November 28, 2007

Minutes of the Faculty Senate of Rice University

Wednesday, November 28, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

Founder’s Room, Lovett Hall


I. Announcements

II. Nominations and Elections (Mike Stern)

III. Academic Calendar (Evan Siemann)

IV. Rice’s Environmental/Sustainability Program

(Kevin Kirby and Richard Johnson)

V. General Admissions

Senators present: Deborah Harter (Speaker), Mike Stern (Deputy Speaker), Randy Batsell, Ed Cox, Steven Cox, Christian Emden, Michael Emerson, John Hempel, Tom Killian, Philip Kortum, Eugene Levy (ex officio), Peter Mieszkowski, Nancy Niedzielski, Matteo Pasquali, Dale Sawyer, Gautami Shah, Evan Siemann, Meredith Skura, Randy Stevenson, Duane Windsor, Jim Young.

Senators absent: John Casbarian, Michael Deem, Rebekah Drezek, Matthias Henze, Brian Huberman, Ben Kamins, David Leebron (ex officio), Robert Raphael, James Weston.

Total attendance: Approximately 35


A verbatim recording of the proceedings is available by calling the Faculty Senate office at 713-348-5630.

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I. Announcements

Deborah Harter (Speaker) called the meeting to order and introduced Chris Munoz from the Rice Admissions Office who informed the Senate that he was not ready to report on the subject of athletics admissions as previously planned. This information will instead be presented at the January 2008 Faculty Senate meeting.

Harter announced the Senate schedule for Spring 2008 and distributed a list of dates for the various meetings, also available on the Senate’s website.

In other announcements Harter:

  • Reported that John Cornwell, Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, will give the Senate a quick update regarding the SACS report at the January 2008 meeting.
  • Informed the Senate of a recommendation from the Executive Committee regarding Mary Vickers who was a Rice student many years ago. Vickers received an advanced degree at YaleUniversity, but was never awarded her Rice undergraduate degree. The Executive Committee’s recommendation was to award Vickers the degree, but said it must be approved by the faculty in an upcoming plenary meeting.
  • Recognized the officers of the Rice Student Association who were in attendance at the meeting and said they have done a great job this year. The Student Association, she added, has said they would be delighted to poll their constituents to see which minors being considered by the faculty would appeal to the students.
  • Announced that Carl Caldwell will soon propose changes to the current Rice policy of faculty approval for student extracurricular events during finals week. EX&S feels that the current system does not work well. The proposed new policy should be ready for presentation at the January 2008 Faculty Senate meeting.
  • And brought the Senate up to date on the initiative first introduced at the August 2008 Faculty Senate meeting with regard to the rehiring of upper administrators. At the August meeting, the president and provost said they would draft a policy proposal. Harter said this proposal will be shown to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker by the end of the current semester, to the Executive Committee in January 2008, and then to the full Senate at their January meeting.

II. Nominations and Elections

Mike Stern (Deputy Speaker) announced that the following persons were selected to serve on the 2008 Nominations and Elections committee, with Stern as the Chair, and he asked for Senate approval. The three members appointed by the Speaker are Robert Raphael, Peter Mieszkowski, and Christian Emden. The five members to be approved by the Senate are Matthias Henze, John Casbarian, Phil Kortum, James Weston, and Evan Siemann. Randy Stevenson made a motion that the Senate accept this slate as presented,Matteo Pasquali seconded the motion, and all present voted in the affirmative.

III. Academic Calendar

Harter thanked the Academic Calendar Committee for their tremendous work on the calendar project and stated that she liked the idea of a system with guidelines than can be used for future calendars indefinitely. She encouraged the Senators to focus on big picture questions so that the discussion not get bogged down in details. She also said the Senate could wait as late as the January 2008 meeting to decide which calendar proposal Rice should adopt.

Evan Siemann was introduced and he presented two proposals: Plan A and Plan B, which are identical except that Plan B does not include the traditional two-day Spring Recess. Siemann stated that the committee kept Rice students’ priorities in mind when designing the calendar proposals, especially the rule regarding the number of exams per day and the two-day Spring recess. However, he stated that the Spring Recess causes pedagogical problems for many lab classes. In fact, many lab classes at Rice currently meet during the Spring recess because of this. Siemann stated that if Plan A is adopted (which contains the recess), it will need to be made very clear to the students that Rice allows classes to meet during the recess when necessary, and some will indeed meet during this time. He suggested this information be on the syllabus that is distributed to students the first day of class. Harter and Stern indicated it could even be listed in the course catalog.

