March 25, 2015

Faculty Senate Meeting - March 25, 2015
Founder’s Room of Lovett Hall

Senate Meeting Agenda (and actions taken):

I. Call to Order

II. Announcements

III. Reports from Officers and Standing Committees
Nominations & Elections Committee Update

IV. Working Group Reports
Proposals from the Working Group on the Academic Calendar (Approved)

V. New Business

A. Proposed Minor in Environmental Studies (Approved)

B. Proposed Certificate in the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (Approved)

Senators present: David Alexander,Robert Atherholt, Kate Beckingham, Gwen Bradford, David Caprette, Daniel Cohen, Keith Cooper, Scott Cutler, Erik Dane, Michael Diehl, Claire Fanger, Julie Fette, Jeffrey Fleisher, Illya Hicks, Betty Joseph, Rachel Kimbro, Michael Kohn, Anatoly Kolomeisky, David Leebron, Jonathan Ludwig, Susan Lurie, Susan McIntosh, Fred Oswald, Brian Rountree, Laura Segatori, James Weston, and Michael Wolf.

Senators absent: Jerry Dickens, Christopher Hight, Marek Kimmel (Philip Ernst substituting), George McLendon, Timothy Morton, Luay Nakhleh, and Stan Sazykin.

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

I. Call to Order

Speaker James Weston called the meeting to order at 12:05 p.m. He welcomed the assembled senators and guests to the meeting.

II. Announcements

III. Report from Officers and Standing Committees
Deputy Speaker’s Report: Update on Nominations and Elections Committee

  • First phase of Senate Elections is complete
  • Two electronic elections begin today: NTT-Teaching and TT-Humanities
  • Full list of new senators to be presented at April meeting
  • Form sent yesterday to all faculty regarding service on University Committees, due to Senate April 7
  • Goal is to staff the committees, seek approval from President Leebron, and notify faculty before July 1

IV. Working Group Reports
Recommendations from the Working Group on the Academic Calendar

Working group chair Mike Wolf said that the working group was originally asked to consider possible alignment of Rice University’s 2017 spring break with the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) spring break. Wolf listed the members of the original working group: Elaine Britt, David Tenney, John Casbarian, Kristi Kincaid, Luis Duno-Gottberg, and Aishwarya Thakur. Wolf said that at the request of President Leebron, the group was later asked to consider a two-week spring break that would include a week of scheduled activities. He listed the members of the Working Group on the Two Week Spring Break: David Tenney, Luis Duno-Gottberg, Julie Fette, Marcia O’Malley, Stan Dodds, and Aishwarya Thakur.

Wolf presented the working group’s proposed Rice University academic calendar for Spring 2017He said that he was 80% confident that the HISD 2017 spring break would occur on the week indicated on the proposed calendar. Wolf said that in his conversations with HISD personnel, he was told that the HISD spring break would occur on the second or third week of March, as do the spring breaks of all schools in the surrounding districts. Wolf noted that all area school districts cannot schedule the same spring break as it would overload childcare facilities. Wolf went on to describe the process used by the working group to determine the proposed calendar, including reviewing exam schedules, the two-day spring recess, and the half-semester courses taught at Rice. Wolf pointed out that the new calendar allowed for a two day 'mini-reading-period' at the end of the fifth week of classes, allowing students to prepare for midterms that cluster near the beginning of the sixth week. He felt that this new calendar better aligned with the rhythm of the academic semester than the old calendar.

Dave Caprette acknowledged that there would be winners and losers if the proposed calendar were adopted, and he said that his BioSciences students would be among the losers. He explained that 7-week lab courses are taught to this large group of students, which is 15-20% of the entering class. He said that the department is constrained by high student enrollment and limited lab space; the faculty must thus teach multiple lab courses each semester. Rice’s current spring break occurs immediately after the seventh week of classes, but the spring break on the proposed calendar would cause a week-long interruption during one of the 7-week sessions. Caprette also noted that the proposed calendar includes the two-day spring recess. He asked why the Senate has not addressed the fact that the spring semester is three days shorter than the fall semester.

Kate Beckingham asked if the spring semester could start just one week later and leave spring break as it is currently scheduled. Wolf replied that the working group found that although students wanted a longer winter break, there were many things to consider. He said that, for example, many people on the committee thought it was important to begin the semester on a Monday and end it on a Friday. Wolf said that, in the future, he hoped that the university could address the lengthy amount of time between the end of classes, finals, and commencement.

President Leebron said that regarding commencement, he was not in favor of holding it any later in the year than it currently occurs, due to the weather. He said that another consideration is the length of the summer break for student opportunities. However, he said that the university could adapt to any calendar.

Michael Diehl stated that he has never able to leave campus during Rice’s spring break because his children’s school is in session during that time. He said that he has found it beneficial to be on campus working in his lab with graduate students while there are no Rice classes in session. He said he calls the period the “research spring break,” and he advocated that Rice keep its current spring break schedule.

