GMU Faculty Senate Executive Committee Minutes - February 23, 2009



February 23, 2009

Mason Hall, room D5 1:30 p.m.


Present:  Jim Bennett, Rick Coffinberger, Dave Kuebrich, Janette Muir, Larry Rockwood, Suzanne Slayden (by teleconference phone), Peter Stearns, Susan Trencher.


I.  Approval of the Minutes of February 2, 2009:  The minutes were approved as distributed.


II.  Progress reports, business, and agenda items from the Senate Standing Committees


A.     Academic Policies – Janette Muir

Resolution:  Statement of Academic Termination for Undergraduates at GMU (to be inserted on page 40 of the University Catalog… also clarifications p. 33, 34) distributed for inclusion on March 4th agenda.  In response to a question raised, Professor Muir confirmed that repeat issues occur mostly in the sciences, math, and accounting. The motion was also vetted by Susan Jones (University Registrar). 


The AP Committee held a very collegial meeting with Rick Davis (Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education/Chair of the General Education Committee). The charges of the Gen Ed. and AP Committees were reviewed.  All agreed that issues which require catalog changes should be brought to the AP Committee; not to make catalog changes without (first) going through relevant structure.  The Gen. Ed. Committee is working on a lot of SACS issues, such as credit for exams policies.  Professor Muir will also follow up with Associate Provost Davis regarding suggestion(s) about changes to synthesis courses raised last summer by a faculty member.


Discussion:  Professor Muir confirmed that new catalog copy is submitted to the AP Committee for review prior to publication.  Some departments complain deadlines very narrow for submitting changes in catalog copy, and also cited examples of typographical errors and missing information such as faculty names, ranks, etc.  Departments should inform dean’s office about errors. 


B.     Budget and Resources – Rick Coffinberger, Chair

We have no action items.  Last week I attended a Budget Planning Team meeting.  Roughly every two weeks (the B&R Committee rep.) will meet with Provost Stearns,  Morrie Scherrens (Sr. Vice President), and Donna Kidd  (Associate Vice President for Budget and Planning).  The Provost noted that the Virginia Senate has introduced a bill to rescind some budget cuts. A new link to the Budget Office website: Mason Ideas: Submit Ideas for Addressing Financial and Educational Challenges (faculty, staff and students are encouraged to submit their ideas) will soon be active (modeled on a similar link of the University of Illinois).  We also met a few weeks ago with Roger Stough (Vice President for Research and Economic Development) in which he answered questions about how (precisely) grant funding divided up. 


C.     Faculty Matters – Larry Rockwood, Chair

Proposed Free Speech / Demonstration Policy Update:  The Committee met with Professor Jim Kozlowski (SHRT) and Professor Victoria Rader who serves on the Campus Climate Committee; a long-range broad discussion took place.  At our next meeting, we hope to find out who in the Johnson Center is in charge of the “free speech zone” and who decides which groups permitted use of a table.  In the absence of a policy, Victoria Rader to find out who makes decision, some personnel turnover occurred.  Anticipate meeting of interested parties prior to the arrival of the circus; hopefully to keep the peace.


Strong sentiment expressed that any proposed free speech policy should first be approved by the Faculty Senate. The Provost suggested the Senate consult with Tom Hennessey (Chief of Staff).   


Review of Faculty Information Guide:  There are many, many broken links and outdated information. These problems have been reported to the webmaster in the Provost’s Office.  Two members of the Faculty Matters Committee are reviewing the Guide for content. 


D.    Nominations Committee – no report.


E.  Organization and Operations – Susan Trencher, Chair

Motion for inclusion in March 4 agenda to create a new (University Standing) Committee to address GMU campuses located outside the state of Virginia as well as collaborations with other campuses.


We continue working on revisions to Grievance Committee charges to conform to changes made to newly revised Faculty Handbook.  Some changes also needed to AP Committee charge to avoid overlap with proposed new committee; we have not yet revised charge of External Academic Relations Committee. 


Ernie Barreto is working on allocation of Faculty Senate seats for 2009-10; dates specified in charter regarding allocation should not be used because the FTE count is not accurate on that date. Instead, the last official data is used. .  Earlier election of Faculty Senators would facilitate election of next year’s Executive Committee membership before the end of the current academic year.  Changes to the charter require approval vote of entire faculty.



III.  Agenda for March 4th:  Rector Volgenau and Mark Broderick (Vice President for University Development and Alumni Affairs) to attend.  In response to a question raised, the Provost is happy to answer questions, but did not think it appropriate to introduce him on the agenda more than once a semester.  He also provided a brief update about the RAK campus. 


IV.              New Business

Faculty Senate Evaluation of President and Provost:  Further revisions to the draft instrument were discussed.  The survey will be distributed to chairs of Senate and University Standing Committees and Task Forces active during the past year.  An anonymity provision will be incorporated if so requested, although value of anonymous information questioned.

President’s Resolution Response:    “As I have stated on several occasions, I only discuss my compensation with Sally and Dr. Volgenau.  Therefore, I will not address the matter of my compensation with the Faculty Senate in writing or in person.”


