February 28, 2007
Faculty Senate Meeting - Senate Meeting Minutes: February 28, 2007
Minutes of the Faculty Senate of Rice University
Wednesday, February 28, 2007, 12 noon
Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall
II. Report from the Nominations and Elections Committee – Deborah Harter
III. Working Group Status Reports
a. Policies and Procedures Governing Non-Tenure-Track
Faculty – Gautami Shah
b. University Standing Committees – Rebekah Drezek
c. Email Privacy – Joe Warren
IV. Comments and Update from President Leebron
V. Recommendations from the Working Group on Course
Evaluations – Ric Stoll, Chair
A verbatim recording of the proceedings is available by contacting the Faculty Senate at 713-348-5630.
Senators present: Randy Batsell, Yildiz Bayazitoglu, John Casbarian, Marj Corcoran (Speaker), Michael Deem, Rebekah Drezek,Christian Emden, Deborah Harter (Deputy Speaker), John Hempel, Matthias Henze, Ben Kamins, Tom Killian, Phil Kortum, David Leebron (ex officio), Eugene Levy (ex officio), Peter Mieszkowski, Nancy Niedzielski, Anthony Pinn, David Schneider, Gautami Shah, Michael Stern, Randy Stevenson, Joe Warren, Duane Windsor, James Young
Senators absent: Jose Aranda, Brian Huberman, Dale Sawyer, Evan Siemann, James Weston
Total attendance: Approximately 45
Faculty Senate Speaker Marjorie Corcoran called to order the Faculty Senate meeting at 12:02 pm.
The PRES-FAC mailing list has been updated. During the update, several hundred names were added to the list and approximately seventy non-Rice employees were removed from the list. Updates will now occur on a semi-annual basis.
Jim Crownover, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, will address the Senate at its meeting in March.
II. Report from the Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC): Deborah Harter reported that the NEC successfully recruited candidates for the Promotion and Tenure Committee from the School of Humanities and the School of Natural Sciences. No nominations were received for the position representing the Jones Graduate School of Management. In accordance with the Senate Resolution on the Promotion and Tenure Committee (adopted 12/6/06), the Speaker of the Senate will appoint a full professor to fill the vacant seat for one-year.
Senate elections will be held next. Harter reminded the Senators with expiring terms that they are eligible to run again. She asked any Senators interested in running for a second term to notify her.
Harter highlighted an issue that had arisen regarding the administration of Senate elections. Based on past practices, nominees were to collect ten signatures of support from their constituents. In the case of the Non-Tenure-Track Faculty – Research position, however, only nineteen faculty across the university are eligible to vote for that representative. Given that the spirit behind the nomination is demonstration of collegial as well as intellectual support, the NEC decided that, in the case of the Non-Tenure-Track Faculty – Research representative, those ten signatures may come from non-tenure-track faculty or from tenure-line faculty. Similarly, the ten signatures in support of Assistant Professor representatives may come from any tenured or tenure-track faculty within the appropriate School or Schools, not just from assistant professors.
Gautami Shah disagreed with allowing tenure-line faculty to nominate Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Senate representatives. She thought nomination signatures for the Non-Tenure-Track Faculty – Research position should be allowed from research or teaching non-tenure-track faculty. Permitting tenure-line faculty to nominate a non-tenure-track faculty representative would dilute the voice of the non-tenure-track faculty members and expose them to certain political influences. She pointed out that there are approximately 200 research and teaching non-tenure-track faculty on campus.
Shah recalled facing the same challenges when securing nominations during the first Senate election. At that time, no comprehensive list of non-tenure-track faculty was available. Now that such a list had been compiled, she suggested that non-tenure-track faculty could use that resource in order to locate individuals eligible to sign their nomination forms.
III. Working Group Status Reports
Policies and Procedures Governing Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: Shah reported that the working group sent a survey to 212 non-tenure-track faculty with an approximately 50% response rate. The group is now coordinating meetings with non-tenure-track faculty in the individual schools in order to obtain group feedback. Shah hoped that the working group would be ready to present its report before the end of the year.
University Standing Committees:Rebekah Drezek presented the working group’s recommendations and asked the Senate to make some decisions on the proposed changes, but she noted that the work on university committee structure will need to continue into the 2007-2008 academic year.
The working group found that the university committee structure and many of the individual committees were not working particularly effectively. As the system currently operates, university committees can be created through different processes. While standing committees are no more important than other committees, the perception of faculty is that service on standing committees “counts more” than service on other committees. In reality, the only characteristic that distinguishes a standing committee from other committees is the fact that the Senate recommended faculty membership on standing committees.
To address the difference in the perceived value of standing committees versus other committees, the working group recommended that all permanent committees be designated university committees. The Senate would still play a role in making membership recommendations for some committees, but if all committees were to carry the same label and the same prestige, the working group expected that the university would encounter fewer problems in finding faculty willing to serve. Drezek pointed out that this change has been recommended before but never implemented.
