February 20, 2008

Minutes of the Faculty Senate Meeting February 20, 2008

Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall


I. Announcements

II. Email Privacy Policy

III. Open discussion on new issues

IV. Minor in Global Health Technologies

V. Excused absences during last week of classes

VI. Amendment to catalog regarding teaching during breaks

Senators present: Randy Batsell, John Casbarian, Ed Cox, Steven Cox, Christian Emden, Deborah Harter (Speaker), John Hempel, Matthias Henze, Ben Kamins, Tom Killian, Philip Kortum, David Leebron, Eugene Levy, Peter Mieszkowski, Matteo Pasquali, Robert Raphael, Dale Sawyer, Gautami Shah, Meredith Skura, Michael Stern (Deputy Speaker), Duane Windsor, Jim Young.

Senators absent: Michael Deem, Rebekah Drezek, Michael Emerson, Brian Huberman, Nancy Niedzielski, Evan Siemann, Randy Stevenson, and James Weston.

Total attendance: Approximately 40

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  • Deborah Harter (Speaker) began the meeting by congratulating Christian Emden and his wife Carla on the recent birth of their baby girl, Milla.
  • The Nominations and Elections committee, under the direction of Mike Stern, is working to carry out this year’s elections for both the Promotion and Tenure Committee and the Faculty Senate.
  • The president and provost are currently refining the proposal regarding a new policy for the rehiring of academic administrators after receiving further suggestions from the Executive Committee and meeting with Harter and Stern.


Joe Warren, Chair of the Senate Task Force on Email Privacy, informed the Senate that his committee examined the policies of various universities regarding access to faculty’s electronic data, and discussions were held with Provost Levy and with Rice’s general counsel. Warren said access to Rice faculty’s electronic data is currently in the hands of the administration. This committee would like to institute a new policy which will state when access to this data is allowed, that the provost must give his authorization, that a record of this action will be kept, and that the faculty member whose data has been viewed will be notified.Warren also stated that the previous proposal from this committee included staff and students, but the current proposal only addresses access to electronic data belonging to faculty. The proposal from the Senate Task Force on Email Privacy can be viewed by using this link: Policy on Access of Faculty Electronic Data.

Tom Killian stated that although he appreciated the work of the committee, he had some concerns with the proposed policy, especially the wording “to conduct necessary and appropriate university business” as that seemed too vague.

Eugene Levy stated that any policy is not going to be implemented without a lot of careful thought. He stated he’d like absolute privacy, but that is not feasible, and thus his goal is to implement a reasonable policy.

Marty Wiener asked if there was a legal reason why the terms Killian objected to are being used. Joe Davidson, General Counsel for Rice University, said that “necessary and appropriate” is language that gives discretion to the provost’s office, but the provost will also have to consult with the General Counsel’s office before taking action.

Killian explained further that he would like the wording of this proposal to state that the faculty member will be asked to give permission in advance. Suggested wording from Killian: “…cooperation will be requested first, unless doing so could jeopardize addressing the situation.”

President Leebron stated that one must be sure to read the first part of the document which states that this policy would be used only when there is a need to access the data without notifying the faculty member. He stated that “appropriate” alone is not sufficient for access. He also said that he will add language to this document to make that clear.

Meredith Skura asked how “need” would be established. Davidson suggested the four points currently at the end of the document be used for the determination of need.

There was further discussion about informing the faculty member whose data needs to be accessed. Dale Sawyer asked if there was a way to “lock down” electronic data until the faculty member can be asked for his/her permission. He also expressed concern about other items that might be discovered while the original data is being accessed.

Harter thanked those who had expressed their concerns and stated that the president and provost would now revise the document with these concerns in mind. After the revision has been done, she stated, a meeting will occur between Harter, Mike Stern, Joe Warren, Tom Killian, President Leebron, and Provost Levy to review the new document. This new document will then be presented to the full Senate for approval this semester.


Harter recapped several issues that were raised this year:

  • Promotion and Tenure Committee: according to Marcia Citron, this committee has become too large to be effective at Rice. Provost Levy is the chair of P&T and he is aware of this issue. He will bring ideas for improvement to the Senate soon.
  • Sabbatical policy: Marty Weiner brought to the Senate’s attention that a new policy from the provost which allowed for more flexibility regarding sabbaticals was introduced, but it has not been implemented. The provost has indicated that he will bring the new policy forward this semester.
  • Plagiarism at Rice is an issue that was discussed at the recent Executive Committee meeting, but Harter stated that she’s unsure this is a problem at Rice. Furthermore, the Senate does not have the manpower to look into concerns such as this. Randy Stevenson suggested to the Executive Committee that the Senate request a budget to hire individuals from the Office of Institutional Research to look into such issues.
  • Dave Schneider has expressed the need for an Ombudsman at Rice. This has been discussed with the president and the provost, but Harter stated she and Mike Stern will discuss this issue with them again; then with the Faculty Senate.
  • Moshe Vardi brought to the Senate’s attention the practice at Rice of hiring research faculty with titles that don’t meet written policy. Gautami Shah stated that the Non-Tenure-Track faculty committee is going to look into this matter.

Harter then asked for comments from the floor regarding new issues. Jan Hewitt spoke on the issue of thesis writing and plagiarism. She stated that cultural expectations differ; in some cultures, plagiarism is not considered something to be avoided. She said that with the increasing number of non-native students at Rice, the faculty has a responsibility to teach them how to avoid plagiarism, not just tell them to avoid it.

