Faculty Senate Executive Committee

                                     Annual Letter to the Faculty

                                      Academic Year 2003-2004

 

 

In keeping with the practice initiated last year, the Executive Committee is sending an annual letter to the faculty that provides a brief account of some of the Senate’s more important deliberations and actions during the previous year as well as some of the concerns the Senate will address during the current year.  Documents cited in this report are available on the Senate website:  www.gmu.edu/facstaff/senate.

 

We welcome responses to the Senate’s current efforts as well as suggestions for future undertakings.

 

The Faculty Senate, November 10, 2004

James Bennett, Chair 3-1155  jbennett@gmu.edu

David Kuebrich, Secretary 3-1197  dkuebric@gmu.edu

 

 

Faculty Concerns

 

Tenure:  President Merten and Provost Stearns share the Senate’s concern that GMU  continue to have primarily a tenured faculty.  They have made a good-faith pledge to maintain and increase the percentage of faculty on tenure lines (and to provide the Senate with an annual accounting of the number of tenure-line, research, contract and term/adjunct faculty).  A procedures document issued by the Administration stipulates that term faculty should not exceed 25% of full-time instructional faculty.  Of these term faculty, a maximum of 35% may have multi-year contracts. (These percentages apply to the University as a whole and not to particular units.)  Last year we reported that as of September 2003, GMU had a total faculty of 1,062.  Of these, 492 (46% were tenured; 207 (20%) were probationary tenure-line faculty; and 363 (34%) were term/adjunct faculty.  As reported by Institutional Research & Reporting (irr.gmu.edu/faculty/fulltimefac_check.cfm), comparable numbers for Fall 2004 are as follows:  total faculty = 1172; tenured = 537 (46%); probationary = 201 (17%); term adjunct = 433 (37%).  These numbers indicate a decline in the percentage of  probationary faculty, but IRR reports that these figures may be slightly inaccurate, and they are currently working with the Provost’s Office to further refine the relevant data. 

 

Faculty Salaries:  The President at the Fall 2004 Meeting of the General Faculty and the October 6 Senate Meeting stated that improving faculty salaries was his top priority.  He spoke of 5% increases (3% from the State and 2% from tuition) over the next few years to restore salaries to the 60th percentile among the University’s peer institutions (Minutes 10/6/04).

 

Study Leaves:  In response to a request by the Faculty Senate for an expanded study-leave program, the Provost agreed to conduct a feasibility study.  Associate Provost David Rossell subsequently presented a proposal to the Senate that outlined a new category of leave for associate and full professors with at least ten years of service.  These centrally funded awards would be competitive, and they could be used for research or course development.  The Administration would provide a maximum of 20 each academic year.  They would provide for 2 courses of released time at an approximate cost of $7,000 each or a total cost of $140,000 (Senate Minutes, 12/3/03).  The Provost subsequently determined that the immediate implementation of the new study leaves was not a high priority for funding for the 2004-5AY.  Hopefully, this judgment will be reconsidered in the near future.

 

Salaries of Administrators Who Return to the Instructional Faculty:  In a Summer 2004 meeting with the President and Provost, the Senate Executive Committee raised concerns about instructional faculty who move to administrative positions and then return to teaching with significant increases to their base salaries.  In recent years some faculty have, after relatively short terms in administration, returned to teaching with pay increases that will likely result in each of them receiving hundreds of thousands in additional earnings during his/her career.  The President and Provost acknowledged this problem and stated that a different policy was being implemented immediately.  Under this new policy an administrative faculty member who returns to the instructional faculty would be paid her/his former nine-month salary plus an adjustment equivalent to the average raises received by faculty in her/his department during the person’s term of administrative service.   

 

Summer School Salaries:  Last year’s annual letter called attention to on-going faculty dissatisfaction about summer teaching opportunities and compensation. Noting that the Summer School consistently produces an annual profit of millions of dollars, and that that profit is growing, the Senate’s position is that the Administration can resolve faculty concerns with no significantly adverse effects on Summer School income. In summer 2004, some faculty concerns were addressed.  For instance, there was some improvement in compensation for teaching laboratory courses. However, some CAS faculty are still paid only 2.5% of their salaries for conducting summer labs (Minutes, 5/5/04).  Another concern is that faculty are sometimes paid less than 10% for teaching a second course. This appears to be inconsistent with Section 3.3 of the Faculty Handbook.

 

At its October 2004 meeting the Senate passed a resolution stating that whereas the “Summer Session generates in excess of $10 million in tuition and fees, which constitutes nearly three times the costs of compensating Faculty to teach in the Summer Session,” then starting in summer 2005, full-time faculty should be paid ten percent of their nine-month contract salaries for each of their first two courses.  In addition, faculty who were not so compensated in the 2004 Summer Session should receive retroactive pay.  The Provost responded that this resolution contravenes a previous agreement he reached with the Senate.  The Executive Committee is arranging for further discussion with the Provost.

 

 Posting of Salaries of Faculty and Administrators:  Salaries are now posted on the Senate website (Senate Minutes, 2/11/04).  Access is restricted to faculty who must enter their e-mail system username and password. Previously this information was available to the public in print format in the Johnson Center Library and also on www.roblink.com.   The new data, compiled with the cooperation of Associate Provost Rossell and the Office of Human Resources/Payroll, is more complete and accurate than roblink and easier to access than the library’s print records.  Interest has proven to be quite high.  When the Senate notified the general faculty that the salary data were available in digital form on request, the Senate clerk received over 350 requests within 24 hours.   During the summer, VP Joy Hughes provided the technical support needed to make these data available via the Senate web page with access limited to faculty.

 

In addition to providing faculty with easy access to salary information, the Senate also plans to monitor these records for seeming irregularities, so that these may be adequately clarified or corrective action may be taken.  For instance, the records received from the Payroll Office for the past year indicate that one high-level GMU administrator received two raises:  one in December, 2003, and another in January, 2004, for a total raise in excess of $26,000 (or 14%).  This apparent anomaly needs further examination, especially given fiscal constraints currently faced by the University (Minutes 10/6/04).  Another seeming anomaly is that for fiscal years 2001-2003, when the Commonwealth did not provide funding for faculty salary increments, the salary records indicate that 171 Instructional Faculty (20%) and 185 Administrative Faculty (39%) received raises.  A large portion of the Instructional Faculty raises were apparently the result of promotion in rank (Minutes 4/7/04).

 

Faculty Evaluation of Administrators:  The annual evaluation was conducted in Spring 2004.  Approximately 40% of the Faculty submitted forms (Minutes 5/5/04).  In the coming year the Senate hopes to substantially improve the submission rate and to discuss with the Provost what might be an appropriate response when an administrator repeatedly receives low evaluations.

 

Severance Agreements:  The Senate is asking the Administration to develop a clearly articulated, uniform severance package for retiring faculty.

 

Emeritus Status:  The Senate approved a motion that recommends changes in current policy to make emeritus status more inclusive and to clarify and extend its benefits (Minutes, 5/5/04). The resolution recommends the title of “Emeritus” for “all faculty who retire from George Mason University with ten or more years of service.”  Other retired faculty are eligible for nomination to emeritus status; non-emeritus retirees would have “affiliate status.”  A list of recommended life-time privileges includes the following:  the use of a University identification card, library privileges, and University e-mail, postal mail, and letterhead; the same opportunities as active faculty for reduced prices for University dining facilities, admission to campus events, and discounted purchases at the bookstore and computer store; parking stickers at senior rates; and the use of University exercise facilities at a recommended price-reduction of 50% (Minutes, 5/5/04).   

 

Tuition Waivers: The Board of Visitors approved a limited tuition waiver for family members of faculty and staff, scheduled to begin in Fall 2004.  However, the plan was dropped when it was learned that Virginia state law prohibits the granting of such tuition waivers. 

 

Faculty Lounge:  At the beginning of the spring semester, a faculty lounge opened at the east end of George’s Restaurant, offering free coffee, tea and pastries.  The creation of the lounge was a Senate initiative, supported by the Provost.  During the summer, an agreement was reached with Sodexho-Marriott whereby approximately $50,000 in upgrades will be made to the Faculty Lounge.  These improvements should be completed during the winter break.

 

 

Academic Policies

 

Alternative Teacher / Course Evaluation Form:  For the last two years, a Task Force on Teacher/Course evaluations has been developing, testing and revising an alternative evaluative instrument. The new form, used on a voluntary basis in 261classes in Spring 2004, will again be available for use at the end of the current semester.  The Task Force recommends that volunteering faculty provide their students with both the regular and alternative forms.  Faculty interested in testing the new form should contact Egon Verheyen (verheyen@gmu.edu). The current ad hoc committee will make its final report no later than May 2005 (Minutes 1/21/04, 5/5-04).

