02-11-2015 Faculty Senate Minutes

Faculty Senate

Meeting Minutes

February 11, 2015

Present: Lester Gerhardt, Jose Holguin-Veras, Lois Peters, Pawel Keblinski, Matthew Oehlschlaeger, Christopher Bystroff, Wayne Bequette, Atsushi Akera, Murali Chari, Jennifer Monger, Antoinette Maniatty, Frank Wright, Jonas Braasch, Ekaterina Haskins, Provost Prabhat Hajela

Next meeting:   March 18, 2015; 8:15-9:45am; Library Fischbach Room


1) Welcome by the President – Lester Gerhardt

Meeting opens at 8:22am. Professor Gerhardt welcomes the group.  Professors Borca-Tasciuc and Vincent Meunier conveyed apologies and were not able to attend due to prior commitments. Professor Gerhardt thanked Jill Evans who prepared the booklet for the faculty members of Rensselaer who passed this last year, and also to Lou Padula in Human Resources for distributing them to their families. All were encouraged to submit nominations of colleagues for Rensselaer Awards recently announced which are due February 24. (Wiley Award, Tien Award, 1951 Teaching Award, Fischbach Travel Award, and the Trustees Outstanding Teacher Award).

2) Approval of the Minutes – December 9, 2014

Professor Holguin-Veras motions, Professor Peters seconds. All in favor. So moved.

3) Faculty Senate Appointments

Professor Oehlschlaeger has been appointed to Associate Dean in the School of Engineering and his seat on the Senate will need to be filled.  Current Senator Professor Borca-Tasciuc has agreed to fill the vacancy and complete his term.  In addition, Professors Bruce Piper and Audrey Bennett who serves on the Academic Standing Committee requested removal from their positions due to other commitments, and new appointments need to be made.  It is also important to note that five out of six Executive Committee positions will be vacant at the end of the 2015 spring semester in addition to several other standing committee members whose term will be completed.  Please keep this in mind and actively solicit nominations in the spring when elections will be held.  The Election Committee needs to be formed at the March 18 meeting of the Senate. Professor Keblinski stated that senators who did not already serve on the Executive Committee would be good candidates for these open positions. 

A motion to approve the nomination of Professor Diana Borca-Tasciuc to the position of Recording Secretary of the Faculty Senate was made by Professor Holguin-Veras.  Professor Peters seconds. All in favor. So moved. 

4) General Faculty Meeting Planning: April 6, 2015 

Professor Holguin-Veras spoke.  The spring General Faculty meeting is typically where the Provost speaks. In addition to his talk, other topics that will be covered are eulogies, honoring retirees and the future of Rensselaer; where we are and where we are going.  The Provost will speak on the state of the academic enterprise.  Professor Bystroff suggested that this is a great time to build an excitement in governance and give people a feeling that they are being heard.  Professor Akera suggested that Department Heads be invited to present for 3 minutes on what their groups are currently working on and it would also draw more people to attend the event.  Professor Bystroff will work with Professor Holguin-Veras on this.        

(1)    ACTION ITEM: Professor Holguin-Veras will send out a timely email to all faculty notifying them of the upcoming General Faculty meeting and the topics that will be covered. 

(2)    ACTION ITEM: Professor Bystroff will work with Professor Holguin-Veras on Department Head presentations.

5) Report from Executive Committee

Professor Gerhardt explained that the Senate Executive Committee met with the Provost for a budget meeting a short while ago and requested that the Provost to share what was discussed with the Faculty Senate as a whole at the February 11 Senate meeting. Provost Hajela’s remarks follow.

As any responsible institution, we strive to have a balanced budget. Projections are an important part of the planning process and these are impacted by both internal and external conditions. Over this past year, we missed a number of projections on which our budget was based. In particular, we had a 100 fewer students in the undergraduate class than what we had targeted. A significant shortfall in graduate enrollments was also encountered, largely driven by fewer than projected numbers in Architecture and Management. Student enrollments were not the only issue as for a variety of reasons, some beyond our control the projected increase in research revenue also fell short of expectations. These shortfalls contribute to a budget deficit that must be managed through other means, including drawdown of the endowment. We do not feel that this is a viable strategy for the long-term health of the institution. Beyond missing the projected targets on tuition revenue, we are also concerned about exogenous factors that impact our financial health. We face the continual overhand of the defined benefits retirement plan, a plan that the institution has committed to support. However, to be compliant with federal regulations, annual contributions to the plan can be quite large, particularly in a climate of low interest rates. An even greater concern is the uncertainty in this area because of changing regulations. If new actuarial assessments are done and implemented, there can be a still larger increase in the contributions we must make. We just don’t know at this time when or how much will be the impact exactly although rough estimates are available. There are still other exogenous factors that we must consider in our planning. The Perkins Loan program is up for reauthorization and there are indications from DC that this is not a clear cut vote, If the Federal government does not reauthorize this loan program, we will need to find funding from somewhere else (roughly 6.5M) to support the current students.

We continue to be a tuition driven institution with some support from a very modest endowment for a university with our mission and goal. Clearly, we cannot afford to function in a mode where our revenue cannot keep up with budget projections. We will have to create a balanced budget that is more conservative so that we do not have to use the endowment to make up for any shortfalls – the Board agrees and supports this approach. There are two solutions:  shrink the budget or grow the revenue.

