tax, while insurance plans which fall below the box (inadequate) are not allowed. She said that economists describe health insurance as “too rich.” When individuals do not have a stake in the costs, they are not good consumers and are likely to make expensive choices, such as avoiding generic equivalents for prescription drugs. Rice would be subject to the 40% tax under its current system. Britt was asked if this tax would be passed to Rice employees. She said that the answer was not known at this time, but another option would be to reduce Rice’s coverage so that it falls below the “Cadillac Tax” limit.

Britt reviewed the modest premium rate increases over the past 11 years with Aetna. She also presented information which showed that Rice pays between 62 and 84 percent of the premiums, depending upon the plan chosen, with employees paying a lower percentage. Britt said that one way that Rice’s health plans have remained affordable is by managing health care expenses well. One recommendation made by Britt was for employees to visit urgent care centers instead of emergency rooms when possible. She noted that Elite Care in the Rice Village is not an urgent care center, it is an emergency room, and can thus charge a very high rate. Britt suggested that faculty and staff download the Aetna app in order to locate appropriate urgent care centers.

Britt asked the assembled senators for suggestions regarding health benefits for the next five to ten years, keeping in mind the diversity in incomes across campus. No specific requests were made, but Britt was asked to elaborate on possible changes to the PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plan. She said that it may be time to replace the current PPO with a consumer-driven, high deductible (for example, $1,500) plan that includes a Health Savings Account (HSA). Britt said that money in the HSA can be carried over from year to year and can be used for medical expenses after retirement. In general, she said that the idea is that if it’s your $1,500, you are more careful spending it—you would ask for the generic prescription, for example, when faced with a very expensive alternative.

Britt said that she would provide more information when it is known. Caldwell thanked Britt for her presentation.

B. Update on review of the Linguistics graduate program

Caldwell reported that the administration’s report regarding the Linguistics Department’s graduate program has been received by the department and by the Senate’s Executive Committee. The next step is for the department to submit its response to the Graduate Council which will convene a subcommittee to review both the administration’s report and the department’s response. After that step, various results can occur, including bringing the matter before the full Senate for a vote. Caldwell said that the Executive Committee has discussed holding that Senate meeting in executive session (closed to everyone except senators), and possibly conducting the vote by secret ballot. Caldwell said that these events could occur in the January or February 2014 meeting.

C. Update on new Laboratory Safety Policy

William Turner, Assistant Vice Provost for Research, reminded the group that the report from the Faculty Senate Working Group on Laboratory Safety included recommendations for action by the administration. Turner reported that the administration has moved ahead with several of the recommendations, including development of the “Laboratory Safety Policy.” Turner identified three of the items in the policy that impact faculty:

1. The PI or a designated laboratory representative must conduct laboratory self-inspections annually. (Currently required by OSHA.)

2. Required annual safety training for all personnel working in laboratories, including faculty.

3. PI is required to ensure that his/her laboratory has a safety plan.

Turner discussed related University Policies and how they will be coordinated. He then asked if the senators had any questions; there were none. View the complete presentation.

D. Campus Space Task Force

Caldwell announced that Kevin Kirby, Vice President for Administration, was present to update the Senate with information regarding the use of space on campus. Caldwell noted that the recommendations from the task force are still under discussion. He encouraged faculty to consider the recommendations being presented as they will affect everyone.

Kirby explained that a task force regarding space on campus was formed due to increased difficulty in meeting academic program needs. Members of the Space Task Force are Barbara Bryson, Kathy Collins, Vicki Colvin, Pat Dwyer, Carlos Garcia, Kevin Kirby, Lyn Ragsdale, Bart Sinclair, Jim Smolen, Ned Thomas, and Ken Whitmire. Kirby presented recommendations regarding Principles/Roles, Research Space, Instructional Space, and Office Space, shown below.

