March 30, 2016

Faculty Senate Meeting

March 30, 2016

Grand Hall of the Rice Memorial Center

Senate Meeting Agenda (and actions taken):

I. Call to Order

II. Announcements

A. Working Group on Distance Education and the Rice Experience

B. Update from the Nominations and Elections Committee

C. Update regarding the Rice Bookstore

D. Announcements from the floor

III. New Business

A. Proposed Graduate Major Concentrations in Economics and Business (Approved)

B. Proposal to change the name of MS in Nanoscale Physics to MS in Nanoscale Science (Approved)

C. Rice University’s Strategic Plan for Accessibility (Endorsed)

D. Discussion of proposed additional graduation date of August 31

E. Discussion of proposed limit on credit hours per semester

IV. Adjourn

Senators present: David Alexander, Graham Bader, Kate Beckingham, David Caprette, Daniel Cohen, Scott Cutler, Jerry Dickens, Claire Fanger, Julie Fette, Jeffrey Fleisher, Charles Geyer, Michael Kohn, Anatoly Kolomeisky, Jonathan Ludwig, Susan McIntosh, Luay Nakhleh, Brian Rountree, Stan Sazykin, Laura Segatori, and James Weston.

Senators absent: Robert Atherholt, Gwen Bradford, Keith Cooper, Michael Diehl, Christopher Hight, Illya Hicks, Rachel Kimbro, Marek Kimmel, David Leebron, Marie Lynn Miranda, Timothy Morton, Stephan Motowidlo, Kerry Ward, and Michael Wolf.

To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email


I. Call to Order

Speaker James Weston called the meeting to order at 12:00 p.m. He welcomed the assembled senators and guests to the meeting.

II. Announcements

A. Working Group on Distance Education and the Rice Experience

Weston explained that the Executive Committee has approved the formation of a Senate working group to define the boundaries and definitions regarding how digital education is included in the Rice experience. Weston said that with Rice now offering online courses for credit, it is important for the faculty to consider the issue. He said that the working group would need a chairperson, and he asked that interested faculty members contact him or Deputy Speaker Rachel Kimbro.

B. Update from Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC)

Jeff Fleisher, a member of the NEC, said that the Senate election in the School of Humanities would end today, and that all election results would be announced to the faculty on Monday, April 4. He also said that the next task for the NEC is the staffing of faculty members to serve on University Committees, with recommendations sent to President Leebron by June 1, and appointment letters issued by July 1, 2016.

C. Update regarding the Rice University Bookstore

Kevin Kirby, Vice President for Administration, said that Rice’s contract with Barnes and Noble is up for renewal. He said that the committee reviewing the bookstore has seen presentations from several vendors over the past few months and a new contract is now under negotiation. Kirby discussed the methods in which Rice students currently purchase textbooks, including digital, used, and rental textbooks. He said that he expects a physical change to occur in the bookstore over the summer. Claire Fanger said that the undergraduate and graduate students on the committee provided valuable insight as to how students use the bookstore.

D. Announcements from the floor – none

III. New Business

A. Proposed Graduate Major Concentrations in Economics and Business

Weston stated that in last month’s Senate meeting, the “Guidelines for Graduate Major Concentrations” was approved. He said that the proposed graduate major concentrations in Economics and Business are the first to be considered under the new policy. He asked Antonio Merlo, chair of the Department of Economics, to describe the proposal.

Merlo stated that the Department of Economics has worked with the Jones Graduate School of Business to design graduate major concentrations for two existing Ph.D. programs: for the Ph.D. in Economics, the Major Concentration of Economics and Finance; for the Ph.D. in Business, the Major Concentration of Economics and Finance. Merlo said that the goal is to create improved opportunities for students from both areas to distinguish themselves. He said that whether the students are coming from Economics or Business, the graduate major concentration would provide positive benefits, and without cost to the university. Weston and Brian Rountree also spoke in favor of the proposed graduate major concentrations.

The Senate then voted to approve the proposal, with one abstention. Please see: Graduate Major Concentrations in Economics and Finance.

