November 14, 2012

Faculty Senate Meeting - November 14, 2012

Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall

Agenda (and actions taken):

I. Call to order and welcome
II. Announcements; Speaker’s Report
A. Executive Committee Actions
B. New Working Group on Laboratory Safety under discussion
C. New registration process for undergraduates (John Hutchinson, David Tenney)
D. Update on implementation of faculty phased retirement policy (Paula Sanders)
III. Working Group Reports: Interim Report from Working Group on Online Education
IV. New Business: Proposal for a Dual Ph.D. in History between Rice University, USA, and the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil (Approved)

Senators present: David Alexander, Robert Atherholt, Gregory Barnett, Kate Beckingham, Carl Caldwell, David Caprette, Keith Cooper, Scott Cutler, Danijela Damjanovic, Christian Emden, Rebecca Goetz, Jane Grande-Allen, Shirine Hamadeh, Illya Hicks, Christopher Hight, Betty Joseph, Rachel Kimbro, Michael Kohn, Anatoly Kolomeisky, Jonathan Ludwig, Lanny Martin, Fred Oswald, Rob Raphael, Brian Rountree, Stan Sazykin, David Scott, Ruth Lopez Turley, and James Weston.

Senators absent: David Leebron, George McLendon, Helena Michie, Michael Stern, and Moshe Vardi.

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

I. Call to order and welcome

Faculty Senate Speaker Carl Caldwell called the meeting to order at 12:00 p.m. He welcomed the senators and guests.

Barbara Bryson, Associate Vice President for Facilities, Engineering, and Planning, discussed the current United Way Campaign, distributed related information, and encouraged faculty to participate. She said that, along with faculty co-chair Wade Adams, she wished to celebrate the fact that Rice is currently at 69% of its goal. Bryson also discussed the Bright Beginnings Child Care Center, a United Way recipient organization. 

II. Announcements; Speaker’s Report

A. Executive Committee Actions

1. Appointment of members of Working Group on Conflict of Commitment

Chair: James Weston; Members: Pulickel Ajayan, Bob Atherholt, Christian Emden, Fred Oswald, Rob Raphael. The goal is to have a policy in place by spring 2013.

2. Appointment of members of Working Group on Non-Tenure Track Faculty

Chair: Dave Caprette; Members: Beth Beason, Rachel Buchman, Scott Cutler, Jeanne Fischer, Beata Krupa, Jonathan Ludwig, Beverly Mitchell, Ann Saterbak, Stan Sazykin.

The Executive Committee will appoint one further member, from the ranks of tenure track professors, in the near future. A report to the Senate is expected spring 2013.

3. Appointment of members of Working Group on Promotion & Tenure

Chair: Mahmoud El-Gamal; Members: Betty Joseph, Ben Kamins, Elizabeth Long, Kathy Matthews, Vikas Mittal, Kyriacos Zygourakis.

Two phases of work to be done: this fall, a review of the structure of the Promotion & Tenure Committee; and by the end of spring 2013, a review of the guidelines.

4. Approval of the following resolution:

"On November 1, 2012, the Graduate Council unanimously approved waiving the residence requirement (1 full-time semester - 9 hours minimum enrollment) for all the Professional Science Master’s Programs in Natural Sciences and Engineering. We did not judge this change to be substantial and recommended that it be done administratively by the OGPS with the approval of the Senate Executive Committee."

B. New Working Group on Laboratory Safety under discussion

Caldwell explained that the Senate is in the process of setting up a working group to address safety concerns in laboratories at Rice. Michael Wong has agreed to chair the committee. A report is due to the Senate by the end of spring 2013.

C. New registration process for undergraduates

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson reported to the Senate that the new registration system currently being used by undergraduates was designed to alleviate inequities in the previous system, as well as reduce the stress students felt from that system’s short time frame. Hutchinson said that under the old system, students with fewer Advanced Placement (AP) credits were disadvantaged, and this issue became problematic as students arrived at Rice with more and more AP credits. Using the new “shopping cart” system, students are randomized within each priority group. Hutchinson stated that Rice students experienced a 75% success rate in registering for their first choice of classes.

Registrar David Tenney said that, for the first time, faculty members can go into Esther, select “Course Demand,” and see how many students expressed interest in a class. Tenney said that “super seniors” are not as happy with the new system, while students studying abroad are very happy; the 11-day registration period has greatly reduced their stress level.

D. Update on implementation of Faculty Phased Retirement Policy

Paula Sanders, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, discussed implementation of the Faculty Phased Retirement Policy. She said that information packets have been received by the faculty members who are eligible for phased retirement as of July 1, 2013, including a chart, required by law, which states the age and school of all Rice faculty members who are eligible in the first cohort. Sanders offered to show the chart to any faculty member who is interested. She also said that the deadline to sign up is April 30, 2013.