A discussion followed regarding the number of instructional days per semester. Siemann explained that these plans allow for 70 days in the Fall semester, and 67 (Plan A) or 69 (Plan B) for the Spring. When peer academic institutions are compared, the number of instructional days per semester vary from 65 (MIT) to 70 (Duke, Yale).

Siemann stated that one item the Academic Calendar Committee considered was the negative effect shortened weeks have on certain classes, especially those that conduct labs. An effort was made to have as many full weeks on the calendar as possible. Randy Stevenson stated that he understood the desire for full weeks, but wondered why Rice couldn’t have 14 or 15 weeks instead of 16, even though that schedule might produce 65 days per semester. Siemann replied that Rice has traditionally offered 69 days of instruction per semester and reducing that to 65 would be quite a change.

Jim Young said that Rice University advertises 15-week semesters, but often doesn’t achieve that number of weeks. He has had parents question him about this item. Young further stated that universities on the quarter system consistently teach three 10-week sessions for a total of 30 weeks.

Mike Stern cautioned against reducing the number of instructional days to 65 without talking to all parties concerned and expressed his approval of these calendar proposals. Siemann stated that the committee has indeed talked to many people at Rice and 67-69 days per semester is what is wanted.

The discussion moved to the commencement date in May with some Senators showing concern about the perceived later date. However, Siemann stated the proposed guideline is for commencement to occur on the second or third Saturday in May depending upon the day of the week each year begins in January. Three of the next seven years (beginning with the 2009-10 academic year) show commencement on the second Saturday; while the other four show commencement will occur on the third Saturday.

Siemann then pointed out that the current final exam frequency of “two exams per two days” does not change in these proposals; the exams do not become more frequent. Tom Killian expressed concern about the possibility of students having many exams in just a few days, but the reply from Siemann was that the six days on the proposals allow enough time for finals; it is unlikely any student takes more than six classes.David Tenney added that approximately 30% of the classes have scheduled final exams while many others have take-home finals. Tenney added that one advantage with this proposal is that all students will take their finals at the same time. Siemann stated that the grading time for professors will remain the same.

Next, the long “shopping period” for students to decide whether or not to drop a class was mentioned as problematic for several reasons, but Harter asked that the Faculty Senate not make any recommendation on this topic at this time. She stated that the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee should address it first.

Siemann briefly noted the rest of the points in the calendar proposal document, then Harter asked the Senators for their opinions on the general proposal, saying if the consensus was it is acceptable, perhaps one option (Plan A or Plan B) could be chosen.

Questions followed from several Senators: Duane Windsor wanted clarification regarding the number of instructional days. He suggested if that number is a major driving force in determining the calendar, and Rice is high, perhaps some days could be eliminated. Randy Stevenson then asked for the average annual number of instructional days at Rice’s peer institutions, and the reply was 137. Matteo Pasquali noted that MIT has the lowest number of instructional days among the institutions compared. Dale Sawyer stated that MIT considers the month of January to be an “independent activity period” (not a long winter break), which could account for the seemingly lower number of instructional days at that institution.

Ed Cox wanted to know how this proposal would affect the graduate program at Rice. Siemann replied that there is no difference; the academic calendar committee’s work does not specify undergraduate or graduate programs. Harter added that graduate programs are easily changed as circumstances arise.

Windsor suggested polling the faculty at large to see if they preferred one of two options: a longer winter break with a later commencement date, or a shorter winter break with an earlier commencement date. Stevenson suggested wording for a specific question on this issue. Harter polled the faculty members in the room as to their choice, and the resulting vote appeared to favor, heavily, preserving a longer winter break.

Harter then posed another question at Windsor’s request: how many faculty members in the room would prefer to alter their curriculum with fewer instructional days in order to have the earlier commencement date? Many indicated they were not prepared to answer this question, so a poll was not taken. Windsorwondered whether the larger faculty shouldn’t be questioned on this issue before proceeding further.Gautami Shah stated that the purpose of the Faculty Senate is for Senators to represent their departments, not to return to the full faculty for answers to every question. She added that channels do not exist which make it easy to ask one’s constituents how they feel on a given subject. Harter stated that one advantage in waiting until January to vote on this issue is that it would allow the Senators time to speak to those whom they represent.