The working group recommended shifting oversight of some committees from the Faculty Senate to a more suitable administrative body. Specifically, the Education Council should come under the purview of the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and the Research Council should come under the purview of the Vice Provost for Research. Drezek believed that, in the long run, the Senate will be better served by limiting its oversight to committees over which it has some governance role, such as the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum and the Graduate Council.
The working group recommended dissolution of committees that were no longer critical or functioning effectively. For example, the working group found it unnecessary to populate the R.O.T.C. Committee because its small role could be filled by the Committee on Examinations & Standing or by an individual appointed by the Senate on an as-needed basis. Likewise, the Committee on the Faculty Handbook currently manages tasks that should be handled administratively.
The working group recommended merging the Salary Equity Committee and the Compensation Committee of the Faculty Council, both of which carried out very similar charges. The Committee on Admission and Student Financial Aid is reviewing its charge, and the Committee on the Library will need to do the same.
Drezek emphasized that the working group would like the committee chairs to be more engaged in decisions affecting their committees. Every year the Senate should gather feedback from the committee chairs on the committee charges, the composition of the committee, the types of faculty who should be on the committee, specific membership recommendations, and whether any changes to the committee are necessary.
Corcoran asked about the plan for obtaining feedback from committee chairs. Drezek recommended changing the forms that are sent annually to faculty members and committee chairs and volunteered to edit the documents. The faculty form only lists what are currently known as standing committees, causing faculty to seek service on committees from that short list at the expense of other equally important university committees. The committee chair feedback forms should foster a forward-looking process with succession in mind.
Drezek also pointed out that one of the working group’s recommendations was creating institutional memory for the entire system. As a start, a simple system will be used in which a notebook for each committee is stored in the Office of the Faculty Senate. As the working group noted, even very basic baseline information is not available at this time.
Likewise, improvements must be made to the system used to track faculty service. Drezek reported that the Faculty Information System (FIS) has been modified to allow faculty to self-report their service, but this will not be a long-term solution. Drezekrecommended utilizing OWL-Space to manage the entire committee system, whereby each committee would have a designated folder with controlled access. This is one area that will require additional work in the coming academic year.
Corcoran pointed out that some of the committees and their membership appointments are dictated by written policy. Drezek said that was one of the facts influencing the need to restructure the committee system. Faculty need to be recognized for service on all types of committees – both those to which the Senate recommends membership and those appointed through different means.
As a member of the working group last year, Dave Schneider appreciated the systematic approach to the recommendations and thought it would be very important to quickly establish a reporting structure by which committee chairs report to the Senate, either in person or by written report, every year. Drezek acknowledged that the current overall committee structure presented a hurdle to Senate-accountability. By charge, all committees officially report to the President and University Council. While the Senate recommends faculty members for membership, communication essentially ends at that point. The working group planned to ask committee chairs for a short report on any recommended changes to their charges and/or their membership and a brief summary of their 2006-2007 activity.
Corcoran believed that the proposed list of committees must be approved by the Senate because it would eliminate some existing committees. She asked for a motion to approve the given list of committees and to change to equal status all university committees.
Harter asked whether the report of the Salary Equity Committee would come to the Faculty Senate annually. Drezek explained that, during its tenure, Faculty Council had its own subcommittees that technically were dissolved when Faculty Council was replaced by the Faculty Senate. The Compensation Committee, which produced the salary report, was one of those subcommittees. The working group recommended that the functions of the Faculty Council’s Compensation Committee become the responsibility of the renamed Compensation and Salary Equity Committee. The committee will need an active chair to ensure the Senate receives the desired report.
Randy Batsell had chaired the Salary Equity Committee. He noted that the committee was requested to report bi-annually because the changes in data from year to year were not deemed sufficient to redo the analysis. Batsell asked whether the current proposal implied that that particular analysis would be reported every year. Drezek said that all of the committee chairs would be asked to recommend appropriate updates to their charges, as some of the charges are 30 years old.
The Senate unanimously approved recommendations one and two of the working group’s report: (1) to end the practice of referring to certain committees as university standing committees while other equally important and permanent committees do not receive this designation; and (2) to retain fifteen Senate-recommended committees and to dissolve or reassign responsibility for the remaining committees.
Schneider highlighted the importance of recommendation six, which requests the Working Group on Bylaws to suggest modifications to the Bylaws to more precisely define the relationship and expected reporting structures between the Senate and university committees. Jim Young agreed and had spoken to Drezek. However, such relationships and responsibilities must be defined before the Working Group on Bylaws can address the issue.
Email Privacy: Joe Warren provided a one-page overview of the proposed scope for a policy on email and computer data privacy. The working group hoped to receive feedback from the relevant parties on the concepts prior to drafting a detailed policy. Both the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate and the Provost provided input and supported the general direction of the proposal.
