Minutes of the University Senate Meeting November 29, 2006
Present: C.A. Bassett, C. Bengston, H. Briston, S. Brownmiller, C. Cherry, M. Chong*, A. Coles-Bjerre, J. Daniels, M. Dennis, C. Ellis, A. Emami, O. Guerra, N. Gulley, S. Holmberg*, J. Hurwit, R. Irvin, L. Karim, L. LaTour, P. Lu, B. Malle, Corlea (Sue) Martinez*, A. