September 21, 2005

Faculty Senate Meeting - Senate Meeting Minutes: September 21, 2005

Meetings of the Faculty Senate are open to all members of the University community, but may be closed at the discretion of the Senate.

Meeting time 12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.


The meeting agenda and meeting location will be posted on the Faculty Senate website one week prior to the meeting and will be communicated to Faculty via e-mail distribution.

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September 21, 2005

Attendance: Approximately 30

Senators present: Jose Aranda, Kyriacos Athanasiou, Randy Batsell, Marj Corcoran, Bruce Etnyre, Deborah Harter, John Hempel, Benjamin Kamins, Tom Killian, Phil Kortum, Nancy Niedzielski, Anthony Pinn, David Schneider, Gautami Shah, Michael Stern, Randy Stevenson, Joe Warren, Mark Wiesner, Duane Windsor, Jim Young Senators absent: John Casbarian, Vicki Colvin, Rebekah Drezek, Brian Huberman, Carol Quillen

I. Announcements

Speaker Corcoran called the meeting to order at 12:15 p.m. and began with announcements. For the position of Executive Assistant to the Senate, Corcoran and Harter have selected Cinda Lack, a Rice graduate who worked in the Admissions Office for several years and who is both highly competent and highly experienced.

The academic calendar for 2006/2007 is posted on the Registrar's web site. We should push to get the calendar settled for the next few years.

Nominations for election to the four vacant Senate positions closed on Tuesday September 27. There was one nominee, Peter Mieszowski, for the position of Social Science any rank, and one nominee, Phil Kortum, for the position representing research faculty. These nominees are therefore automatically elected and have been invited to this meeting. There were two nominees for the position of assistant professor from the Professional Schools, and two nominees for a faculty member, any rank, from the Natural Sciences. The candidates for the Natural Science position are Dale Sawyer (Earth Science) and Evan Siemann (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). The candidates for the Professional Schools position are Dawn Finley (Architecture) and James Weston (Jones School). Ballots will be prepared and sent out as soon as possible.

Tom Haskell from History had, previous to the meeting, reminded the Speaker and Deputy Speaker that at the beginning of each academic year the faculty receives a report on athletic recruiting for the past year. We will schedule this report for the October meeting.

The following positions still need to be filled by the Senate:

Six faculty members to serve on University Council

One Senate member to serve as liaison to the Benefits Committee

Two or three faculty to serve as members of the Honor Council Appeals Board, to replace members who will be rotating off this year.

Joe Warren, the outgoing convener of the Honor Council Appeals Board, spoke for a few minutes about the role of this group and the workload involved. He noted that there were currently three members on the board from the Engineering School , so that new members should be drawn from other schools. Corcoran asked the Senators to consider possible candidates.

II. Update on hurricane preparations

President Leebron and Provost Levy stopped by the meeting for a short time only because of unfolding matters with regard to Hurricane Rita. President Leebron informed the Senate of the University's preparations for the hurricane in advance of its expected landfall Friday night or Saturday morning along the Gulf coast near the Houston/Galveston area. Classes had been canceled for Thursday and Friday and provisions were being made to provide shelters for Rice students unable to leave the Houston area. Students living off campus were being encouraged to come to on-campus shelters.

Carol Quillen was also present only briefly in order to oversee, for the Boniuk Center , possible changes in the Dalai Lama’s visit. Unfortunately it seemed likely that the visit to Rice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, scheduled for the following day, would have to be canceled.

III. Report on the University’s writing competency exam

Linda Driskill gave the Senate a detailed report on the current status of the writing competency exam that is given, yearly, to all incoming freshmen at Rice—the problems it has had in the past, the success of an online version this past year, and the question of where to go from here. In previous years all incoming freshmen have taken a pencil-and-paper exam during orientation week and when they have performed below par they have been asked to take English 103, a course designed to improve writing skills. But these exams have been graded by faculty in the English department who are both weary of the task and frustrated with the results. They are also concerned that no feedback is provided students beyond the results of their exam.

This past summer (2005), as an alternative and an experiment, a writing exam was given online and graded (on a one-time basis only) by MIT personnel. Students were provided a total of 56 hours to write and edit their essay, a procedure that makes this exam very much like the typical college writing assignment.

Despite late notice to incoming freshmen, 83% took the exam online, and the remainder were given a paper and pencil version during Orientation. (The paper and pencil exam allowed, however, as is normally the case with such exams, just 2 hours.) In October students will receive a written critique of their writing.

Randy Stevenson asked whether students taking the paper and pencil exam were simply those who did not have easy internet access. He wondered whether they had been disadvantaged by the online requirement, and was concerned that the fraction of students who failed the exam was slightly higher for the group who took the paper-and-pencil version. Driskill explained that one could arrange for a make-up exam identical to the online exam, and, additionally, that one could allow students to take this exam anytime during the fall semester.

There was discussion of plans for the writing exam next year. If the exam is to be given online again the university will have to commit the necessary resources for licensing the software and paying a team of graders.

On the question of the value of the writing competency exam and whether or not it serves a useful purpose, Driskill explained that, in her view, students should receive much more feedback and training in their writing skills than is currently happening at Rice.

There was strong support for continuing and improving the online exam.

Dean of Undergraduates Robin Forman was present at the meeting and came forward at this point to comment on the related issue of curriculum review and reform at Rice. He has been asked by the President to spearhead a general effort in this domain, and he explained that this would be a long-term process. Corcoran noted that Forman would return to the Senate at a later date to discuss his plans further and to get feedback.

IV. Report from the Bylaws Committee

Duane Windsor reported for the Bylaws Committee. That committee, he said, feels that while there still remain issues of disagreement with regard to the draft of the Bylaws, the Constitution is ready for a vote of the Senate.

Corcoran asked that we pause, before voting, to clarify whether or not the President and Provost are voting members. The Constitution, she said, specifically states they are non-voting, ex-officio members, but when Corcoran polled several members of the original Task Force they were split on what their intentions in this regard had actually been. Many said, in fact, that they could not remember.

Corcoran stated that she thought the President and the Provost should be allowed to vote since they are members of the faculty. Maryana Iskander, aide to the President and present at the meeting in his absence, offered that while she did not wish in any way to speak for the President and the Provost, she had in fact spoken to them earlier about this issue, and they had indicated that they would be comfortable either way.

After some discussion it became clear that the prevailing view was that the President and Provost, since they are not elected and do not represent any constituency, should not vote. It was deemed unnecessary to vote on this point, and the Constitution was approved as presented to the Senate.

The Bylaws Committee expects to bring a new version of the Bylaws to the Senate by the next meeting.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 PM.