FACULTY SENATE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
ANNUAL LETTER TO THE FACULTY
ACADEMIC YEAR 2002-2003
As members of the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee, we often represent the faculty in dealings with the administration and the Board of Visitors in making decisions that affect the entire faculty. Accordingly, we want to begin a practice of providing a brief annual account of some of our deliberations and actions. The following report 1) summarizes the more important policies and initiatives of the Senate during the previous academic year, 2) lists several key items to be considered in the coming year, and 3) presents Senate-gathered information of interest to GMU faculty. We hope not only to promote increased understanding of crucial issues—for example, academic policies, faculty rights and benefits, the preservation of tenure, meaningful faculty governance—but also to encourage wider faculty participation in the work of the Senate.
A strong faculty voice in policymaking is crucial if GMU is to make optimal use of limited resources. Faculty must help shape the work environment at GMU to insure their ability to function as productive teachers and scholars. In addition, the GMU faculty must communicate more effectively with the state legislature and the general public to help foster a political culture that supports higher education.
This report is also intended to serve more specific purposes. For instance, it presents Senate policy on the use of student evaluations in assessing teaching performance, a matter of immediate importance to all faculty but perhaps especially to those undergoing review for renewal, tenure, or promotion. It also provides information about a new Task Force on Emeriti/ae Professors, a project that may be of interest to faculty approaching retirement. Whether you have a complaint about parking, wonder about how GMU salaries compare with those of our “peer” institutions, want an update on GMU’s “Comprehensive Campaign,” or are worried about the erosion of tenure, we think you will find the following pages of interest. Senate documents cited in this report are available on the Senate website: www.gmu.edu/facstaff/senate.
The Faculty Senate, November 19, 2003
James Bennett, Chair 3-1155 firstname.lastname@example.org
David Kuebrich, Secretary 3-1197 email@example.com
Tenure: Recognizing tenure as the necessary basis for unfettered intellectual inquiry, robust faculty discussion, a strong faculty voice in university governance, and security for professorial voices critical of prevailing views or powerful interest groups both inside and outside academia, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee insists that tenure is the sine qua non of a healthy university. President Merten and Provost Stearns share our concern that GMU continues to have primarily a tenured faculty, and they have made a good-faith pledge to maintain and increase the percentage of the faculty on tenure-lines. They have
also agreed to provide the Senate with an annual accounting of the number of tenure-line, research, contract, and term/adjunct faculty.
Recently the Administration has issued a “Procedures Document” that stipulates that the number of term faculty should not exceed 25% of the full-time instructional faculty. Of these term faculty, a maximum of 35% can have multi-year contracts. (These percentages apply to the University as a whole and not to particular units.)
As of September 2003, GMU has a total faculty of 1,062. Of these, 492 (46%) are tenured; 207 (20%) are probationary tenure-line faculty; and 363 (34%) are term/adjunct faculty.
Instructional Faculty Compensation: Some years ago, the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and the University’s administration reported that GMU faculty salaries had reached the SCHEV goal of being in the upper 40% of our designated peer institutions. However, the salaries of tenure-line faculty may be worse than you think.
Most of the schools in GMU’s peer group are in areas with relatively low costs of living. In Fall 2000, Patrick Wilkie, SOM, presented a study to the Senate that analyzed “the effect that regional cost-of-living (COL) differences have on GMU’s salary ranking, relative to its peer institutions.” When the salaries of the 25 peer institutions were not adjusted for COL, GMU ranked 9th. However, when adjusted, GMU ranked last. To reach the 60th percentile, GMU salaries (for 2001) would have had to be increased by 19.1% or $13,201.
A similar comparative analysis by James Bennett, Economics, in Spring 2003 disclosed that “on average a Full Professor coming to GMU from one of our peer institutions would need a raise of $22, 217 to maintain the same standard of living” that she/he enjoyed before moving; an Associate Professor would need $15, 279; an Assistant Professor $13,070.
The salary range for contract and adjunct faculty varies from unit to unit and is an issue that needs Senate scrutiny.
Despite numerous efforts over the years to resolve full-time faculty concerns related to summer teaching opportunities and compensation for such, the administration has refused to fund the summer session at a level sufficient to resolve these concerns. Since the Summer School consistently produces a profit of several million dollars, the Senate is committed to negotiating a comprehensive resolution of these concerns with the Provost at the earliest opportunity.
Study Leaves: At the suggestion of the Chair of the Senate, the Provost has agreed to conduct a feasibility study on creating a study-leave policy that would provide tenure-line faculty with paid leaves on a regular basis. Information on George Mason’s study-leave policy and the sabbatical policies of our peer institutions is available on the Senate website.
Funding for Research: Information compiled by the University’s Institute for Research and Reporting indicates that GMU ranks 21st out of 25 in research budget among its SCHEV designated peer group, and its research budget is $55,921,578 lower than the group average. GMU ranks last among Virginia public research institutions in research and public service expenditures per full-time faculty. However, Vice Provost for Research Chris Hill points out that 16 of the 25 peer institutions have medical schools that dramatically increase opportunities for research funding. Dr. Hill also states that NSF data indicate that GMU ranked #162 among universities in research funding for FY2002, up from #173 in 2001; and that from 1997 to 2001, GMU’s research expenditures grew by 72%, far outstripping other Virginia public institutions as well as the national average of 34%. (Minutes, 5/7/03)
The GMU Foundation and “Comprehensive Campaign”: Beginning in Fall 2002, as a means of promoting dialogue between the Senate and the Foundation, we designated Michael Ferri, SOM, as a faculty representative to the Foundation. Professor Ferri reports that by the end of FY 2003 (6-30-03), the “Comprehensive Campaign” had commitments of $102 million toward its goal of raising $110 million by the end of FY2005. Of this total, the Campaign has received $16 million for endowment, $14 million in real estate and other in-kind gifts, $6.5 million to the Annual Fund, and $65.5 million for other restricted-use funds. Since the beginning of the Campaign, new gifts have increased the book value (that reflects the original gift value) of the endowment from $19 million to $30 million, which excludes outstanding pledges of $5 million. At present GMU’s endowment is roughly $30 million.
Emeriti/ae Professors: The Senate has created an ad hoc Task Force on Emeriti/ae Professors to develop an official policy regarding their rights and privileges (for example, e-mail access, library and parking privileges, use of exercise facilities) and to discuss other matters of shared interest. Chaired by Hale Tongren, SOM, the Task Force will be an informal group composed of retired faculty that reports to the Faculty Matters Committee (Minutes, 5/7/03).
Parking: There are frequent complaints about the cost of parking and the distance from the lots to our classrooms and offices. However, the Senate Clerk gathered information about faculty parking at several other VA state universities and found that GMU fares comparatively well in terms of both access and cost. (Minutes, 10/23/02)
Student Evaluation of Teachers and Courses: The Task Force
on Teacher/Course Evaluation presented its final report in October 2002; in
response to its findings, the Senate passed several resolutions, including:
• “That the local academic units . . . limit the use of the SRI [Student Rating of Instruction] forms for purposes of salary increases and as evidence of quality in renewal, promotion, and tenure cases; and in particular that the SRI be used ONLY together with other evidence to rank faculty for any of the foregoing purposes.”
• “That local academic units encourage faculty members to obtain mid-semester student feedback for course modification; and that the University provide technical assistance and support to faculty for this purpose.”
• “That the University Committee on Effective Teaching, in consultation with the Provost’s Office, review the SRI form . . . to eliminate its ambiguities and perceived deficiencies, and to provide for the inclusion of localized questions by the local academic units; and further establish a mechanism for regular review and report to the Senate with recommendations no later than May, 2003.” (Minutes, 10/9/02)
The Committee on Effective Teaching made the following findings and recommendations
in its April report to the Senate:
1. The present course evaluation form is “significantly flawed and . . . cannot be usefully employed as a measure of teaching effectiveness.”
2. In the upcoming year, a pilot program should be undertaken to test the viability of alternative forms.
3. As long as the current form continues to be used, “it should only be used in conjunction with other processes/programs for evaluation.”
4. Individual faculty members [should] be encouraged (on a voluntary basis) to distribute questionnaires with course-specific questions and space for student comments. This information would be confidential to the professor and made available to others only with the faculty member’s consent. (Minutes, 4/9/03)
With the Provost’s encouragement, the Committee has developed an alternative assessment form that will be used on a small scale in Spring 2004.
When the Task Force on Teacher/Course Evaluation reported to the Executive Committee and full Senate, it also presented views about the interpretation of the SRI numbers that merit further consideration and action. For instance, the Task Force emphasized that the forms should not be used to make “fine distinctions” but to identify teachers/courses in which students express an unusually high degree of dissatisfaction. Student dissatisfaction, in itself, is not to be equated with bad teaching or a bad course, but it should prompt further examination. The Task Force also stated that the University-wide norm is so high that the forms cannot indicate significant degrees of student satisfaction above the norm. However, the Task Force did not answer the important question of what score below the norm constitutes a significant level of dissatisfaction. This point needs to be addressed early in the coming year, as well as how information about the proper use of the SRI is to be disseminated and implemented.
Grades and Academic Standards: We created an ad hoc
Task Force on Academic Standards to provide a “comprehensive and detailed
description of grades given at GMU,” as well as grading trends over time;
the grades given in individual schools,
departments, and programs; in different academic units and subsections within those units; in the new general education curriculum; and by categories of instructors (tenure track, contract, and adjunct). The Task Force will make its final report to the Senate in November 2003. (Minutes, 11/13/02)
Relations with the Administration
We commend the President and the Provost for their willingness throughout the past year to increase communication with the Senate on various issues. The President has agreed to address the Senate twice each fall and spring semester and has initiated a dinner meeting with the Executive Committee each semester. The Provost meets regularly with the Executive Committee and attends and participates actively in the Senate meetings.
The last year has also marked an increase in collaboration between the administration
and Senate in several areas. Significant among these was the President’s
agreement to share budgetary information with us and to allow for a faculty
voice in budgetary matters. At a September meeting with the Executive Committee,
President Merten agreed to a process in which his staff, the Provost, and Deans
and Directors would share their budget reduction priorities and alternative
reduction scenarios with the faculty in a consultative manner. Steps have been
made to implement this process, but some recalcitrance also occurred. Most important,
although the President and Provost’s offices have shared information and
consulted with us regarding budgetary matters, some Deans have been inclined
to withhold information or simply report their decisions to their faculties
than consulting with them.
We continue to work with the President and Provost to fully implement their commitment to transparency for budgets at all levels of the University. As an important first step in achieving this, the central administration has developed a new database, known as Unit Profiles, that provides in-depth financial, enrollment, and programmatic information for the entire University and each of its schools and institutes. This information promises to be most helpful for future planning.
The President also gave his support to a Senate resolution calling for administrators
subject to the annual Faculty Evaluation of Administrators to prepare summaries
of their individual activities and achievements so that faculty could make more
judgments in the evaluation. Access to these reports, along with major refinements in the evaluation instrument, have led to a greatly improved process and a high degree of faculty participation. Forty-seven percent of full-time faculty submitted the assessment form.
In the coming year the Senate wishes to consider several issues regarding
the appointment and pay of administrators. In recent years, various academics
have expressed concern about excessive growth in administrative ranks. We believe
administration and Faculty Senate should collaborate in developing clear guidelines regarding the number of administrators, and that the faculty should have a voice in the creation of new administrative positions. The Senate also recognizes that at GMU there is a widespread perception of a growing inequity between administrative and faculty salaries. Especially troubling are the various instances of individual faculty assuming an administrative position for a few years and then returning to the ranks of teaching faculty with a highly inflated salary, thus raising serious questions of professional equity. The subject of administrative pay should be jointly reviewed by the administration and the Faculty Senate.
