George Mason University
Approved Minutes of the Faculty Senate
November 13, 2002

Senators Present: K. Avruch, J. Bennett, A. Berry, E. Blaisten-Barojas, D. Boileau, D. Boehm-Davis, L. Brown, P. Buchanan, Y. D. Chung, R. Coffinberger, M. De Nys, E. Elstun, M. Ferri, H. Gortner, L. Griffiths, J. High, D. Kuebrich, W. Kurkul, B. Manchester, C. Mattusch, J. Metcalf, L. Monson, J. Moore, R. Nadeau, L. Pawloski, P. Regan, L. Rockwood, S. Ruth, J. Sanford, F. Shahrokhi, S. Slayden, D. Sprague, E. Sturtevant, C. Sutton, S. Trencher, I. Vaisman, S. Zoltek

Senators Absent: P. Black, B. Brown, S. Cobb, S. deMonsabert, M. Deshmukh, R. Diecchio, M. Dworzecka, T. Friesz, J. Gorrell, M. Grady, K. Haynes, D. Holisky, H.W. Jeong, C. Kaffenberger, R. Klimoski, M. Kafatos, J. Kozlowski, C. Lerner, P.J. Maddox, A. Merten, W. Reeder, J. Scimecca, R. Smith, A. Sofer, P. Stearns, M. Stearns, J. Zenelis

Guests Present: S. Beach, D. Bitler, N. Dickerson, L. Fathe, D. Fox, S. Jones, W. Rankin

I. Call to Order
Chair Jim Bennett called the meeting to order at 3:08 p.m. The Minutes of the October 23, 2002 Faculty Senate meeting were approved.

II. Announcements
The Chair announced that Rector Meese will address the Faculty Senate at the December 4, 2002 meeting.

III. Old Business
There was no old business.

IV. Committee Reports and Action Items

Executive Committee – Jim Bennett

Jim Bennett displayed statistics on “Undergraduate Grade Distribution by Academic Unit, Fall 2001” and pointed out that 71% of undergraduate grades given were A’s and B’s. Dave Kuebrich then introduced a resolution calling for the creation of a Task Force to review academic standards at George Mason and recommend any needed changes.

Resolution Establishing a Task Force on Academic Standards
WHEREAS the maintenance of high academic standards is essential to the mission and reputation of George Mason University, and
WHEREAS the faculty bears the primary responsibility for the maintenance of these standards, and
WHEREAS preliminary evidence suggests that grades given at our University may be unduly high, and WHEREAS recent senior exit polls of graduating seniors indicate that our full-time students are only spending about 19 hours per week on
studying/homework, and
WHEREAS there is a growing national concern about deteriorating academic standards,

BE IT RESOLVED by the Faculty Senate that a University Task Force on Academic Standards be created to provide a comprehensive and detailed description of grades given at GMU. Its charge will include, but not be limited to, a study of the present distribution of grades and how it compares to that of earlier years, of grading trends over time, of the grades given by individual departments and schools and of programs or subsections within these units, of the grades given by different categories of professors (tenure track, contract and adjunct), and of the grades given in the new general education curriculum. In the event that the Task Force judges current grading practices to be inappropriately high, then it should attempt to ascertain what factors are promoting grade inflation and recommend corrective policies.

The Task Force will consist of four faculty members, of whom at least one must be from the Faculty Senate, and a representative of the Office of the Provost. The Task Force will make progress reports to the Senate Academic Policies Committee in February, April, and September 2003; and a final report to the Senate in November 2003.

If adopted, the Nominations Committee will create a slate of nominees for approval at the December 4, 2002 meeting, and the Provost will appoint his representative to serve on the Task Force.

The concern was raised that the Resolution didn’t allow for student input. It was pointed out that the Task Force’s mandate is to gather information and assess if any action needs to be taken. If so, there will be student input at the level of addressing the problem.

The resolution was adopted by voice vote.

Academic Policies – Esther Elstun
For the committee, Esther Elstun introduced the following motion:
Motion: that the current limit of nine semester hours for undergraduate Extended Studies students be raised to ten semester hours, in order to allow the inclusion of a four-hour laboratory course.

Without objection, a friendly amendment was introduced to strike the words “in order to allow the inclusion of a four-hour laboratory course” so that all four-hour courses would be included.

It was moved and seconded to amend the motion by substituting “ten semester hours” to “three courses.” The motion to amend failed.

The motion as amended passed.

Esther Elstun introduced a second motion:
Motion: that the proposed three-year calendar for the academic years 2004-2007 be adopted.

It was noted that the Fall 2004 semester will have no Reading Day since the end of the academic year falls so close to Winter Break. It was questioned why the spring semester calendar includes “MLK Day (no classes)” when classes do not start until after the holiday. The Registrar said that it would be removed from the calendar.

There was discussion concerning the fall semester practice of having Monday classes meet on the Tuesday following the Columbus Day holiday. It was noted that the practice causes confusion and scheduling conflicts for both students and faculty. In ensuing discussion it was stated that it is necessary to create a semester schedule that observes the fall holidays and yet allows for each course to have the requisite number of class hours regardless of the day or days of the week it meets. To do this, it is necessary to have five free days during the semester, with one of them falling on each day of the week (i.e., Monday classes are cancelled on Labor Day, Tuesday classes are cancelled on Columbus Day, and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday classes on the Thanksgiving break).

The motion passed by a voice vote.

Facilities & Support Services & Library – Lorraine Brown
The Committee will be meeting on November 15, 2002.

Faculty Matters – Marty De Nys
No action items.

Organization & Operations – Phil Buchanan
The Committee has finished reviewing the recommendations of the Academic Integrity Task Force and has distributed them to the appropriate committees, mainly the Academic Policies Committee.

Nominations – Rick Coffinberger
The Committee expects to have a slate of nominees prepared by the December 4, 2002 Senate meeting for the Task Force on Academic Standards that was just approved.

Ad Hoc Budget Committee – Rick Coffinberger
Rick Coffinberger presented a chart concerning the breakdown of the spring semester’s $192 tuition surcharge that was voted into effect by the BOV on October 24th . The surcharge will generate approximately $3,302,200, of which $1,100,00 is slated foracademic department replacement funds. In response, the Budget Committee introduced a resolution of appreciation:

Resolution of Appreciation to GMU’s Board of Visitors
WHEREAS at its special meeting on October 24, 2002, the Board of Visitors (BOV) imposed a $192 surcharge on students enrolling in the Spring 2003 semester, and
WHEREAS the GMU Administration informed the BOV that $1.1 million of the additional $3.3 million in revenue generated by this surcharge will be used to provide academic departments funds to increase the number and variety of course offerings and to reduce class sizes, and
WHEREAS this commitment by the GMU Administration and the action of the BOV will enhance the educational experience of GMU students,

BE IT RESOLVED that the Faculty Senate expresses its appreciation to the GMU Administration and to the BOV for this action and that the Office of the Provost report to the Senate at its January 2003 meeting on how this initiative has been implemented by academic department.

If adopted, the Secretary of the Senate is instructed to send this Resolution to the Rector of the Board of Visitors, the President of GMU, and to the Provost.

The question was raised as to whether the University has the necessary classrooms to increase the number of classes in the spring. The Registrar explained that this money is to allow for the reinstatement of classes put on hold due to the budget cuts. Since these classes were originally scheduled, their previously assigned classrooms are still available. It was also suggested that it might seem inappropriate to thank the Board for increasing the tuition students must pay. It was answered that the Senate is thanking them for a one-time surcharge as opposed to a permanent tuition raise (which many Virginia schools have made) and for designating that a significant amount of the money raised be used for increasing the number of courses offered to students and, thereby, also decreasing class size.

There was a friendly amendment to express appreciation also to the Administration by changing the title to “Resolution of Appreciation to GMU’s Board of Visitors and Administration.” The resolution and the friendly amendment passed by voice vote.

The Committee also presented information concerning the “alternative severance” proposal that was endorsed by the BOV. Faculty members in the VA Retirement Plan (VSRS) who have been employed for a certain amount of time are eligible to receive 5-6 years of extra benefits for early retirement. The proposal will be part of the units’ business plans, so that each unit determines how many/which faculty will be offered the alternative severance package.

V. Other New Business
Report by Laurie Fathe, Director, Center for Teaching Excellence

Having spoken before the senate last spring, Dr. Fathe was invited back to address two issues: how an institution’s structure and how its system of rewards and incentives can serve to promote or hinder excellence in teaching.

Dr. Fathe began by noting that the Center is staffed only by herself and a part-time graduate student and that with the Center’s many activities and limited staff, she was unable to fully marshall all of the materials necessary for her presentation.

Dr. Fathe recommended Administrative Commitment to Teaching by Leslie Cochron as a valuable resource for administrators and faculty. Dr. Fathe remarked that the GMU administrative structure needs some changes in order to better support the faculty, but she also pointed out that the administrative structure varies greatly from unit to unit, making it difficult to set up one program or policy for encouraging excellence in teaching. Dr. Fathe emphasized that GMU needs a faculty dining club or lounge that would provide an informal space for discussing pedagogical issues. Asked what other initiatives she would like to pursue if funding were available, Dr. Fathe mentioned the need for summer mini-grants to faculty to support new course development and for travel monies to allow faculty to attend conferences on teaching as well as to bring faculty from other institutions to GMU to discuss curriculum and pedagogy.

Dr. Fathe stated that she would like to meet with various small groups of faculty to determine their most important or pressing concerns about teaching and to address these issues. It was suggested from the floor that some of the more important problems need to be identified now and solutions developed. Then if additional funding is needed, plans are already formulated and ready for implementation once the budget has been increased. Dr. Fathe agreed to return in April to present two or three teaching concerns and proposed remedies.

In providing a retrospective summary of her activities at GMU, Dr. Fathe said that about one-third of her time has been devoted to undergraduate apprentice programs; another third to programs for assisting faculty with their teaching (approximately twenty such programs were developed for this fall); and the remainder of her time has been devoted to working with individual faculty, administrative duties and committee work.

VI. Remarks for the Good of the General Faculty
Doris Bitler suggested, based upon her recent teaching experience, that there is an increase in disruptive behavior and decline of civility in the classroom. She reminded the faculty of the policy on disruptive behavior in the Faculty Information Guide(http://www.gmu.edu/facstaff/fig.html). Esther Elstun added that last year the Faculty Senate adopted an addition to the catalog text on classroom disruption and requested that faculty members note the policy in their syllabi.

Numerous complaints were aired concerning classroom size, configuration, and equipment. The Registrar mentioned that a Classroom Advisory Committee made up of Associate Deans is currently involved in designing classrooms for future buildings stipulated in the capital plan. Faculty members are encouraged to express their concerns to the Committee.

Stanley Zoltek reported that the University Technology Policy Committee met with Dr. Joy Hughes and her directors to discuss what IT services may need to be reduced or eliminated due to budget cuts imposed by Richmond.

VI. Adjournment
A motion to adjourn was requested, and it was so moved and seconded. The meeting adjourned at 4:18 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
David Kuebrich
Secretary, Faculty Senate

Return to Archives