Principles/Roles Recommendations

  • The provost owns all space
  • Day-to-day management delegated to deans
  • A University Space Committee should be formed
  • Space assignments are:

o Based on standards

o Not permanent

o Reviewed annually

Research Space Recommendations

  • Annual campus-wide ranking of faculty use of lab space
  • Review bottom quartile each year (3-year average)
  • Allocate 800-1200 assignable square feet to assistant professors who conduct experimental research
  • Conduct external review of faculty start-up process

Instructional Space Recommendations

  • Must use standard time blocks
  • No more than 2/3 of department courses can be offered in prime time
  • Department lecture halls or other room that could be used for instruction should be made available to Registrar in morning

Office Space Recommendations

  • Current situation—difficult to find one office
  • Employ office standards
  • Multiple offices not allowed

o Requires annual exception from provost

  • Restrictions on emeritus faculty offices

o Private office requires level of effort = full time faculty member

  • Conduct campus-wide study of office space

During discussion of the proposed recommendations, one senator said that he hoped that the university would be tolerant of fields whose lab spaces produce lower revenues per square foot. He also said that announcing restrictions on the offices for emeriti would likely increase average retirement age, working against a goal of faculty renewal. View the full Space Task Force presentation. View the report from the task force.

III. Presentation and vote on proposals from the Working Group on Grade Inflation

Caldwell introduced Jane Grande-Allen, co-chair of the Senate’s Working Group on Grade Inflation. Caldwell said that he had received many comments from faculty regarding the working group’s recommendations. He said that if the Senate is not ready to vote on the motions, one outcome of today’s meeting could be to table them until a later date. He noted that tackling the issue of grade inflation was faculty-driven, not Senate-driven. Caldwell said that the Senate has made efforts to keep the faculty informed via emails, meetings, and with the information that has been posted on the Senate wiki space and website.

Grande-Allen greeted the assembled senators and faculty and stated that even though the information has been available since April 2013, the working group has received very little feedback until this week. She said that she was delighted to have the discussion begin. Grande-Allen said that her co-chair, Evan Siemann, had gathered the data for most of the slides, but since he was in China, she would make the presentation. (View the full slide presentation.)

Grande-Allen explained the motivation to examine grading at Rice. She said that the first Working Group on Grade Inflation was formed due to requests made by faculty members during the May 2009 plenary session. The findings of the first working group included a pattern of increased grades being awarded over a period of several years and differences in grading between schools at Rice. Grande-Allen noted that one result of the first working group’s efforts was a redistribution of how Latin Honors are awarded; instead of the previous university-wide system, Latin Honors are now awarded by school. Grande-Allen said that the current Working Group on Grade Inflation was formed due to discussions held in 2012 regarding the fact that in order to achieve top Latin Honors in most schools, a student’s grade point average (GPA) must be greater than a 4.0.

Grande-Allen listed the members of the working group and its charge. She said that her co-chair was originally Rebecca Goetz (Humanities), but after Goetz’s departure from Rice, Evan Siemann (Natural Sciences) took her place as co-chair, and Julie Fette joined the working group to represent Humanities faculty.

Co-Chairs: Jane Grande-Allen (Engineering) and

Evan Siemann (Natural Sciences)

Members: Richard Stoll (Social Sciences)

Peter Loewen (Shepherd School of Music)

Rebecca Goetz (Humanities) – Spring 2013

Julie Fette (Humanities) – Fall 2013

Joshua Eyler, ex officio (Center for Teaching Excellence) – Fall 2013

David Tenney, ex officio (Registrar)

Chynna Foucek (Student Association)

Staff Assistant: Sharon Mathews

Charge: enumerate possible changes in policies and procedures that would work against grade inflation, and to evaluate the potential costs and benefits of such changes

Grande-Allen presented information from the Office of the Registrar regarding Latin Honors which showed that since the 2007-2008 academic year, a student must have a GPA of greater than 4.0 to achieve summa cum laude. She also showed Latin Honors information for the 2012-2013 year, the first time that the school-specific method was used, shown below. Except in the School of Architecture, a GPA of greater than 4.0 is still required for summa cum laude.








summa cum laude







magna cum laude







cum laude







The next data slide showed that in each of the schools at Rice, the students in certain majors within schools tend to receive summa cum laude more often than others, perhaps due to professors who give their students more A+’s.

Grande-Allen then turned to the activities of other universities regarding grade inflation. She said that although the proposed grade collar (no more than 50% A’s) at Princeton was very contentious, the faculty at Yale has approved the following two proposals without controversy:

1. “Encourage discussion about grading policies in each department by requiring chairs to report to the Yale College annually about those policies.”

