Report on University Faculty Senate Meeting

University Faculty Senator Peter Knuepfer

28-29 January 2005

 

The University Faculty Senate convened in Albany at the SUNY System Administration building for its 139th Plenary Session. The meeting occurred in the context of concern among many faculty members about the recent publication of individual campus assessment results (which, we were assured, would not happen), attacks on Chancellor King and the aborted “sabbatical” episode, and continued budgetary challenges for SUNY. The report that follows summarizes the main issues covered during the meeting.

 

1. Support for Chancellor King. Political machinations have led to “character assassination” of King in the media. The University Faculty Senate declared its support for the Chancellor and its rejection of unsubstantiated allegations in a resolution passed during the second day of the meeting (see UFS King Resolution). UFS President Joe Hildreth had indicated faculty support for Chancellor King to Board of Trustees; the Senate supported this position. The Chancellor addressed the plenary meeting, responding to inquiries/concerns from the faculty and advocating for his proposed indexed tuition guarantee.

 

2. Assessment. Two elements were discussed: the status of revisions to the assessment program, and the publication of assessment data. This didn’t emerge as a prominent item in the Plenary, although there had been considerable discussion about the publication of campus-by-campus assessment results as a consequence of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a reporter. The fallout from that FOIL request appears to have been limited to a small group of newspaper articles, probably due in part to the large volume of documents that were provided to the reporter (campus reports on assessment were provided, but they were long reports placing assessment results in context and not listing these results in an easily extracted manner). Nonetheless, this publication of individual campus results is counter to the agreement reached last year between the Faculty and System Administration to extend the campus-based assessment program. Campus Governance Leaders who were in attendance at the Plenary raised this issue, and at least one community college has passed a resolution stating its intent to withdraw from the agreement for “strengthened campus-based assessment” because of the failure of the guarantee. In response, the Chancellor stated that SUNY would be looking at ways to “protect” the data in light of opinions and guidance from SUNY legal staff (apparently the insistence on numerical data made the results subject to Freedom of Information inquiries).

The effort to define mechanisms for reviewing proposals from campuses to develop their own “normed” assessment approaches is moving forward nonetheless, albeit at a less hurried pace. The leadership of the Faculty Council of Community Colleges and SUNY-wide University Faculty Senate have recommended a group of faculty to serve on what I call “peer-review” panels that will set rubrics/guidelines for campus-proposed assessment approaches. It appears that these groups will begin meeting shortly. In addition, the Provost is issuing a call for proposals to define criteria for the assessment of critical thinking. There is no announced delay in the implementation timetable, although it is unclear to me if new assessment programs (for composition, critical thinking, and mathematics) are to be in place in Fall 2005 or Fall 2006. Finally, it is noteworthy that Tom Egan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, praised Trustee Candace de Russy for “her efforts to get to where we need to be in assessment and the full disclosure of that to the public.” There was concern expressed that this is a hardening of the Trustees’ position on public disclosure of the equivalent of a “campus report card” for the SUNY schools.

 

3. Graduation rates. This has become a key issue in light of comments by Chairman Egan decrying what he mistakenly reported as very low 4-year graduation rates in SUNY, the inclusion of graduation rates as a key element in a revised Budget Allocation Process, and emphasis on graduation rates in Mission Review II. The Provost acknowledged that there are significant “statistical” problems with graduation rate as a measure (he emphasized the lack of tracking of transfer students in or out of an institution), but also declared that they are still a measure of interest. Binghamton, meanwhile, was held up as a top achiever in this category, with our 4-year graduation rate ranking third among public doctoral institutions in the U.S. Data on SUNY graduation rates are available from the SUNY Provost’s web site (scroll down to section C14; there are lots of other interesting data available as well).

 

4. Mission Review II. This is an ongoing process by System Administration to set performance goals for the campuses. Presidential achievement is tied to these goals, to no small extent. The process involves submission of a report by the campus to System Administration (done in December; BU’s was largely the revised Strategic Plan draft), a visit by members of the Provost’s staff to campus for a formal meeting to discuss and formalize goals related to the campus’ mission, and the drafting and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the campus president and System Administration. Both the Chancellor and Provost emphasized the importance of faculty involvement in this process. The Senate passed a resolution requesting that campus governance leaders and University faculty senators be part of the campus teams that will meet with System people.