Jim Young brought up the issue of distribution courses, saying a better rubric is needed for determining the qualifications of a distribution course. Harter said the report from the Committee on the Rice Undergraduate Program (the CRUP report) also addressed this issue; Robin Forman agreed that clarification of distribution courses is needed.

Forman explained that when he gets a request that a course be made a distribution course, he sends it to the dean who is responsible for making this decision. Harter indicated concern that deans may disregard the recommendations of their faculty, but Levy said this decision was recently put in the hands of deans at the request of the faculty. Harter recapped by saying she was glad this important issue is being discussed and reviewed.

Young next brought up the evaluation of instructors done by students (teaching evaluations). He said the Faculty Senate had expressed a desire to have input regarding the questions that are asked of the students. He stated that there are national standards regarding questions which could be used, and he suggested the evaluations could be done mid-term to allow for mid-course corrections. Harter added that she had received an email from Randy Stevenson who also brought up this issue. Stevenson had suggested that a group of students could perhaps be hired to look at how evaluations are done at other universities with the before-mentioned budget. Stevenson also stated in his email that he would like a policy written regarding how these teaching evaluations may be publicized. Harter said this will be discussed further in the next Executive Committee meeting and with the Senate.


A new minor in Global Health Technologies was presented by Susan McIntosh (Anthropology) and Mary Ellen Lane (Biochemistry and Cell Biology). McIntosh and Lane explained the careful procedures used to evaluate the minor, the financing to support it, and the courses that a student would take in order to satisfy the minor’s requirements. Lane also stated that this minor would require a capstone course in the final year which would bring together each of the different departments.

Randy Batsell acknowledged that study of global health is valuable, but he stated he had three questions: 1) who will hire students from this program, 2) which deans approved this minor, and 3) what is the total funding of the grant? Lane and McIntosh first replied to Batsell’s second question, with the answer being that all of the deans involved approved the proposal. Regarding the funding, this minor is part of a larger grant—it accounts for approximately $50,000-60,000 out of a total $2.2 million grant. Regarding who will hire these students upon graduation, the reply was that medical students may find these courses helpful as well as engineering students; the purpose of the Global Health Technologies minor is not to attain a certain job, but it could serve as a direction for career choices.

Peter Mieszkowski asked about the selection of courses for this minor as many on the proposed list don’t seem to be relevant. Lane’s reply was that the minor advisory committee reviewed these courses, and the purpose is to broaden students’ understanding, not provide an established, narrow list of courses.

Required study abroad and/or internships were also discussed for this minor as it would benefit the students.McIntosh replied that it will be encouraged, but it cannot be required She stressed this is an inter-disciplinary minor which has been carefully studied.

Matthias Henze called for a vote on this issue, and Ben Kamins seconded it. There was one abstention; otherwise the Global Health Technologies minor was approved. Please use the attached link to view the entire proposal: GHT Minor Proposal.


Carl Caldwell, Chair of the Examinations and Standings Committee (Ex&S), explained to the Senate what the current Rice policy states regarding student absences during the week before finals (“dead week”) and the finals period. The policy states that no non-academic university-sponsored event with mandatory attendance is permitted after the last day of classes. Caldwell said that similar policy is used at Rice’s peer institutions. Exceptions are permitted to this rule, at Rice and at peer institutions, when approved by a faculty committee. Caldwell also discussed the “one night away rule” during the last week of classes, which he said is unique to Rice, and exceptions to this must also be approved by a faculty committee.

Caldwell said that recent changes have made this issue more complicated. First, many university-sponsored events are being scheduled before “dead week” during the last week of classes. Second, many professors are giving a “non-final final” during the last week of classes. Caldwell gave an example of how another university, Yale, dealt with the latter issue by requiring professors to give finals only during the official final exam period.

Caldwell explained that the current system (which requires interviews of students in order to grant exceptions to the above rules) is difficult to administer. If each student on the football team, for example, must be interviewed in order to attend a bowl game, it is very time-consuming. Caldwell stressed that overall, Ex&S approves of the current policy, but a new procedure has been developed to streamline the exception process. The new procedure will be as follows: Academic Advising will ask for a written explanation from students stating what obligations they have at the time of the non-academic university-sponsored event and what their status is in each class. Only in certain cases would interviews take place.

There was a discussion about the appropriateness of having students report on their own standing to Ex&S.Tom Killian said students may not be qualified to measure their academic status, and some student-athletes may not want to report the truth if this means they won’t be allowed to attend the event, thus disappointing their teammates. Killian suggested that an email could be designed which asks for professors to provide feedback regarding a student’s standing. Caldwell said he would look into this possibility.

Harter reminded the Senate that the Task Force chaired by Duane Windsor two years ago was formed because many faculty felt that student needs during these weeks were not being sufficiently protected, and this pertained not just to athletes but also to musicians, debate participants, and others. It has been discovered that the process the Senate requested for approving absences is burdensome, and Caldwell’s group is trying to improve it.

Harter then asked the broader question of how the Senate should handle a recommendation for a policy that attempts to replace a policy the Senate has already studied and implemented. She asked if there should be a certain time period during which the new proposal should be returned to the original task force. Jim Young replied that he felt this was impractical as the original task force may not still be around; the new proposal should return to the Senate where it can be evaluated.

Harter announced that the last item on the agenda (new language for the catalog) will not be discussed due to time restraints; it will be discussed next month.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.