Sanders presented to the senators the following screen shot from the Rice University website which allows faculty to easily find more information (note red circle)


faculty researchers

Please go to this website for more information:

III. Interim report from the Working Group on Online Education (Including Coursera)

Caldwell said that a conversation has not yet occurred at Rice regarding online education, and one is needed. He cited other universities whose faculty are also grappling with the issue. He introduced David Alexander, Chair of the Working Group on Online Education, whom Caldwell said has been working very hard, along with the entire working group.

Alexander had made available to senators prior to the meeting the working group’s interim report. He said that he had received some comments about the length of the report, but he said it was important to include as much information as they had. He thanked his group for their work and stated their names: Margaret Beier, John Greiner, Don Johnson, Karen Ostherr, and Fred Oswald. Alexander said that the working group will wait to make its recommendation until the spring semester because there is still information that needs to be gathered and because the issue has not been discussed broadly with the Rice faculty yet.

Alexander noted that the administration has formed an implementation working group, which includes Kathy Collins, Bill Glick, John Hutchinson, Caroline Levander, Don Morrison, and Matt Taylor, as well as Alexander and Caldwell. Alexander said that John Cornwell, Associate Vice President, Office of Institutional Effectiveness, will be meeting with this group in December to discuss the important issue of accreditation.

Alexander said that the working group will try to have its recommendation ready in the spring semester, and he noted that if the Senate is going to request that Rice invest in online education, the deadline is February 2013 for the next academic year’s budget.

Alexander then made the following presentation: “Models of Online Education under Discussion at Rice University—Rationales, Values, Costs, and Benefits.”

Following the slide presentation, Caroline Levander, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Initiatives, spoke on behalf of the administration, and she distributed a letter from President Leebron. Levander said that the working group did a careful, thorough job in preparing the interim report. She also said that there are lots of different answers as to how technology enhances education. She predicted that there would be a price to be paid if Rice moves too quickly, but also if it moves too slowly.

Levander also distributed a chart which showed the various options that Rice has been considering regarding online education. She said that Rice signed on to be a partner with Coursera in the summer. In addition, she said that Rice has been approached by 2U, both for an exclusive professional master’s in engineering and for an undergraduate program called Semester Online, and by edX. She said that any announcement regarding Rice joining a consortium will be delayed until the faculty can discuss the issue.

Caldwell then addressed the Senate, stating these three points:

1. There are serious discussions with online providers occurring now, which, in some cases, would involve Rice students taking courses for credit.

2. There are serious discussions occurring now regarding online master’s programs.

3. Questions exist regarding funding, both for support/production of these courses, and also for a different kind of funding; if courses are offered online, what does that do to the courses being offered in that department on campus?

Following the presentation, a question and answer session was held.

Question from a senator: What opportunities will Rice miss if we do not act quickly?

Answer (Alexander): That is a good question; it depends on the platform. Rice will not miss much with Coursera. Regarding 2U, the common consensus is that the professional master’s programs are the only programs that will make money. If 2U were to go elsewhere, Rice could lose out. Regarding Semester Online, it is an association; a consortium of universities with which we would like to be associated. Regarding edX, which is fairly new, it has a goal of focusing on quality. Rice could miss out being in this elite group. This notion of being part of an elite group is attractive, but note that even though Rice was one of the first universities to sign up with Coursera, we are not mentioned in their literature.

Question: These are for-profit organizations; how does that balance with non-profit universities, such as Rice? And have their business models been vetted by Rice?

Answer (Kathy Collins): Any revenue coming to Rice would be in the form of tuition and/or fees, which do not present a problem. Regarding transparency, 2U has been the most transparent about their financial model. We will have a conference call with the Chief Financial Officer tomorrow regarding the professional master’s program. In addition, our Investments Office will review all proposals. Bill Glick, Dean of the Jones School of Business, is on the committee; he can assist in the review of the business models and he may include other faculty members from the business school.

Question: I have not heard a lot of discussion about how these online models improve learning. I can see how online tools might complement what we do in the classroom, but I cannot see using them as a substitute.

Alexander: Both working groups are keeping in mind this issue; we are not going to recommend jumping in just because there may be money down the line. While potential revenue is a factor, it should not be the driving factor.

Caldwell: The concern expressed about teaching is also a concern about our basic principles. Undergraduate education at Rice is front and center in our discussions. We are setting up the Center for Teaching Excellence, and it must include discussions beyond merely online education. Our interest in pedagogy goes beyond one specific technology.

Comment: I do not think that these companies are coming to us to improve education at Rice; they are coming to make money through “Rice-lite” credits.