Warren began with the issue of privacy. The General Counsel feels fairly strongly about the inclusion of language that makes it clear that faculty do not have a right to privacy. As the General Counsel explained to Warren, such language is necessary to minimize the impediments to examining data when there is cause to do so. The working group researched other universities’ policies on computer data policy and discovered that none includes a right to privacy.
Warren pointed out that although Rice faculty may think they currently have a right to privacy, in fact, they do not. At this time, an informal process for handling requests to examine data is utilized. Should Information Technology (IT) want to examine data, the office typically presents this request to the General Counsel who may or may not consult with the Office of the Provost. The impetus for the new policy is a desire to formalize the process in a way that includes safeguards to prevent abuse of the process.
The proposed policy closely resembles the policy at Cornell University. It includes a list of causes for which access to an employee’s electronic files would be authorized and a process for obtaining authorization and accessing email and computer data. If a university entity believed there was reason to access data, that individual or office would contact the appropriate authorizing agent. For example, the Provost would respond to requests for access to faculty files. The requesting entity must give a cause on the list of causes included in the policy and the Provost would then give written authorization. The requesting entity, with the assistance of IT, would access the data, limiting the scope to only data relevant to the cause presented. The individual would be informed of data access at the appropriate time. For example, in the case of a court order, notification might be in advance of access; in the case of suspected sexual harassment, notification might not be made until after access.
Warren reported that the Executive Committee discussed what should happen if examination of the data were to uncover unrelated legal or policy violations. The Executive Committee believed that the language requiring disclosure to the appropriate authority was too strict and that some discretion should be allowed. Warren said that both he and the Provost agreed that the university is required to disclose any evidence of a violation and that a policy should not allow selective disclosure. The Executive Committee discussed, at length, whether the language should read such that collateral information “will be” or “may be” or “can be” disclosed.
Warren next addressed the scope of the policy. The working group included faculty and staff in its proposed policy, but, at some universities, the policy applies to students as well. The General Counsel did not wish to include students in the policy because the university holds certain rights to access student computer data and preferred not to initiate more discussion on that particular issue.
Another possibility would be to define scope not in terms of faculty, staff, or students, but instead in terms of who owns the equipment or the network. If, for example, the data sought was on university-owned computers or sent via university-owned networks, then the university would have a right to access. Faculty, staff and students wishing to prevent university access would have to purchase their own computer or to purchase their own broadband wireless access. The appropriate authorizing agent would be determined by the owner of the particular hardware.
While the possibility of extending the policy beyond electronic data to physical data was discussed, Warren learned that many issues can arise with physical privacy that do not arise with electronic privacy. For example, consider whether an individual’s purse sitting in a university office would be considered private. Warren believed that the policy currently being drafted should pertain only to electronic data.
Warren asked for feedback from Senators on the general direction of the proposed policy and whether the working group should proceed to draft the detailed policy.
Schneider asked to hear the Provost’s rationale for requiring the university to forward to the appropriate authority suspicious data that was not part of the initial warrant. While Schneider understood the need to forward data in a legal situation, he was not as clear on situations governed by university policy.
Gene Levy stated that he did not have strong feelings on the issue and that guidance should come from the General Counsel. He did believe that the policy should not leave so much discretionary flexibility as to facilitate inappropriate distinctions in judgment based on personal relationships. Warren added that excess room for discretion could result in a situation in which two similar cases were pursued or handled differently. Charges of favoritism could be leveled and the university could be subject to litigation. The policy must specify the action to be taken if there is suspicion of another policy or legal violation. Warren could not envision built-in protection from investigation of a violation simply because that violation was discovered in the course of another search.
Duane Windsor asked for the precise definition of the term “appropriate entities” to which information about potential violations would be forwarded. Warren said that the term had not yet been defined. Windsor interpreted “entity” to mean “university entity.” He believed that any potential violation should be reported up through the university’s chain of command, at which point the university could make a decision about its legal obligations. Warren thought that Windsor’s interpretation sounded reasonable, in which caseWindsor thought insertion of the word “university” in front of the word “entities” would make the statement crystal clear.
Randy Stevenson confirmed his understanding that the university must initiate the process for obtaining access and that the policy did not intend for an individual faculty member, perhaps in the case of a grievance, to initiate this process. An investigation must be underway, and a university entity refers to something other than an individual faculty member. Warren reiterated that the definition of entity had not been crystallized, but, for example, in the case of a grievance, the Convenor would initiate the process to gain access to relevant electronic data or email. In that case, Stevenson wanted to ensure the policy was written to reflect the intent that the policy was to be used not by individuals but by an organization in the course of an investigation.