Harter asked the Senators to address the issue of the two-day Spring recess since it is the main difference in the two calendar proposals. She emphasized how very much the two-day Spring recess matters to the students, but she also repeated how difficult this interruption can be for the lab instructors. Young stated he had polled ten students at lunch one day who indicated they did not care at all about the two-day recess.

Windsor asked the educational purpose of a two-day recess. None of the Senators could supply an answer; however, a student in the audience responded that the poll taken by the Student Association showed that students needed the break to maintain their sanity. It was noted that the week-long Spring Break follows soon after the two-day Spring recess.

Harter then asked how many Senators were ready to vote on the academic calendar proposal and many indicated they were ready. Others, however, felt they needed more time, so Harter said the vote would be postponed until the January 2008 meeting.

IV. Rice’s Environmental/Sustainability Program

Kevin Kirby, Vice President for Administration, was introduced and he stated that the Sustainability Department at Rice was begun in 2004 to focus on preserving and protecting the environment. Richard Johnson, Rice University’s first Director of Sustainability, was introduced by Kirby, and he began his presentation entitled “The Greening of Rice” by highlighting some recent developments: President Leebron has signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, and the plans for Duncan College have earned the Leadership in Environmental Energy Design (LEED) Gold Award due to energy-saving features that will allow for 30-40% less electricity and water use than a typical dorm. In addition, the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) will be a model of efficiency, using 25-30% less energy than a typical building, and the groundwater pumped from under the CRC’s parking garage to keep the water table at the proper level will be used to irrigate the baseball field at Reckling Park.

Johnson then explained that Rice’s South Utility Plant has been located in the Harris Gully area in such a way to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of this area. Johnson explained that the Harris Gully flowed along a route (and is now doing so in a double-box culvert under campus) roughly from the north end of the football stadium to the front of Autry Court, past Weiss College and out to the Houston Medical Center. Along this route, trees and other plants naturally grew before Rice University or even Houston existed. Johnson stated that Rice is planting native species in the area of the South Plant including wildflowers that will one day be full of color.

Regarding Operations, Johnson discussed two areas: Energy Modeling and Green Cleaning. To explain Energy Modeling, Johnson showed a chart of Keck Hall’s chilled water usage during the month of October 2005 compared to predicted usage. Due to this data, some changes were made as to how the air handling units operate at Keck Hall, changes that now allow for energy conservation.

Johnson then announced that Mr. Eusebio Franco, Director of Custodial and Grounds, has over the years implemented Green Cleaning at Rice. Johnson stated that most of the cleaning at Rice is done with hot water, steam, and a single biodegradable chemical that can be poured on a person’s hands or even ingested without damage. This system is much safer for the people doing the cleaning as well as for the environment. In addition, the cleaning crew works in the day, not at night as in many office buildings. Johnson stated this has several benefits: the lights do not have to be on at night using energy because the crew is working when the lights would be on anyway; it is much safer for the crew to travel during the day than using public transportation late at night; and the cleaning crew gets to know their customers (faculty, staff) and their expectations. Johnson mentioned Maria Maldonado, a Rice custodian who developed a friendship with a then-Ph.D. candidate who later became an astronaut and invited Maldonado to a recent space shuttle launch. Johnson stated that over the past five years, in what is typically a high-turnover industry, only one employee of the Rice custodial staff has quit for an equivalent job.

Johnson then discussed the Rice University Sustainability Policy which was adopted March 2004 by the Board of Trustees, and he gave much of the credit to its formation to the student body. He also announced that Carbon Neutral Day at Rice was April 20, 2007, which celebrated the Greenhouse Gas Offset Certificate awarded to the university.

However, Johnson stated that since Rice has experienced a 40% increase in its annual utility bill between fiscal year 2006 and 2007 (due mainly to increased square footage of buildings on campus), there is now a “Call to Conservation” through the Administrators’ Forum asking for a committee to form a campus energy policy. As an example, Johnson explained that the air conditioning thermostats in many of the buildings at Rice are set so low that individuals bring sweaters to work. Randy Batsell stated that he has noticed many administrative assistants use space heaters under their desks due to excessive air conditioning. Johnson stated this is an example of a situation that could be remedied with a campus energy policy. Johnson asked for the names of two or three faculty members who might be willing to work on this committee and said he can be emailed at

Harter asked for volunteers for the committee and thanked Kirby and Johnson for the interesting presentation.

Due to time constraints, the discussion of General Admissions had to be postponed to a future meeting of the Faculty Senate.

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