B. Proposal to change the Professional Master’s Degree in Nanoscale Physics to a Professional Master’s Degree in Nanoscale Science

Weston explained that while the proposal is for a change in name only, it requires approval from the Faculty Senate. He read aloud an explanatory email from Dagmar Beck, Director of the Professional Master’s Engineering and Science Programs:

“The name change has been discussed for a while now, and at the recent Board of Affiliates Meeting the board members again encouraged us to change it, as the degree has many focus areas including Nano-bio, Nano-Materials, Nano-engineering, Photonics Micro-fabrication, Image Sensing, Medical devices, Sensor Systems, Semi-conductor development, Signal Processing, and Lasers. The board thought a “broader" name would describe the degree better and would also help in attracting more applicants to the program, commenting that in areas as diverse as designing medical diagnostic devices to building better batteries, from creating cosmetics to enhancing energy efficient windows, from auto and plane manufacturing to researching the nature of matter itself, knowledge of nanoscale science and technology will be increasingly important during upcoming years and decades.”

The Senate voted unanimously to approve the proposed name change.

C. Rice University’s Strategic Plan for Accessibility

Josh Eyler, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, and Alan Russell, Director of Disability Support Services, presented Rice University’s Strategic Plan for Accessibility. Eyler explained that the strategic plan includes three areas: 1) Best Practices of Universal Design for Learning, 2) Information Technology, and 3) the Rice University website/web assets. Eyler said that while many organizations form their accessibility plans reactively, the Rice plan would be proactive.

Russell said that many more disabled students are attending elite universities today, and that Rice wants to remove as many barriers as possible for these students. He noted that most students with a disability do not look like they have one, and that only half of these students will self-identify to faculty members. Russell said that it is thus even more important to not only remove obstacles for students’ learning, but to have access features built into the system. He also discussed important safety concerns for disabled students.

Claire Fanger asked about the cost of implementing the Strategic Plan for Accessibility. Eyler acknowledged that decisions for implementation would have to be made based on costs and other considerations.

Weston said that the Executive Committee suggested in its most recent meeting that the Senate could vote to endorse the plan. There was a motion to endorse, seconded, and the Senate voted unanimously to endorse the plan. Please view the Strategic Plan for Accessibility and related documents.

D. Proposal to establish an August 31 Graduation Date

Weston explained that the Rice faculty currently approve the degrees for undergraduate and graduate students twice per year in plenary sessions of the faculty held each May and January. He said that students who complete their studies during the summer months must wait until the January plenary session to receive their degrees. Weston added that one publication that ranks universities uses the August 31 graduation date as one of its parameters, and Rice is hurt by this practice. He reviewed several possibilities for a solution to this issue, such as an additional plenary session in August. He also asked the assembled senators if faculty approval of degrees in any plenary session is necessary.

Jerry Dickens said that the plenary sessions are pro-forma; no one ever objects to a proposed graduate. However, David Alexander noted some positives to the current procedure, saying that it prevents abuse.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Paula Sanders stated that not only is it important for students who finish their studies in the summer to have their degree timely, but that it is especially important for international students. She noted that many universities have four conferral dates throughout the year.

Weston summarized the comments from the discussion: the Senate wants the faculty to retain a check on the procedure (not delegate it to the administration), but this check could be delegated to the Faculty Senate instead of requiring a plenary session of the full faculty. No action was taken at this time.

E. Discussion of proposed limit on credit hours per semester

Weston asked that the Senate discuss the report from the University Committee for the Undergraduate Curriculum (CUC) regarding a proposed limit on credit hours per semester.

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson explained that currently, students are allowed to take 20 hours per semester, but they may petition to take up to 24 hours. He said that the proposal is to allow 17 hours per semester for first year students, 18 hours per semester for continuing students, and a hard cap of 21. Hutchinson said that the request to limit hours came from his conversations with students who feel pressure to outdo each other in the number of hours taken, a situation that one student called “The Rice Bubble.” Hutchinson said that the consequences of taking too many hours is detrimental to student success in those courses, as well as detrimental to the students’ physical health and mental well-being.

Hutchinson said that he thus approached the CUC with a request to limit the number of credit hours allowed per semester. The CUC formed a subcommittee to review the issue. Hutchinson described the research done by the subcommittee, which included comparing Rice with peer universities; reviewing the number of courses that Rice students take (by school, by year, by major, etcetera); and reviewing the level of stress reported by Rice students in the annual survey. Hutchinson also discussed in detail the rate at which students drop courses throughout the semester.