President Merten distributed a letter to the Mason community (February 18, 2009 – See Appendix A). Professor Slayden confirmed that the draft text of February 18th letter referenced above was circulated to the BOV prior to publication of “Taking Raises and Taking Heat” Inside Higher Education, Feb. 17, 2009.  Suggestion made to send another letter to President Merten expressing faculty concerns about salary issues. President Merten is scheduled to attend the April 1st Faculty Senate meeting.  VA State Representative David Bulova introduced a bill for more public oversight of salaries, which did not pass.  


Bookstore Response:  Professor (and Faculty Senator) Betsy DeMulder serves as the new faculty liaison to the bookstore.  She will report at March 4th Faculty Senate meeting. Consensus that problems encompass a whole range of issues, and are escalating; (action/solution) long overdue.  GMU receives money from a profit-sharing plan with the bookstore. 


Respectfully submitted,

Meg Caniano

Clerk, Faculty Senate




February 18, 2009

To the George Mason University Community:

For over a year now the global financial situation has steadily worsened, and many aspects of life have become more difficult for many Americans. There is little evidence that the world or national economies are rebounding or showing signs of an imminent recovery.

We share the hope that was so profoundly expressed by President Obama during his inaugural speech of a better day in the months and years ahead, and his resolve to view this financial situation as an opportunity for improvement. How long the economic crisis will persist is unknown to any of us. The road ahead will not be easy, but if we keep our focus and reaffirm our commitment to protect the core, we will endure and be well positioned when the economy rebounds.

Our institutional vital signs are stronger than ever as we have assembled a teaching and research faculty who continuously advance the reputation of the institution. We have achieved national recognition for our teaching excellence, as well as several breakthrough discoveries in various areas of research. The number of student applications is higher than ever, and the quality of incoming undergraduate, transfer, and graduate students is superior to any previous year. Our retention rate and graduation rate are at all-time highs. We award more degrees annually than any other college or university in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and our alumni are increasingly being tapped as highly respected regional, national, and international leaders. National publications have acknowledged our institutional advancement and our outstanding value to our students. These rankings and accomplishments are a direct reflection of the effort and commitment made by you.

As we are currently expending approximately $250 million per year on new construction and improvements, we are not only changing the face of our campuses but serving as a major contributor to the Northern Virginia economy at a time when so many other economic drivers are either stagnant or declining. By any measurement, we are highly efficient and effective in how we manage the university, and this is true of both our academic administration and our support services. However, as state support declines and day-to-day responsibilities increase, certainly you must question how we can possibly do more. Yet we know we must. We must continue to find ways to work smarter and more effectively.

The provost and senior vice president have held informational sessions to explain our budget reduction strategies as we have absorbed a 5 percent General Fund reduction in FY 2008; another 7 percent budget reduction in FY 2009 with the high probability of a deeper cut in state support next year (FY 2010). As you probably know, the governor recommended another 8 percent General Fund reduction for FY 2010. Operating plans for FY 2010 are currently being developed which will provide us with the necessary information to make the wisest possible resource allocation decision.

As the state continues to struggle financially, we must focus our efforts on keeping higher education accessible to new and returning students. This will be a monumental task as we brace ourselves for what will most likely be a substantial reduction in state support this coming year. Therefore, I have decided to establish an Adverse Economy Assistance Fund to assist students whose family’s economic situation has been dramatically weakened by job loss or other catastrophic incidents as a result of the economic crisis. Established at $150,000 and to be used by the Office of Financial Aid in conjunction with other available assistance to help students, this fund will hopefully make the difference between either continuing their studies or withdrawing from George Mason University for many students.

The university’s endowment performance for the past year, though experiencing a double-digit decline, achieved a top quartile peer ranking. A priority for Mason is to continue to build on the success of the recently completed capital campaign that raised more than $140 million for George Mason University. In 2008 we raised more dollars, gifts, and pledges than ever in the history of Mason. We are enormously grateful to the thousands of Mason supporters who continue to invest in the future of this great institution. Your support is more important than ever.

Our university culture is marked by a commitment to improvement, a relentless search for best practices, and a quest for excellence. We know that only through the alignment of a shared vision and a university spirit that embraces diversity and civility can we advance those actions that will strengthen the core values of this great university. There is no easy answer to maintaining institutional momentum during difficult financial times, but being resilient and optimistic is the foundation of our plan.

Our strength is our people. Several university community members have already made significant contributions by volunteering to accept salary reductions, deferring compensation package increases, individually absorbing costs that otherwise would be eligible for state reimbursement, and contributing larger amounts of unrestricted donations to the George Mason University Foundation. A different person seems to step up every day to lead us on this journey. That is what makes George Mason University so special.

We will emerge a better university after these turbulent times because each of you believes that you can make a difference at Mason—and you can—and you do. Although challenged by these financial constraints, we will rally together to build an institution that will withstand today’s economic downturn and be prepared to meet any future challenges. It is our responsibility, our opportunity, to take advantage of this economic downturn and do whatever we can to lift tomorrow’s leaders onto our shoulders so they may view a horizon that inspires hope and promise and the opportunity to fulfill their dreams of a better tomorrow. We in higher education hold the key to their success. Together we can do this! We are Mason.

Alan G. Merten