Based on the comments he had heard, Warren thought that the working group could now draft a detailed policy for consideration. Warren made clear that, although faculty have a say in the process, and more discussion on particular points would occur, the final decision on whether the drafted policy becomes university policy rests with the President. The President will rely heavily on the advice of the General Counsel.
John Hempel preferred more language be included on the protection of confidentiality of the individual under investigation. Specifically, Hempel believed that the results of a faculty member’s research should not be disclosed in the course of an investigation of other activities. Warren agreed, and he hoped that the final language would state that information unrelated to the investigation would be held in confidence. He thought that General Counsel preferred the term “confidentiality” rather than “privacy” and believed that the policy language could be strengthened.
Mike Stern asked whether this policy would replace a prior policy. To Warren’s knowledge, no computer data policy exists at Rice and no strict procedures for accessing data are in place.
Ben Kamins mentioned the working group at a Shepherd School of Music faculty meeting, and one faculty member mentioned that he had heard that the FBI wanted to access faculty email. Kamins asked if Warren could comment. Warren said that the General Counsel suggested insertion of a paragraph regarding specific laws that require disclosure of data. While he could not answer Kamins’ question specifically, as a computer scientist Warren thought that everyone should assume their emails are being read.
Levy stated that, in his experience, Rice has been approached only once by the FBI asking for informal access to information. The request was for information in the SEVIS system for international students. It was information to which the federal government was entitled by law, but the federal system to retrieve that data was not yet operational. Rice declined to provide the information and explained to the FBI that Rice did not want to set a precedent for complying with informal requests for information about faculty and students.
Corcoran brought the discussion to a conclusion. Warren asked anyone with additional comments or questions to email him.
IV. Comments and Update from President Leebron:David Leebron wished to establish a precedent whereby he would provide an informal interim update on the operations of the university with an opportunity for faculty to ask questions. This update would be in addition to the State of the University address required by the Constitution of the Faculty Senate.
Rice recently held a day-long commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the matriculation of the first African-American students. The university has some important diversity issues to address; perhaps the most difficult of those issues have centered on African-American representation, both at faculty and student levels. Although there was a good deal of criticism of the university, the event was an important opportunity to bring back many African-American alumni who had not been very engaged with Rice.
The Task Force on Diversity held its first meeting. While the Task Force does overlap with other committees, this is a task-oriented group charged with focusing on specific problems and producing a set of recommendations on issues of recruitment, retention, and campus climate by the end of the next academic year.
The fiftieth anniversary of the residential college system is approaching, and Leebron hoped that the commemoration would include both celebration of and reflection on the system. As one of the most important features of the university, the colleges are mentioned in the context of almost every other issue under discussion. The university is also beginning to think about the 100th anniversary of the university. An event early in 2008, celebrating the appointment of Edgar Odell Lovett as the first President of Rice, will kick-off a series of events leading up to October 2012.
Leebron highlighted the senior administrative appointments made in the last year and some of the areas in which the Senate could expect to see things happening. Kevin Kirby, Vice President for Administration, will begin a review of purchasing expected to save the university millions of dollars. Chris Munoz, Vice President for Enrollment, launched a positioning study to better understand how Rice operates in the marketplace. He is also examining the consequences of higher and lower tuition levels and looking at methods for contacting prospective applicants more effectively at a lower cost. Chris DelConte, Athletics Director, has helped redefine the relationship between athletics and the rest of the university community. Linda Thrane, Vice President for Public Affairs, is preparing to launch a positioning study to better understand Rice’s strengths and how to represent Rice to the world in a more consistent and unified way. She also is considering how Rice can be most effective with the state and national governments and whether to increase the level of operations and investment in government relations.
The university expansion and the new colleges are among the most important ventures currently underway. Leebron reported that basic designs for the colleges have been developed; a donation has been secured for one of the colleges and Leebron was optimistic about a donation for the second college. Construction of at least one of the colleges will begin this summer and the project will take about two years to complete.
Chris Munoz is developing a strategy for the expansion of the pool of undergraduate applicants. The number of applications to Rice this year is flat. At some of Rice’s peer schools, including Northwestern, the numbers of applications is up substantially, while at others, including Duke, they are down. To place this information in context, Rice is just beginning to make the kinds of investments that other schools have been making in recruitment. To meet its goals, Rice will need to see an approximately 50% increase in its applicant pool.
With respect to diversity and the incoming class, the number of African-American students admitted year-to-date has increased, andLeebron reported that Rice just hosted a successful VISION weekend for minority prospective students. For the last several years, undergraduate African-American representation has ranged from 5% to 7%. Because the university has set higher goals in minority representation, it must reach out more effectively than it has in the past.
The Board of Trustees approved a fairly significant increase of tuition and fees for entering students, although the increase was lower than that of the prior two years. Leebron said that Rice has reached its interim goal of $6000 tuition differential, and no drastic movement will be made until after the results of the enrollment study on tuition levels are known. For continuing students, the university has adopted an informal policy of raising tuition at the same or lower rate than other institutions.