 

Question of Grade Inflation:  The Task Force on Academic Standards made its final report at the November 1993 Senate Meeting. After reviewing scholarship on academic standards and grade inflation, surveying various George Mason faculty about their perceptions concerning grade inflation at the University, and analyzing data on undergraduate course grades from 1991-2000 as well as student Cumulative GPAs from the Spring 2003 semester, the Task Force concluded that there were no significant trends toward giving higher or lower grades during this time period.  The Task Force did not address the question of whether prior to 1991 grade inflation had occurred and has been subsequently maintained.  In response to the Report, the Senate passed a motion that calls for the appropriate University office to compile annual detailed summaries of grades given at the department, course and instructor level and to present these to the deans for dissemination to units in their colleges (Minutes 11/19/03).  

 

Midterm Grades:  On April 9, 2003 the Senate created a Midterm Grading Task Force to evaluate the University’s new policy of requiring midterm grade reports in 100 and 200 level courses.  At its February 11, 2004 Senate meeting, the Task Force made its final report and the Senate, based upon the recommendations of the Task Force and subsequent deliberation, passed resolutions calling for the following:

--References to mid-term grades should read “mid-term progress reports.”

--Reports should be submitted between weeks five and eight of the semester.

--Faculty should assign letter grades but need not use + or -.

--Mid-term reports are required for 100-200 level courses; they are optional for 300-400

   level courses.

--The appropriate administrative office should develop needed policies for notifying

   students not performing satisfactorily at mid-term and for recommending specific

   interventions.

 

Course Drop Policy:  In response to a request from Student Government to adjust the current policy for dropping courses so that it would be more in line with the practices of other Virginia state schools, the Senate studied the issue and approved a new drop policy.  Beginning in Fall 2005, there will be an “open withdrawal period during which an undergraduate student may withdraw from courses, for any reason and without requiring the approval of the student’s academic dean.”  Students will be limited to three such elective withdrawals during their undergraduate careers. For 14-week courses, the open withdrawal period will end one week after the last day of the midterm progress reporting period.  Withdrawn courses will remain on a student’s transcript with the unofficial grade of WE (withdrawal, elective) (Minutes 5/5/04).

 

Honor System Changes:  A new policy, designed to expedite cases in which students plead guilty, allows students to waive the hearing process and accept the recommended penalty.  In those cases in which a student pleads innocent, Dean of Students Jerry Mulherin estimates that about 80% are clearly guilty, but these cases the complete hearing process (with five judges, a faculty advisor, etc.) and can take up to nine months.  To solve this problem, the Honor Committee is working to institute a second expedited process for students who plead innocent but are willing to waive their right to a full hearing (Minutes 1/21/04).

 

In an effort to further insure academic integrity, the Provost’s Task Force on Academic Integrity encourages faculty to consider the following measures:

--On all examinations and major assignments, require students to sign a pledge that they have abided by the provisions of the Honor Code;

--Actively proctor exam periods when circumstances dictate a need for this;

--Check IDs for exams in large classes when faculty do not know the students (Minutes

   2/24/04).

 

Graduation with Recognition:  At the Provost’s request, the Senate reviewed the requirements for graduation with recognition and passed the following resolution:  “A student graduates with recognition from the University when between 45 and 59 (inclusive credits) applied toward graduation are earned at George Mason University and the student’s cumulative grade point average is at least 3.800” (Minutes 1/28/04).

 

 

 

Senate Relations with the Board of Visitors

 

Governor Warner signed a bill in spring 2004 that encourages the boards of state colleges and universities to appoint “one or more nonvoting, advisory faculty representatives to their respective boards” (Minutes 5/5/04).  To date our BOV has not addressed this issue.  GMU students have both a primary and alternate representatives who “may participate in all [Board] standing committees as well as meetings of the Board,” but GMU faculty are limited to a non-voting seat on the BOV’s Faculty and Academic Standards Committee and faculty “liaisons” who must sit in the audience and have no right to speak (BOV Bylaws).

 

 

 

 

Senate Relations with the Legislature and the Public

 

The Senate External Relations Committee worked closely with Tom Hennessey, Chief of Staff to President Merten, to lobby the General Assembly to increase funding for higher education, George Mason specifically.  Three members of the Committee joined the Faculty Senate of Virginia “Lobby Day” in Richmond at the start of the General Assembly session, where they had individual meetings with 20 members of the House and Senate.  In addition, members of the Committee spoke at two local public hearings on the state budget.