We will have to look at all possible ways in which to grow revenue while maintaining our standards and remaining true to our founding principles. Growth in research enterprise is one approach. The 2024 plan outlines an aggressive goal for growth and to realize that we will have to do things very differently. As an example, we have the capacity and potential to build industry-sponsored research. As an example, roughly 6% of our research come from industry as compared to 16% at MIT and even a larger fraction at places like Georgia Tech. This will require implementing other research models than our traditional approach and you will hear more about these in the coming months. We also need to take a look at our educational approach and whether we can increase student throughput without necessarily increasing the number of undergraduate students on campus. We are looking at different models that include a full summer semester to help accomplish this. The model borrows from Dartmouth’s ‘Sophmore Summer’ - where the students stay for classes the summer after they have completed their sophomore year and they must be away from campus for at least one regular term in the academic year. We must also explore additional growth in our professional programs, both at Hartford and here on the Troy campus. Some of this growth will require embracing new pedagogical approaches such as online and blended educations.

As an immediate step, we will renormalize our budgets to be at 90% of the FY15 budgets. Other immediate cost saving strategies will also be implemented, including limiting travel and temporarily suspending the ½ yr, full pay sabbatical program. Sabbaticals of a full year at ½ pay do not involve higher costs and will be considered in the usual way. Faculty teaching loads will also increase since gap funding that we have used in the past will decrease. 

In the Q&A that followed, Professor Akera asked what the faculty’s role is to achieve this.  Since faculty work on a 9 month appointment, it could be that they work a summer and a fall term or a spring and summer term.  The Provost mentioned that there will be faculty administrative groups created to work on these issues.  Professor Maniatty commented on the trimester model stating that some student need the summer’s off to work to pay for college.  The Provost said that the Vice-Provost Linda Schadler will work with faculty members and with the Division of Student Life on such issues. A significant amount of groundwork will be required before any plan is ultimately implemented. The Board of Trustees is meeting in March to discuss the budget. 

6) Old Business:

Policies on Biographies and Eulogies:  Professor Akera spoke.  A proposed policy on Biographies and Eulogies has been created and was distributed in this meeting, having been discussed at earlier Senate meetings.  Professor Haskins suggested that to preserve continuity, the role of ‘Overseer’ be assigned to a role in the Senate.  The Institute Archivist would be a good fit and preserve the information and continuity within their department.  Jenifer Monger, Associate Archivist volunteered to serve in this role.   It was suggested that the wording of the policy in section 4. Oversight, and replace ‘...one or more member (Overseer)…” with ‘…one or more persons…”. Professor Akera made a motion to approve the policy with the change included.   Seconded by Professor Haskins. All in favor. So moved. 

7) New Business:

a.     Motion to change GPA for Dean’s honor list:  Professor Bequette, Curriculum Committee Chair, spoke.  The Committee has looked into this subject since currently about 2/3 of the of the students fall in the category of Dean’s list with the current 3.0 GPA requirement. He reviewed the results of the Committee’s study which included a comparison with other universities. The resulting recommendation os to raise the threshold for the Dean’s Honor List to 3.5, beginning with the entering class of fall, 2015. Current standards (3.0 GPA) will be maintained for current students for the existing Dean’s List until graduation. This was presented to the Dean’s Council and the Dean’s have all approved the recommendation.  A motion was made by Professor Peters to accept the new GPA cut-off for Dean’s list.  Seconded by Professor Chari.  All in favor. So moved. 

b.     Core Curriculum Committee:  A brief discussion ensued about the Core Curriculum Committee and the role of the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee (FSCC). This included the review of the Core Curriculum Committee Report, by the FSCC and subsequently by the Senate EC. A recommendation by the FSCC will be forthcoming.

In more detail, a Core Curriculum Implementation Committee has been formed to start the process of turning the Core Curriculum Report into more specific outcomes and mechanisms for implementation. The Core Curriculum Implementation Committee will interface with the School Curriculum Committees, who will interface with the Dept Curriculum Committees. We may use the Teaching and Learning Symposium this spring as a “Charette” to gather input to the ideas to-date and gather new ideas for implementation. The committee will then work next fall to finalize a plan and proposed changes to the core that would need approval of FSCC and FS as a whole. The report will then be presented to the Administration. Members of the Core Curriculum Implementation Committee are:

Co-Chair:  Mark Mistur (SoA)

Co-Chair:  Lee Lignon (SoS)

Kim Fortun (HASS)

Mike Kalsher (HASS)

Peggy McDermott (Lally)

Peter Persans (SoS)

Gary Saulnier (SoE)

Diana Tasciuc-Borca (SoE)

Louis Trzepacz (Student Life)

c.     Professor Wright is a faculty advisor for Student Veterans for America and was asked to inquire about looking into the policy on transferring credit for life experiences as well as finding out more about transferring course credit for military school courses that are not currently accepted by Rensselaer.  The Provost said that current policy is that non-traditional student life experiences are currently not recognized by the Institute.  If a change were to be made, it would be a policy change and need the Board’s review and approval.  Regarding the transfer credits, accreditation would also need to be presented to Middle States.  Professor Gerhardt asked that the Curriculum Committee look into this further and the Provost suggested that data be gathered from peer and aspirant institutions. 

(3)   ACTION ITEM: The Curriculum Committee will gather data from peer and aspirant institutions regarding non-traditional student transfer credit policies.

Action Items Summary

(1)   ACTION ITEM: Professor Holguin-Veras will send out a timely email to all faculty notifying them of the upcoming General Faculty meeting and the topics that will be covered. 

(2)    ACTION ITEM: Professor Bystroff will work with Professor Holguin-Veras on Department Head presentations.

(3)   ACTION ITEM: The Curriculum Committee will gather data from peer and aspirant institutions regarding non-traditional student transfer credit policies.

(4)   ACTION ITEM: Notify the Provost of the two motions passed.

Professor Holguin-Veras motions to adjourn. Seconded by Professor Keblinski.  All in favor. So moved.  Adjourned at 9:57am.