Leebron added that financial aid has increased. When the university raises tuition, a student on financial aid receives an increase in aid that matches the increase in tuition dollar for dollar. Additionally, with an increase in tuition, more students become eligible for financial aid. A higher percentage of students receiving financial aid actually improves Rice’s value ranking. To date, Rice has had one of the lowest percentages of students on financial aid, in part because of its lower tuition.
Leebron reminded the Senate that Rice adopted a policy whereby students from families with less than $30,000 per year in total income will have all need met with grants and work study and will not be required to take out loans. The policy reflects Rice’s philosophy of channeling more resources to the population that can least afford Rice, rather than providing a deep discount in tuition to all students. While he could not demonstrate cause and effect, Leebron said that the number of students from that low-income group in the incoming class had increased significantly.
Leebron turned to faculty recruitment and retention. Forty-seven faculty are being recruited for next year, and Rice succeeded in retaining fifteen faculty who were considering offers from other schools. He emphasized that the university takes retention issues very seriously and uses a team approach that includes the department chair, the dean, the provost, and, when appropriate, the president. In addition, two new funds have been launched to support faculty: the Faculty Initiatives Fund and the Faculty Travel Fund. Both are areas where resources previously were not readily available.
Leebron pointed out that the most visible changes on campus are the capital projects. Construction of the colleges will begin during the summer. Construction of the Collaborative Research Center at University and Main is underway and is expected to be completed two years from now. The university is currently negotiating leases with its five partners in the project. Construction of the one story glass pavilion café on the west side of Fondren Library should begin within six weeks and be completed in less than one year. The greenhouse and the renovation of Earth Sciences are complete. A Physics building is in the planning stage, and Leebron estimated it would be in service in Fall 2009. Construction of the recreation center will begin in approximately one year, and Autry Court renovation is anticipated to begin this summer. Planning and fundraising continue for a new Social Sciences building.
Approximately $600 million worth of projects are in active stages. Money still needs to be raised for another $300 million in capital projects. Some projects will utilize debt; others will depend on gifts; some will use a mixture of the two funding sources. Rice now has a firm commitment to sustainability, and all of the new buildings will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.
On the international front, Leebron recently returned from a productive trip to India, where Rice will strive to build relationships. In two weeks, a delegation of 25 university presidents and other senior leaders from China will visit Rice for a program previously hosted by Yale and by University of Michigan. If the program works well, Rice may seek ways to export the program to other countries and regions.
Rice’s endowment stands at approximately $4.3 billion. Fundraising is going well, and the annual fund is on track to double within 7 years.
Off campus, construction will soon begin on a daycare center which will open for the 2008-2009 academic year. The university is seeking gifts to help fund the project, but the project is not conditional on gifts. Planning is underway for additional graduate student housing, and options for the Greenbriar property are being explored. One possibility is a large-scale residential and commercial development that would take advantage of the Rice Village opportunities, create nearby housing, and provide much-needed administrative space.
Leebron paused to take questions.
Peter Mieskowski asked about the expected timing for the Social Sciences building. Leebron said that a gift for a portion of the cost must be secured before the project proceeds. He expected the building could be completed approximately 2½ years after receipt of a pledge.
Randy Batsell expressed a concern of the Committee on Parking, of which he is a member. Newly constructed buildings sometimes replace existing parking and sometimes bring new needs. Parking fees are used for the capital costs of the new parking, regardless of whether the parking is contained in the new building. Batsell asked whether a philosophical change about the costs of parking might be in order, whereby the capital costs that come as the result of the construction of a new building, or the need to replace parking eliminated by the new construction, are included in the building costs.
Leebron replied that funding associated with a building must come from one of two sources, debt or a gift, neither of which he deemed appropriate for parking. Debt generates interest that must be paid. Gifts provide a potential revenue stream for other projects and would have to be rerouted to parking. The question that remains is what portion of the cost of parking should be allocated to the user. Leebron said that, in his opinion, neither zero percent nor one hundred percent was the proper amount. Batsell said that he was seeking a number appropriate for the neighborhood around Rice.
Leebron said that the university has tried to address the special burden that parking places on the lowest paid staff, who face a different burden than the well-paid faculty and staff members. Likewise, faculty and staff parking presents a different issue than student parking, which, in most cases, is a luxury good. Parking comprises roughly five to ten percent of the cost of owning a vehicle on campus, but people tend to focus on the parking costs.
Leebron reassured the Senate that the university considers a variety of factors, in addition to what the market will bear, when setting parking charges. The university tries to be sensitive to parking charges in the surrounding community, the charges at many of Rice’s peer institutions, and relative increases in salaries and parking fees. The reality, however, is that parking is expensive.
