Faculty Senate Meeting
October 17, 2018
Kyle Morrow Room, Fondren Library

Senate Meeting Agenda (and actions taken):

  1. Call to Order and Welcome
  2. Announcements
    1. Midtown Innovation District
  3. Report from Officers and Standing Committees
    1. Library Committee Chair's Report
  4. Working Group Reports (none)
  5. Unfinished Business (none)
  6. New Business
    1. Open Discussion "on the coherence of the undergraduate curriculum"
    2. Proposal "to extend the deadline to designate a credit course as 'Audit' or vice versa from the end of the second week of classes to the same day as the deadline to drop a full term course (currently the end of the seventh week)." TABLED
    3. Open Discussion "to discuss the current pass/fail rules and possible concerns regarding the current rules"
  7. Adjourn

Senators present: Graham Bader, Lisa Balabanlilar, Gwen Bradford, Sergio Chavez, Nate Citino, Dennis Cox, Erik Dane, Michael Diehl, Daniel Domingues, Mahmoud El-Gamel, Christopher Fagundes, Julie Fette, Jeffrey Fleisher, Charles Geyer, Pat Hartigan, Christopher Johns-Krull, Marek Kimmel, David Messmer, Marie Lynn Miranda, Ed Nikonowicz, Rob Raphael, Laura Segatori, Doug Schuler, Scott Solomon, Kurt Stallman, Michael Wolf, Pablo Yepes, Colin Zelt

Senators absent:  Martin Blumenthal-Barby (Proxy Lida Oukaderova present), David Leebron, Angel Marti-Arbona, Emilia Morosan, Ray Simar, Jesús Vassallo

(To listen to an audio tape of this meeting, email senate@rice.edu.)

  1. Call to Order and Welcome

    Speaker Ed Nikonowicz called the meeting to order at 12:05.

  2. Announcements
    1. Midtown Innovation District

      Nikonowicz invited Tom Killian, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, to speak on the Midtown Innovation District. His presentation can be viewed HERE. Killian began by stating that Houston is an amazing and economically strong city that is falling behind in start-up activity and funding. He said that lack of support for innovation affects Rice’s ability to attract and retain talent. The issue was brought to the forefront during the Amazon search for new headquarters.

      Killian said the new innovation district will be between the Spur and 59. The university owns a large portion of the property and will renovate the former Sears building as an innovation hub. He said there will be a lot of mixed use space in the area. The project is being managed by the Rice endowment office. He said it is not an unusual size for an investment but it is a different type of investment. Killian said it is an investment in the city of Houston and aligns with Rice’s sense of civic duty, and reminded senators that Rice’s success is linked to Houston’s success. He said innovation districts are being created by other cities with great success and Houston is behind because the city does not have one.

      Killian said that the city is promising major transportation investment in the hub, which is centrally located in the city. The physical space of the hub will have incubators and accelerators as well as co-working spaces and prototyping facilities. He said a lot of effort will be put into the amenities. He added that the hub is seen as “an opportunity to address challenges of discrimination and inequality in the city” and in that context, involvement of the community colleges is seen as important.

      Killian also reviewed the reasons an academic institution would want to be involved in this type of project: creating new opportunities for students, alumni, faculty, and staff; expanding academic offerings; promoting the university brand; and supporting projects that can transform their communities.

      Killian said that the project is still in the early planning process and that all of the collaborating institutions are having discussions on their campuses so that the space reflects what the institutions want. Killian explained that he will be leading the discussion on the Rice campus. He reviewed the dates and times Rice community members could attend discussions and said the university is also looking for short (less than one page) proposals. Those proposals don’t have to be fully developed ideas and the deadline to submit them is November 16th.

      Senator Doug Schuler asked why other institutions who are interested in collaborating aren’t providing financial support. Killian answered that those institutions do not have an endowment like Rice’s. Another senator asked for examples of the kinds of ideas that could be proposed. Killian said OwlSpark and senior design courses might be part of proposals. He said executive MBA courses could be taught at the location. Senator Rob Raphael asked if ideas needed to be Rice specific and Killian said they do not. It was asked what the risks of the investment in the innovation district are. Killian said the risk is that it might not be successful. Allison Thacker, President and Chief Investment Officer for the Rice Management Company, added that it is a financial risk. But, she said, 100 percent of the institutions invited to participate expressed interest and engagement with the idea and there has been parallel demand from the business community. She said she is much more confident in the project than she was six or twelve months ago. Senator Kurt Stallmann asked who is responsible for managing the community engagement in the project. Thacker said the real estate team of the Rice endowment is.