 

5. SUNY Libraries. Several presentations were devoted to the state of library funding across SUNY. Of particular interest and importance: the widespread loss of buying power (and at some campuses actual dollar reductions in library budgets) over the last 5 years; SUNY enrollment in the ARTstor data archive for art materials; the nature of the new ScienceDirect contract between SUNY and Elsevier. The latter involves a 5-yr contract through 2009, with SUNY System Administration picking up $30 million in costs, individual campuses held to 1% annual increases in their subscription costs for existing journals, online-only (no hard copy) access, no cancellations of existing titles, an increase in number of online titles available, and no funding in place post-2009. ARTstor (accessible through the BU Library web page) is a consortium that has acquired rights to some 500,000 digital images of artwork and architectural items; access is now available for teaching and research purposes.

 

6. Budget and tuition. Governor’s budget would authorize an increase in total funds appropriated to SUNY, but with the actual increase obtained through a $500 tuition increase. This is almost certain not to fly, at least at that level (at the very least because the proposed CUNY increase is only $250, and CUNY is not supportive of even that, apparently). The budget also includes an indexed tuition increase in future years to pay for faculty hiring (among other discretionary increases). Incoming students would be guaranteed 4 years of stable tuition, assuming State tax dollars are not withdrawn and that the State picks up mandatory cost increases. There has been extensive coverage of this proposal as Chancellor King tours the state to explain and lobby for its implementation.

 

7. Academic Bill of Rights. Trustee de Russy has asked the Board of Trustees to make this document SUNY policy. The document essentially requires “equal treatment of opposing viewpoints”. It has been used to argue for equal hiring of faculty with divergent political views and/or to require that multiple viewpoints on “controversial” issues be presented (both in terms of speakers and in the classroom). The Bill of Rights is presented in terms of academic freedom, even as it seeks to redefine academic freedom. The American Association of University Professors puts it this way:

“The proposed Academic Bill of Rights directs universities to enact guidelines implementing the principle of neutrality, in particular by requiring that colleges and universities appoint faculty "with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives." The danger of such guidelines is that they invite diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession. Measured in this way, diversity can easily become contradictory to academic ends.”

Chancellor King didn’t exactly repudiate the approach in his remarks, but he did indicate that there would be considerable discussion of the issue and that there wouldn’t be a rush to a conclusion.

 

8. Hazing and transcripts. SUNY is moving forward with a requirement that student transcripts note “convictions” through campus judicial proceedings for hazing and “other serious violations” (the nature of which were not explained to us).

 

9. Changes in Criteria for Chancellor’s Awards and Distinguished rank. Several resolutions were passed to clarify criteria for Distinguished rank and granting of multiple Chancellor’s Awards for excellence. Once Distinguished rank is granted, it cannot be granted again (i.e., if one is promoted to be a Distinguished Teaching Professor, one cannot then become a Distinguished Professor or Distinguished Service Professor). This is based on the recognition that the title “Distinguished ... Professor” is one of rank, just as Professor is, and one can’t be promoted twice to the same rank. Next, once receiving a Chancellor’s Award, one must wait at least 10 years before receiving another Chancellor’s Award for a different purpose (e.g. research, teaching). Finally, a faculty member holding Distinguished rank may not receive a Chancellor’s Award in the same area of excellence.

 

10. Tenured and non-tenured faculty. A resolution was passed that requests campuses to develop “target ratios of full time tenure tack faculty to non-tenure track adjunct faculty” and incorporate these, with a timetable, into their Mission Review II MOUs. This reflects concerns on the increasing use of adjunct, part-time faculty at all campuses. It also reflects concern with a decision reached by the State Ed. Board of Regents (that oversees education for all of New York) that requires only 40% of faculty be full-time in teacher education programs that have high pass rates on state teachers exams.

 

11. Energy costs and policies within SUNY. The Operations Committee of the University Faculty Senate has been investigating the challenges faced by SUNY in the energy sector, particularly in light of Governor Pataki’s executive order that requires use of renewable energy sources. A preliminary report was presented at the Plenary, recommending approaches that campuses can take, individually and jointly, to move forward on the energy front. Of note: the University at Buffalo is cited as the most prominent example in SUNY of a forward-looking energy policy.

 

12. Next UFS President. The University Faculty Senate will be electing its next President at the April plenary meeting. The President serves as presiding officer of the Senate, but is also the chief faculty governance voice in discussions with System Administration and others on issues of shared governance. 3 candidates accepted nomination: Jim McElwaine (SUNY Purchase), Carl Wiezalis (Upstate Med Center) and yours truly, Peter Knuepfer. Expressions of condolence, references to mental-health specialists, and any other wishes, good or bad, are accepted.

 

If I can be of any service in amplifying or clarifying any of these issues, please contact me (peter.knuepfer@binghamton.edu).