Hutchinson said that Rice has created not just the possibility, but an incentive for students to sign up for too many courses by: 1) allowing them to sign up for 20 credit hours without petition, 2) charging the same rate for 20 hours as for 12, and 3) allowing a very late drop deadline. To view the report, please see CUC Report on Recommendations regarding Semester Credit Hours Limits.

Weston asked CUC Chair Susan McIntosh if she wished to add to Hutchinson’s comments. McIntosh said that the student representatives on the CUC were asked to attend a recent Student Association (SA) meeting to discuss the issue. They reported that the SA seemed to be positive to neutral regarding the 17-hour limit for freshmen, but there was more resistance for the 18-hour limit for continuing students. McIntosh noted that the Senate EC proposed implementing the plan beginning with new students matriculating in Fall 2016; returning students would not be affected. She said that the residential colleges also conducted surveys, which may not have indicated the Fall 2016 start, but the results of their surveys indicate concerns among the students regarding 1- and 2-credit courses, certain kinds of internships, and the petition process.

Regarding the petition process, Dean Hutchinson said that he currently requires students to have a very good reason to exceed the 20-hour per semester limit, and that students are concerned that he will be similarly strict about exceeding the proposed limit of 17/18 hours per semester. He said that he did not expect to be as strict.

Hutchinson was asked if there has been any discussion about changing Rice’s late drop deadline. He replied that there was an effort to tweak the deadlines two years ago, and it did not succeed. He predicted that if corrections were made to any of the three factors cited above, positive change would occur.

A discussion among the assembled senators and faculty ensued, especially regarding the possible effect on engineering students, who need 132-134 total hours for graduation. Hutchinson said that even engineering students could achieve the required total number of hours by taking 17/18 hours per semester.

One faculty member noted that the current interest in outside learning activities puts pressure on classroom activities, and she recommended that faculty members speak up regarding the value of in-class learning.

A college master discussed the problems that occur for students who overload on courses, whether by seeking double majors or by trying to graduate with 150 hours. He said that they cannot participate in outside activities and are thus missing the full Rice experience.

One senator asked that a review of the distribution course system occur. He also requested that a school be allowed to petition that certain programs be exempt from the proposed limits, such as the exemption allowed for the Shepherd School of Music students.

Another senator asked if research-for-credit would be exempt from the proposed limits. Hutchinson said that research is part of the curriculum and should not be excluded from the proposal.

A faculty member asked if the overload problem might be solved without the proposed limits, but instead with a reduction in the number of double and triple majors and minors. Hutchinson said that a reduction in double majors would have to be legislative; advising students against this practice has not worked. One senator gave an example of several courses that are cross-listed. She said that a beneficial double major could thus be achieved without undue pressure.

Registrar David Tenney stated that many universities require the students to pay an additional fee when taking more than 15 credit hours per semester. He said that if Rice had such a fee, it might be able to avoid the current situation where students sign up for many credit hours and then drop several courses later in the semester.

An engineering faculty member expressed his concern with the proposed limits, citing a current 3-hour course that will become a 4-hour course in the fall. He said that this change would require that at least some of the freshmen engineering students would be required to take 18 hours per semester.

McIntosh suggested that if the students are concerned about the petition process, perhaps the requests could be handled through their faculty advisors. She said that this method could allow the engineering faculty to oversee the petitions of engineering students. She noted that students have indicated that they would like more advising that is not peer advising. Hutchinson said that if the faculty advisors would like to take on this task and would take it seriously, it would be fine to decentralize the petition process.

The final question was regarding the different limits being proposed for freshmen versus continuing students. Hutchinson referred again to the “Rice Bubble.” He said that one goal of the proposal is to change the mindset of the students, and that starting with a lower cap on freshmen might help. In addition, he said that for many students, Rice is their first time in such a competitive school and their first time away from home.

Weston said that the Faculty Senate has the responsibility to consider what is right for the university. He said that the CUC and Executive Committee would consider the issue again, and perhaps the Senate would vote on the issue in its April 2016 meeting.

The meeting was adjourned at 1:45 p.m.