  3. Reports from Officers and Standing Committees
    1. Library Committee Chair's Report

      Nikonowicz called Fred Oswald, Chair of the Library Committee, to give a report on the committee’s activities. Oswald began by saying the library engages across the Rice community and the committee membership reflects that. He said the committee is a liaison and sounding board for the university. His report covered the central quad, open scholarship, and strategic planning.

      Oswald said that reimagination of the quad began with the V2C in 2006. He said the committee has to be mindful of how architecture shapes interactions and work across campus. Oswald explained that the addition of the Brochstein Pavilion changed everything, and that it was a strategic decision to put the pavilion adjacent to Fondren Library. He said the committee is asking what a library of the 21st century looks like and what additional spaces are needed.

      In terms of open science, the library committee is focusing on striking a balance between science that’s robust and also shareable. Oswald reported that OpenStax has put Rice in the middle of the open access movement and it is allowing for new textbooks that use new pedagogical approaches.

      Finally, Oswald also spoke of the library committee’s role in strategic planning. He said they are focusing on the following goals:

      • Assist undergraduate and graduate students in becoming adept researchers and effective communicators

      • Deepen the impact and visibility of Rice research

      • Enable researchers to find, access, use and share rich collections of research materials

      • Create dynamic spaces that foster learning, collaboration and knowledge creation

      • Engage with Houston and the world

      • Promote diversity, access and inclusiveness

      Sara Lowman, Vice Provost and University Librarian, added that if there are other issues people would like the committee to address, they can contact Fred or herself. Senator Mike Wolf asked how the university is engaging other universities facing the same problem of journal licensing fees. Lowman answered that universities have begun to bundle agreements together. She said they are also trying to raise awareness of publishing in other venues, and that Rice is part of some of those initiatives. Former Senator Susan McIntosh reminded the audience that in 2012 the Senate passed an open access resolution and she asked how faculty response had been. Lowman responded that the faculty compliance rate is low, but within the national average at about 20-25 percent. She said they are continuing to work on how to market it to faculty in order to get a higher compliance rate. The slides from the presentation can be viewed HERE.

  4. Working Group Reports (none)
  5. Unfinished Business (none)
  6. New Business
    1. Open Discussion "on the coherence of the undergraduate curriculum"

      Nikonowicz opened a timed discussion on the coherence of the undergraduate curriculum and set the limit for discussion at 25 minutes. He then gave the floor to Mike Wolf who explained that the request for opening discussion had arisen out of a motion he submitted to the Executive Committee of the Senate.

      Wolf said that when he was a college magister he often had conversations with students who were adding additional majors and it put enormous pressure on the student. Then, as a chair of a department, he saw that the numbers of majors and minors are reported and used to justify faculty staffing. So, he said, there is not a conflict between departmental objectives of growth and creating new credentials that students find attractive. As a senator, Wolf said he sees new credentials come up for approval fairly frequently. The result, he said, is a kind of “curricular credential Pokemon.” During a recent discussion to approve a new program, Wolf said he was told that approval of a program is not related to the overall philosophy of the curriculum.

      As a result, Wolf said he proposed three changes to the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum’s document on creating new programs in order to create a mechanism for the CUC to talk about how new credentials fit into the existing curriculum. He said the CUC responded that his suggested criteria could not be objectively assessed, but he believes faculty should be able to make complex judgments. He said faculty should make judgments about how a curriculum fits together.

      Senator Doug Schuler asked how one can establish how something is coherent with something else. And he wondered why students should be denied the opportunity to choose what they want, since they are in an environment that encourages them to achieve.