Shah asked for an update on the university’s response to the findings during the reaccreditation process undertaken last year, particularly the self-evaluation and governance checks and balances identified as areas for improvement. Leebron reminded the Senate that the reaccreditation committee found that, on issues of governance, Rice is well-run, while on issues of measurement, additional work is required. He hoped that the entire reaccreditation process will be an opportunity for the university to gain a better understanding of its successes and its challenges.
As Leebron reported earlier in the year, the national trend is toward measurement in order to demonstrate success. While he did not think such requirements reflected a deep understanding of higher education and the importance of research to the enterprise,Leebron asked the faculty to understand the necessity of improving measurement in order to retain accreditation.
V. Recommendations from the Working Group on Course Evaluations: Ric Stoll, Chair, reported on the findings and recommendations of the working group.
Stoll explained that, in the current format used for online evaluations, a separate web page is used for each individual evaluation question. Consequently, a student enrolled in five courses would have to page through nearly 100 web pages in order to complete evaluations for all of his/her courses. The working group recommended restructuring the evaluations for the Spring 2007 semester so that each course could be evaluated on two web pages, one for course-related questions and another for instructor-related questions. Courses with multiple instructors would have additional instructor-related web pages to allow students to evaluate all instructors. In either case, the number of web pages a student must navigate to complete all of his/her evaluations would be significantly reduced.
The working group also recommended that the course evaluations be available the first day of the last week of classes, with the evaluation process ending two weeks after the deadline for faculty submission of grades. Students could evaluate courses at any time during that period.
Stoll said that the working group would like to establish a system to prompt students to complete their evaluations. If a student had not evaluated a course for which grades are available, s/he would be prompted to either complete or opt out of the evaluation when s/he checked for grades online. If the student should choose to opt out, the grade for the course would be displayed immediately. If the student should choose to complete the application, the grade for the course would be displayed once the evaluation was completed.
Stoll pointed out that with the online entry system, grades become available to students on a rolling basis and students consequently check their grades multiple times. The prompt for evaluations would occur only once for each course. If a course grade is not available, students will not be prompted to evaluate that course.
With the changes recommended for the current semester, the working group sought measured improvement against two primary goals. The working group believed, quite strongly, that the low response rate of the past two semesters of online evaluation precluded the use of those responses in the evaluation of faculty teaching. Any faculty member who is not a full professor has at least one major evaluation forthcoming, whether for contract renewal, tenure, or promotion, and Stoll expressed deep concern that Rice not experience a third straight semester of low-quality results. The working group also hoped to devise an online process that works well, because ultimately a good process will be cheaper and easier to administer and will provide more flexibility than a paper system.
Stoll said that, in order to meet both goals during the spring semester, the working group recommended that all faculty who are not full professors be evaluated on paper this semester only. With historical knowledge of how to achieve suitable response rates, the use of paper evaluations would prevent a third straight semester of inadequate response rates. At the same time, full professors would be evaluated online using the revised web pages.
Stoll explained that the dual arrangement would be used for one semester to see whether the online evaluation response rate can be raised to an acceptable level. The working group discussed whether he new online design and the prompting system inspired sufficient confidence in the evaluation system to eliminate concern about response rates for faculty who are not full professors. While the majority of working group members was confident in the ability to reach sufficient response rates, several members were reluctant for those faculty who are not full professors to use the online system until it has been proven that the desired response rate can be achieved.
Stoll also reported that the working group believed that students should have access to the written comments on the evaluations, but that an opt-out system should be available to faculty. The technological issues were not discussed in detail, but, conceptually, if no comments were displayed for a course, the student would know whether no comments were submitted or the faculty member opted not to have the comments displayed.
Stoll added that the working group has yet to address some other issues with course evaluations. Most members of the working group believe that many questions on the current evaluation are redundant. The working group would also like to explore more precisely how various groups, including the students, the faculty, and those who evaluate the teaching of the faculty, use the evaluations or would like to use the evaluations. While the working group would like to recommend changes to the set of questions, the biggest priorities this semester are to ensure that adequate numbers of evaluations are received for faculty who are not full professors and to bring the overall response rate up to an acceptable level.
Gene Levy strongly emphasized that all efforts should be made to avoid a hybrid (part electronic, part paper) evaluation system. Based on the experience of other universities, Rice faculty could be confident that an electronic evaluation system is workable. Levy urged the Senate to endorse an all-electronic system and to not include an opt-out feature in the electronic system. He believed that the online system should be built so that students must go through the evaluation form in order to receive their grades, even if they choose not to answer the questions. He pointed out that Stanford utilizes this type of system and has an approximately 90% response rate. Levy expected that directing students through the evaluation form to reach their grades would likely stimulate responses, especially since the evaluation has been condensed to two web pages. He also thought an individual raffle premium should be utilized again.