2. “Distribute data to the faculty every year on the average grades in every department.”

However, Grande-Allen reported that two other measures have been tabled by Yale faculty:

3. Convert from letter grades to 0-100 numerical scale (passing is 60 and above)

4. Establish non-mandatory guidelines for departments to follow, i.e., a grade collar/ distribution system.

Regarding the use of A+, Grande-Allen presented a chart which shows that among 30 peer institutions, Rice is one of only six which use the A+ grade and award more than a 4.0 for it. (Rice awards a 4.33 for A+.) Nine other universities use the A+ grade, but it has the same value as an A (4.0). The remaining 14 institutions researched do not award A+ at all.

Grande-Allen reviewed the steps taken by the working group:

• Spring 2013 Met with all Deans

• April 17, 2013 Interim report to Faculty Senate

Meeting agenda emailed to all faculty one week prior to meeting;
preliminary recommendations included in the meeting minutes posted
on the Rice website in early May 2013; data analysis on wiki space.

• Fall 2013 Presentations to faculty:

Chairs (Engineering, Natural Sciences, Music)

Town Halls (all schools)

Presentation to Student Association

• Dec 2013 Report to Senate

Grande-Allen noted that even though the town halls were well advertised, they were poorly attended by faculty, with the exception of the meeting with the Shepherd School of Music faculty, which was very well attended. She expressed a desire for more discussion. Grande-Allen then presented again the slides that were first presented in the April 2013 Senate meeting. She noted that the information which has been available on the wiki site ever since the April meeting now includes several bullet points of explanation under each motion. Grande-Allen then presented the motions recommended by the working group and approved by the Executive Committee for presentation to the Senate.

Motion 1: Each department should develop guidelines for expectations of the frequency of the grade categories and the level of student performance expected in order to earn a certain grade, depending on the type of course and associated assignments. The Senate liaisons for each school will summarize the guidelines for the Faculty Senate no later than the last Senate meeting of the Fall 2014 semester.

Caldwell asked for discussion regarding the motions, sentence by sentence. A senator representing the Humanities summarized a letter from a department chair in which it was stated that Motion 1 places an unfair administrative burden on department chairs. The senator reported that another chair said it would be too difficult to determine a baseline grade. In addition, students expect to receive high grades; the proposal could affect instructor evaluations (by students) which are used for faculty promotion and tenure. The senator said that the motions were premature, and in general, her constituents were opposed to Motions 1 and 2. Grande-Allen said that the chair of the Philosophy Department had been emailing her and David Tenney (Registrar) to ask for the data. Grande-Allen advocated for an accessible way for chairs to review the grades given in their department, such as a button one could push on Edgar. Caldwell noted that the role of a department chair is to manage the department. A faculty member commented that the motion simply requires that guidelines be developed by the departments; the more specific the guidelines, the more burdensome the task.

One senator said that the predictive function in the motion makes it different from the motion passed at Yale. She said that discussion of grading practices and making expectations known to students is reasonable; it is the predictive function that makes it problematic. She also said that a conflict exists between the working group’s recommendation that grading practices be developed by departments and the SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) model for grades to be based on the course goals stated in the syllabus.

A senator noted that the motion gives flexibility to departments to develop their own guidelines. The department could decide that it was appropriate for a five person class, for example to receive all A’s. Another senator said that factors such as Rice’s pass-fail selection system and the very late drop deadline play a role in the high grades that students receive; often the only students who remain in the class are those who are earning A’s. He also expressed concern that some departments might develop guidelines that are unfair to students. He asked that the overall grading system be reviewed.

At this point, Provost McLendon said that most of the concern he had heard expressed seemed to be with the phrase in the motion that contains the term “frequency.” He said that faculty recognize that instructors should set expectations for their students and should hold them to those expectations.

Moving to the motion’s second sentence, reporting that the grading discussions have occurred, Caldwell noted that it says that the Faculty Senate liaisons will gather each department’s information; it does not say that the Senate will approve the guidelines. Deputy Speaker James Weston said that although a set of guiding principles could be developed by each department, they could be described in somewhat “soft” terms. Grande-Allen was asked what the guidelines documents should look like, and her reply was that she would see what other universities had produced. She said also said that a list of discussion points would be provided to the Faculty Senate liaisons for presentation to their departments.