Relations with the Board of Visitors
In the past, Senate relations with the BOV have been mixed. From the Senate’s perspective, the Board has engaged in micromanagement, interfering with duly arrived at administrative judgments and even trespassing into curricular matters that the AAUP, the Association of Governing Boards, and ex-Governor Gilmore’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education agree are best left to the judgment of the faculty.
In Fall 2002, the BOV considered changing tenure requirements to allow probationary faculty to choose between a tenure-track that emphasized quality of teaching and one that stressed excellence in research. The Senate unanimously endorsed a resolution from the Law School opposing such a dual-track system, and the Provost did commendable work in convincing the BOV that the current system gives adequate emphasis to teaching, so there was no need to alter the existing criteria for tenure (Minutes, 10/9/02, 2/12/03, 2/26/03).
Relations with the BOV improved when Rector Meese visited the Senate in February
2003. Mr. Meese began by thanking the faculty on behalf of the BOV for doing
a superior job under current fiscal stringencies. Noting that GMU has always
underfunded compared to Virginia’s other doctoral-granting public universities, he promised the BOV will continue to lobby the legislature and Governor for increased funding. In response to ensuing questions, Mr. Meese supported having a non-voting
faculty seat on the BOV’s Faculty and Academic Standards Committee as a means of improving communication between the faculty and the Board. However, he did not favor a non-voting faculty representative to the BOV, even if the representative were to recuse her/himself from all discussions of personnel (Minutes, 2/12/03). So although GMU students have both a primary and alternate representative who “may participate in all [Board] standing committees as well as meetings of the Board,” our Faculty Senate ‘liaisons’ must continue to sit in the audience and have no right to speak (Board of Visitors, Bylaws).
The Faculty Senate of Virginia has worked hard to achieve faculty representation on the boards of visitors of all state-supported colleges and universities in the Commonwealth, and our members have actively participated in those efforts. In the last session of the General Assembly, the bill to provide for such representation passed the House of Delegates by a significant majority, but died in the Senate Education Committee by a very close vote. The bill will be re-introduced in the coming session of the General Assembly.
Another area of concern is the Board’s role in fundraising. Last year
the Senate sent a letter of appreciation to Visitor Sydney Dewberry for donating
a million dollars for the naming of Dewberry Hall and the creation of an endowed
chair in Engineering.
However, Visitor Dewberry’s large gift is a rare exception.
Most members of the Board should have ample financial resources and be exemplary as both donors and fundraisers. Richard D. Legon, Executive Vice President of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, asserts that fund-raising is “one of the most basic and important responsibilities” of boards and that success in fundraising depends upon the willingness of trustees to be “full partners in fund-raising initiatives.” “Today, public governing board members also must lead by example,” Legon points out, “by providing personal gifts to their institution, as should public institution foundation directors.” When a university conducts a “comprehensive campaign,” as GMU currently is, Legon proposes that 20-40 percent of the campaign’s total goal should be provided by the Board members through their personal contributions and fund-raising activities. Legon describes Board members as a school’s “most visible and natural donor constituency” and that before other donors will give, they often “want to know if the board is fully behind a fund-raising initiative and has demonstrated its own support with 100 percent participation (“The Board’s Role in Fund-Raising,” 1997).
Relations with the Legislature and the Public
The Senate External Relations Committee held two luncheons with legislative members from Northern Virginia, using these occasions to exchange views on higher education issues of particular import to GMU. In addition, two Senate members went to Richmond to participate in the annual lobbying day for higher education, jointly sponsored by the Faculty Senate of Virginia and the Virginia Conference of the AAUP; and in June one Senator joined other members of the Virginia AAUP to lobby Virginia’s legislators on Capitol Hill. In the coming year, the Senate plans to increase its lobbying efforts and will also consider how it might better use the news media to inform the public about the strengths and needs of the University.
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