Harter commented that, while it certainly appeared necessary to force students through the evaluation forms in order to improve student participation, proper incentives for the students would eliminate the need for coercion. She was concerned that evaluations completed under pressure might produce compromised results and wondered whether publishing the written comments might not be sufficient incentive for students to complete the evaluations.
Harter had not heard any arguments that convinced her that faculty who had suffered through two semesters of poor response rates and who have upcoming promotion reviews could be confident in the results of another semester of online evaluations. She admitted that the hybrid system looked messy, but argued that, for one semester, it would tell faculty that a priority was being placed on their needs. She believed it would be irresponsible of the Senate not to take care of those faculty members who are dependent upon the successful execution of the course evaluation system this semester.
Corcoran asked one of the students in attendance to speak to the idea of requiring evaluations before students can view their grades. The student believed that evaluations will not be useful unless they are of good quality, and she was concerned that students who are in a hurry to see their grades would not write high quality or thoughtful evaluations.
Leebron agreed with the student. He thought that the addition of an opt-out feature would essentially create a system where students who went online to retrieve their grades would be presented with an evaluation form instead. He found irrelevant the issue of whether students want to take time to complete evaluations; both the university and the students have an obligation to evaluate faculty. He found reasonable the student position of disinclination to complete evaluations if students cannot view the results.
Leebron believed that both short and long term problems would result from even a temporary hybrid system. While the arrangement sounded simple, administrative problems and student confusion will likely produce useless information on both the online system and the paper system. He added that people are easily confused by conflicting signals across the campus, and he feared that the proposal for changes this semester would actually have consequences in the semesters to follow.
Leebron thought that last semester’s move to a group incentive system was not a good idea, and he advocated reinstatement of a positive individual incentive system. He reminded the Senate that the question is not what increase in response rate is necessary to reach the original level of responses, but what response rate gives the faculty confidence that the evaluation results are reliable. Leebron would be confident with a response rate of 50%. He thought that with the lessons learned from past semesters and the experiences of other schools, this semester’s response rate would likely be close to 50%.
Leebron fundamentally agreed that obtaining evaluations for faculty under review for promotion must be of primary concern, but he was worried that a hybrid system would create confusion for all constituencies. Corcoran reminded the Senate that total confusion was created during the semester in which the School of Engineering tested online evaluations while the other schools utilized paper evaluations.
Stevenson wanted to make clear that the proposed online system and the recommendation from Levy differed only in format. The proposed system would allow students to opt out of an evaluation by clicking a button, at which point grades would be shown. Levypreferred to require students to click through the evaluation web pages in order to see grades.
Stevenson added that the underlying question is whether the response rate can be improved by prompting students or whether institution of a penalty system will be necessary. For example, Stanford includes a penalty in its system. Stanford allots a certain amount of time for completion of evaluations, and students who do not complete their evaluations during that time period cannot see their grades for an additional two weeks.
Stevenson believed that if students must click through the evaluation web pages, and the evaluation is straightforward and not onerous, Rice students will complete the evaluations. In fact, if history is a guide, approximately 40% of students will have completed their evaluations prior to attempting to check their grades. However, Stevenson wanted to see a demonstration of the quality of the online evaluation before definitively reaching that conclusion.
Stevenson also pointed out that, while the proposed system does not include a penalty, it would give students the ability to view comments, which appears to be of very high value to students. Shah believed that students would fulfill their responsibility of completing the official course evaluations if faculty were willing to allow evaluations to be viewed. Students currently have an independent online system containing course comments that are monitored for racially-motivated or abusive language. The university could implement a similar system with checks and balances.
Students had told Corcoran that, if they were able to see the evaluations, they would gladly put a lot of thought into completing them because they would be helping their fellow students. Peter Mieskowski strongly supported allowing students to see the completed evaluations.
Warren recommended allowing students to see the results of the evaluations only if a certain response rate is achieved. Mieskowski suggested allowing students to see the evaluations only if they complete their own evaluations.
David Tenney, Registrar, reported that the Student Association had started its own system at the same time the university moved to online evaluations. He partially attributed the decline in response rates to students’ desire to see the narrative comments. Tenneyexpected that the Student Association system could and should disappear if narrative comments were made available to students. Students would then focus on only one evaluation system.
Schneider thought the university had been remiss in educating students as to their responsibilities. Faculty members have a responsibility to submit grades on time; students have a responsibility to evaluate courses and instructors. He did not see the completion of course evaluations as an option, but as an obligation and a part of the educational process. Schneider thought that, in the short run, giving students access to evaluations might improve response rates, but he wasn’t sure access would prove to be a long-term incentive. While he did not have any personal objections to sharing his evaluations with students, he was not sure that the information would be as useful as students expected it to be. Corcoran countered that she had read some of the online comments submitted via the student evaluation system, and she found them to be very detailed and full of information.