Gwen Bradford questioned Wolf’s previous statement about it being necessary to start the semester on a Monday; Wolf agreed that no one had articulated any clear reason why this should be true. He pointed out that the architects have a weeklong review at the end of the semester, and they preferred not to interrupt that with a weekend. Keith Cooper noted that sometimes in the past, the semesters started on Wednesdays. Weston asked that the senators avoid proposing alternate calendars at this time. He noted that a proposed calendar had been presented by the working group. There was a motion to approve the proposed Spring 2017 calendar, and it was seconded.

Susan McIntosh asked if the working group knew the number of students that would be negatively affected by the proposed calendar. Wolf said that there are 15 courses, consisting of 24 sections, and that only two would be academically impacted. Caprette wished to correct this statement, saying that there are six classes in his department alone that would be negatively affected. Wolf also discussed the possible effect that the timing of the spring break could have on students in the Schools of Architecture and Music.

Deputy Speaker Rachel Kimbro said that after the Senate’s Executive Committee (EC) had discussed the winners and losers at length, it voted unanimously in favor of the proposed calendar. Speaker Weston noted that the comments by faculty on the Senate’s wiki space were 12 to 1 in favor of aligning Rice’s spring break with HISD’s spring break. The Senate voted to approve the proposed Spring 2017 calendar, with 20 members voting for approval, four opposed, and no abstentions.

Wolf then presented information on the two-week spring break option. He said that the directive from the university administration was for the first week to consist of learning opportunities, called the “Spring Activities Period” (SAP), while the second week would be the spring break. Wolf said that the administration has also requested that student participation in SAP be mandatory, that the semester not begin any earlier nor end any sooner, and that the number of class days remain the same as the current calendar.

Wolf said that faculty members might immediately worry about the time spent away from classes using a two-week break, but he asked them to consider the two presentations from today’s meeting from the SA and the QET, in which alternative learning experiences were advocated. Wolf presented a list of activity ideas gathered from various constituencies. He also noted that many peer institutions offer a winter session for students.

Wolf listed some concerns from the working group about the two-week break option, especially the directive that participation in SAP be mandatory. He also said that final exams would end on May 10, and graduation would occur on May 12. This schedule could present a problem knowing for certain which students will graduate and for determining Latin Honors. Wolf and others present noted that there is considerable opposition to the current practice of announcing Latin Honors at commencement. Wolf presented a sample budget for the two-week break.

Finally, Wolf presented the “Summary Recommendations”from the Working Group on the Two Week Spring Break. He noted that the last recommendation is to provide a transition period between the one-week spring 2017 break and the possible two-week 2018 break.

Scott Cutler suggested that the two-week block be a period that could be moved if needed, for example, to the start of the spring semester. Weston said that consideration of that idea was possible; the new working group proposed in the recommendations would be broadly charged.

David Alexander said that if the SAP were mandatory, the university would have to provide opportunities, making it mandatory for faculty, as well. Wolf said that the working group considered this question, including compensation for faculty who might spend 170 hours during a week-long trip with his/her students.

President Leebron said that after a five to ten year period, the university could pull away from the mandatory feature of SAP. He also suggested that seniors could be exempt from SAP, while the freshman SAP experience could be a unifying activity. Other options he mentioned included non-mandatory research or travel opportunities for an extended two-week experience. Cutler noted that some students might wish to participate in an opportunity from one teacher the first week and from another teacher the second week.

Leebron said that he disagreed with the budget estimates, but he said that he agreed with the working group overall. He said that as the nature of higher education changes, this is a way for Rice to adapt. Leebron said that when the Faculty Senate created minors, faculty-centered creativity was unleashed, and he predicted the same thing would happen with the extended break. He also said that the chance for Rice’s spring break to align with the spring break enjoyed by the children of faculty would be maximized with a two-week Rice break.

There was a motion to endorse the “Summary Recommendations” from the working group, and it was seconded. The senators present voted to endorse the recommendations, with one abstention.

V. New Business

A. Proposed Minor in Environmental Studies

Dominic Boyer (Anthropology) discussed the proposed interdisciplinary minor in Environmental Studies. He said that strong support exists among students and faculty regarding study of the environment, and the proposed minor was based on the minors offered at peer institutions, as well as other minors offered at Rice. Regarding funding of the program, Boyer said that one new core course is being created with A1 funds. He thanked Susan McIntosh, chair of the CUC, for her help with the proposal.

Weston said that the proposal was approved by the CUC and the EC. A senator moved to approve the proposal, and the motion was seconded. The Senate then voted unanimously for approval. Please see: Minor in Environmental Studies.

B. Proposed Certificate in the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality

Weston said that a Certificate in the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (SWGS) has been awarded to students for some time, but after the Senate approved the guidelines document for the creation of certificates, the SWGS certificate needed approval from the Senate. There was a motion to approve the certificate, it was seconded, and the Senate voted unanimously for approval. Please see: SWGS Certificate.

The meeting was adjourned at 1:55 p.m.