      Senator Jeff Fleisher, chair of the CUC, said that after hearing Wolf speak it seems like there are two things he is concerned about. One is that the CUC has tunnel vision. Fleisher said that is not true and that they do not approve programs that are seen to be reproducing another program. A second concern, he said, seems to be that there is too much curriculum, and that is a different problem. Senator Graham Bader said that the heart of the matter is academic advising and he sees that credential chasing is a problem.

      Senator Dave Messmer said that as a former Resident Associate, he can confirm that students “fetishize” credentials and end up taking courses they don’t really want so that they can get one more credential.

      Susan McIntosh, former chair of the CUC, stated that the CUC does consider fit when approving programs. They also look at whether a particular program is part of a recognized field and whether peer institutions offer something similar. She said some universities do limit how many credentials a student can earn. She added that credentials do offer value so that students can have breadth and depth.

      Nikonowicz then extended the time period for discussion for an additional ten minutes.

      Provost Marie Lynn Miranda said that the university had done a comprehensive survey on what employers are looking for in students/prospective employees. She said employers said multiple majors and minors have little influence on hiring decisions. She added that doing more in depth work in a single area, such as an honors thesis, was generally more valued by employers. But, she added, the university has been admitting students who are really good at acquiring credentials. She said that there might be value in a physical course catalog and it would be a relatively inexpensive experiment. Nikonowicz said that Career Services is now sharing the information from employers with parents during Families Weekend.

      Wolf then took time to respond to the questions and comments others made. He said he believes it is the faculty’s responsibility to set the education for their students, because they are the ones with the vision. He said he does not want something too mechanistic, but wants the Senate not to think of curricular elements in isolation.

      University Registrar David Tenney said that in the last graduating class, 50 percent of students had one major, 28 percent had two credentials, and 11 percent had three credentials. He said he thinks many students begin with the desire for many credentials but then change their minds over time. Nikonowicz concluded the discussion by stating that the CUC document Wolf referred to is currently under revision.

    2. Proposal "to extend the deadline to designate a credit course as 'Audit' or vide versa from the end of the second week of classes to the same day as the deadline to drop a full term course (currently the end of the seventh week)."

      Nikonowicz said that the proposal to extend the audit deadline was motivated by Pat Reiff’s Examinations and Standings Committee presentation at the previous meeting. Deputy Speaker Chris Johns-Krull moved to approve the change. Messmer asked if this meant that freshmen would have until the last day of the fall semester to change a course, since that is their drop deadline the first semester. Tenney answered no. McIntosh suggested that the motion be tabled since there were questions about the wording. Scott Soloman asked if the summer schedule needed to be considered. Tenney responded that since it is tied to the drop deadline, it would occur at the same proportional point in the semester. He said he felt tying the audit deadline to the “university drop deadline” works because freshmen who drop later are a special subset of the population and it is clear when they drop late that it is an exception to the policy.

      Senator Erik Dane asked if this would affect graduate programs as well and Tenney answered that it would. Dane followed up by pointing out that the online MBA has their own calendar so tying it to the drop deadline would be helpful. Reiff asked if it was a problem if freshmen decided to audit late.

      At this point in the discussion, Fleisher moved to table the motion and Senator Gwen Bradford seconded. The motion to table passed unanimously with a hand vote.

    3. Open Discussion "to discuss the current pass/fail rules and possible concerns regarding the current rules"

      Nikonowicz opened discussion on the pass/fail rules by stating that Senate leadership wanted to take the temperature of the Senate regarding the rules. He presented a list of key rules surrounding “pass/fail” at the university. Solomon said that group work is made more complex when one or more individuals are taking the course pass/fail. Fleisher agreed and said that the university must address this issue if it is interested in pedagogical practices with group work. Messmer added that he has been very pleased since the rules have been changed and freshmen cannot take their FWIS courses pass/fail.

      Wolf said that pass/fail can be tremendously beneficial in allowing students to experiment. Fleisher said he would like to see data on whether that’s what students are doing with their pass/fail selections. Senator Chris Fagundes said in his experience Rice students are always hard workers. McIntosh responded that she knows of a professor who structures her syllabus so that students who don’t put in the requisite effort on group projects automatically fail.

  7. Adjourn

    Nikonowicz adjourned the meeting at 2:04.