Motion 2: Deans and Department Chairs, after each semester, receive reports of the grading patterns in their school in order to identify courses in which grading patterns were extreme (only A’s or A+ grades were given, or only very low grades were given). In the case where only As or A+ grades were given, the department chairs may ask instructors to provide written justification for why these courses should continue to have letter grades given, and a plan for better distributing those grades, otherwise the course may be converted to S/F.

One senator expressed concern that all A’s were considered extreme by the working group when the working group’s own notes say that an all-A situation could exist. Another senator recommended that the motion be split into two parts—the data collection versus the justification. Caldwell asked that the senators examine the first part of the motion--did they want this data given to chairs and deans? He also recommended that the word “extreme” be removed, and the motion be divided into two parts.

A Shepherd School of Music faculty member stated that there is nothing extreme about all students in a studio or ensemble class receiving all A’s, as was discussed in the town hall held in the Shepherd School. A department chair who was present stated that the working group’s efforts were treating the symptoms, not the causes of grade inflation. In addition, he said that the motions are putting the department chairs in a position of surveillance over their faculty members’ grading patterns. The possible unwelcome consequences for faculty promotion and tenure based on grade performance patterns was also discussed.

President Leebron stated that the issue being discussed goes beyond Latin Honors; the university’s credibility is also to be considered; he did not want the value of a Rice transcript to erode. He said that if every student in a course gets the same grade, whether all A’s, B’s, or C’s, that is an indication that the instructor is not doing his job. Leebron said that the three things being discussed are information, standards, and accountability. He said that accountability is where the group is torn, and that Rice cannot have zero accountability. Leebron also discussed the very small versus very large classes, saying that a course of 10 or fewer students all receiving the same grade is different from a course of 50 students all receiving the same grade. He suggested that the motions apply primarily to large courses, with a weaker recommendation for small courses.

One senator said that while the first sentence was faculty-driven, the second sentence was heavy-handed and made department chairs act as police. Another senator asked for better alignment between Motions 1 and 2, and she said that she would provide some suggested language to Grande-Allen. Caldwell asked that all suggestions be emailed to Grande-Allen.

Provost McLendon described the FWIS (Freshman Writing-Intensive Seminar) that he is teaching this semester. He said that he gives his students more than one chance to revise their papers; it is thus possible that his students could all get A’s after a series of revisions. He said that grading standards should be included in the course syllabus from the start; faculty are called upon to communicate to students as to how grades are determined and what is expected of them. The provost also said that this was the first school in which he had taught where a student who received an A contacted him to say that he was disappointed about his grade!

A senator asked if deans and department chairs are reviewing the grade information currently. The reply was that the Jones School dean and chairs review the grades systematically, while others schools do it more informally. A follow-up question was asked; does this motion give department chairs more authority than they already have? The reply was yes, the department chairs do not have the authority to insist upon a different grade distribution when all A’s are given, but they do have the authority to address the opposite problem—an instructor who gives all F grades.

Motion 3: Effective with the class of 2018 (matriculating in 2014), a grade of A+ will be worth 4.0, not 4.33, in calculating the GPA.

One senator stated that he would like to keep the 4.33 A+ as a way to distinguish excellent students. Another senator said that Rice has always offered the A+. A third senator recalled a suggestion that was offered by a faculty member in a town hall meeting: the requirement that faculty members provide written justification for every A+. He said that if the student deserved an A+, it would be easy to write, but if not, the written justification could result in a reduction of frivolous A+’s being awarded.

President Leebron stated that he was in favor of Motion 3, and he gave the senators an example of a student who reported (incorrectly) on his application for law school that Rice University uses a 4.3 scale. He said that if Rice is giving so many A+’s that students consider 4.3 to be the grade scale, instead of 4.0, we are harming our students.

Following this discussion, there was a motion to table all five motions from the Working Group until a future Senate meeting. (Motions 4 and 5, shown below, were presented but not discussed.)

Motion 4: LPAP courses cannot be counted toward the GPA.

Motion 5: Student ratings of instructor effectiveness should no longer be reported in promotion and tenure abstracts but should be replaced by other alternative metrics of effective, quality teaching.

The motion to table was seconded, and the resulting vote was for approval. The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.