Jim Young pointed out that students view their access to online published evaluations as helping them navigate the potholes they encounter on the road to graduation. Notably, there is no effective mechanism for institutionally utilizing that information to actually fix the road. Young thought the Senate discussion failed to address that fundamental point.
The evaluation system attempts to address two questions: how to evaluate courses, a process that spans instructors who might be teaching the same course, and how to evaluate teaching effectiveness of instructors, a process that spans courses. Young believed that good student surveys, that ask the right questions and boast good response rates, provide valuable information on both of those questions. However, he also found it unreasonable to evaluate teaching effectiveness solely on the basis of student course evaluations.
The research component of faculty performance is evaluated based on a portfolio containing many items, not just surveys from graduate students. The same type of multi-faceted portfolio should be used to evaluate teaching effectiveness. Young noted that Rice does not utilize many of the evaluation methods that are well-documented through research, books, and papers. He viewed student evaluations as just one part of a teaching effectiveness portfolio. Other possible components include peer evaluations, outside expert evaluations, a statement from the candidate on implementation of ideas, and examples of the instructor’s work and tests. Quantitative evaluations of how students in the class met the objectives of the class, and how the objectives of the class compared to the objectives of other instructors who taught the same course, should also be considered.
Young believed that Rice could greatly improve its system for evaluating teaching effectiveness. To use only student surveys when evaluating someone for tenure or promotion seemed to miss the mark. Young recognized that the entire system could not be changed in one semester, but he encouraged a long-term effort to effect change.
Mieskowski asked why Young did not think that student evaluations, especially over a number of courses, were reasonably effective tools for teaching evaluation. Young clarified that while they might be effective, he did not believe they should be used as the one and only measure.
Corcoran did not think the Senate could reach a conclusion at this meeting, and she asked Tenney by what date a decision was needed. Tenney responded that a decision at the March 28 meeting would be too late to institute for the current semester.
Shah recommended that, for the Spring 2007 evaluations, online evaluations be used for all faculty and the results be made available to students. Corcoran thought a statement should be included about reviewing narrative comments before they are made available to students, but Shah did not think that statement was needed in the motion. Stevenson thought the review process should be discussed by committee.
Levy thought it important to retain the requirement that students be required, at very least, to opt out of evaluations before viewing final grades online; however, the evaluations should be made available long before students seek their grades so that they can complete the evaluations well in advance of that point. Batsell noted that the working group recommended making evaluations available one week before the last day of class. The student suggested that the yield on evaluations completed early might be increased if evaluations were available the second to last week of classes as opposed to the last week of classes.
Harter asked Phil Kortum to address briefly the concerns he had earlier alluded to, with regard to the technical challenges of trying to implement an improved system overnight rather than taking a little more time to work out its details. Phil Kortum responded that his unease stemmed from past experiences with medium-sized information technology projects not meeting their objectives. The Office of the Registrar had been given a relatively short time frame to prepare a moderately complex interface and back-end system build. When the working group spoke with the Registrar, there was not time for sufficient system testing. Kortum was uncomfortable depending upon a system that had not been rigorously tested by users or in the real world, especially given the potential consequences of a third consecutive semester of no teaching evaluations for junior faculty. Although Kortum agreed that the hybrid system lent itself to an ugly process, he found those hurdles preferable to dependence upon a system with the potential to completely collapse.
Levy noted that while the user interface would change, the system has been running for two semesters. Student response had lagged, but in terms of the technical challenge, the system had worked. Kortum thought there would be additional technical challenges, particularly given some of the features of the proposal. Randy Castiglioni, Associate Vice President of Administrative Systems, said that the biggest technical challenge would be the display of student comments, which had not been considered previously.
Schneider expressed concern at the passage of a general motion and recommended that a small group spell out some of the details before a vote. Batsell thought the sentiment was clear and that a vote should go forward. Stern generally supported opening evaluation results to students, but he thought that the details needed additional discussion. Corcoran preferred to vote on the principles and to work out the details later. Levy suggested that some discretion in implementation be left to the Office of the Registrar. Harter advised care in the allowance of discretion, given that evaluations belong so centrally to the faculty as an issue.
Corcoran reminded the Senate that the details are complicated and could not be resolved at this meeting.
Stevenson restated the motion. Course evaluations will be modified in the following ways: (a) evaluations will be available two weeks before the start of finals until two weeks after final grades are due; (b) there will be just one web page per course; (c) students who have not evaluated their courses at the time they check for their grades will be asked to do so at that time and will be given an option to decline to do so if they wish; and, finally, (d) students will be allowed to view evaluation results.
The motion was approved.
V. Adjournment: The meeting was adjourned at 2:05 pm, with the next Faculty Senate meeting scheduled for March 28, 2007.