Morrison: Just about every school participating in Coursera says that their primary reason for participating is to improve education. EdX is non-profit and states that their main goal is to use improved pedagogy for their students.

Comment: What Rice offers students is the in-classroom experience; I am skeptical; this thought of online courses makes me nervous.

Alexander: No faculty member thinks that this external model is going to improve education (in general), but these are platforms which may, in some circumstances, help you teach your class better. What we have to protect ourselves against is being forced down a certain road. I am less worried than I was previously that someone will convince the Rice administration to buy into something that we do not want. What we have to do is define what we want.

Comment: I would like to have more perspective before we commit to something. We have not even finished one Coursera class yet. I would like to learn which model works best; we can always jump into another one later.

Question: I am concerned as to the number of students involved; how do we provide the manpower to meet with them each week? I have heard of pseudo-instructors being used.

Alexander: Your class of 20 might have additional sections of 20 students added by 2U until there are 100 students, but because each section is small, a teaching assistant could be provided for each section—they have a staff of over 200 people.

Comment: I know of a professor whose lectures are presented online by an actor!

Question: The discussions have been very abstract. Could the working group present scenarios which would give us a more tangible feeling for how online teaching versus on-campus teaching would work?

Alexander: This is not possible because there are so many scenarios. It is ultimately up to the professor to determine how to teach his/her class. Nobody’s forcing us to teach a Coursera class of 100,000 students, with Rice becoming a virtual campus. This discussion is about us deciding what we want to do; which tools we want to use.

Question: What about questions regarding copyright issues?

Alexander: Yes, copyright and intellectual property rights are very big issues, and we have not even touched on certification issues.

Caldwell: That is an interesting question; what is an online course? Is it intellectual property? Is it research, teaching, or a third category? Even Stanford is having big arguments about who owns these online products.

Question: How do students choose where to take their classes? Can they choose a specific Rice course?

Alexander: It depends on the specific platform. In one example, if Rice could not accommodate a large introductory class, the overflow students might be sent to another school in the group, such as Notre Dame. One idea is that the students will choose where to take their classes, and those choices might be based on social media.

Comment: The lectures in some schools at Rice are highly visual, using images of art or architecture from around the world. One of the potential benefits might be that Rice students on campus could collaborate with off-campus “Rice” students. We might consider the external vs. internal audience.

Alexander: There is a lot to consider. In a way, we are reacting to a behemoth. I’m not sure that is what is really happening; the working group is trying to stay above that level.

Comment: We are talking as though this is a forgone conclusion; that it is something we must do. This situation can be compared to preparing for a coming tidal wave. I hope that the working group has a way to prepare Rice so that if it comes, we are successful.

Alexander: One good thing about the decision to join Coursera is that now we are having a serious discussion about online education at Rice. One development from the Rice 2032 discussions was the desire to improve teaching on the Rice campus. We are not invested in any of these platforms; we are only invested in Rice. Feel free to be part of the fire hose. It is important for us to hear what you have to say, and we will try to answer any questions that you have. Either post your comments on the wiki space or get in contact with us. You are welcome to meet with the committee.

Question: Is there the potential to host town hall sessions, perhaps school-by-school?

Caldwell: It has been hard to have such conversations up to now due to the complexity of the issue. It is time to go back and read the report again, not looking for which model to choose, but starting with the principles of Rice. Second, we need to start looking at models, comparing their pros and cons.

Next steps: hold town halls in January, release the interim report to the rest of the faculty, and it is key that you senators involve your constituents. In my opinion, all options are open.

The assembled senators and guests applauded David Alexander and the working group for their efforts.

IV. New Business: Proposal for a Dual Ph.D. in History between Rice University, USA, and the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil

Alida Metcalf (History) described the proposal for a dual Ph.D. in History to be administered by Rice and the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP), which was distributed to the senators during the week prior to the meeting. Metcalf said that the program would be an exciting way for the History department at Rice to become much more international. She noted that the proposal had been accepted by the prestigious Brazilian university, which was now waiting for the Rice University Faculty Senate’s approval.

John Olson, Chair of the Graduate Council, stated that the proposal was highly vetted and then approved by the Graduate Council using the newly-adopted dual degree requirements.

There were a few questions from senators following the presentation. One question was why this proposal is for a dual degree instead of a joint degree. Metcalf said that a joint degree would mean that the course work was divided between two campuses. The dual degree means that the student will do all of the work normally done at one campus, plus he/she will complete additional work at the second university. She said that the Ph.D. students in this program will be subjected to higher standards, with one result being more career options when completed. To view the proposal, please use this link: Dual Degree in History.

The proposal had been moved and seconded by the Executive Committee for approval by the full Senate. The Senate then voted on the proposal, with the majority voting for approval and one abstention.

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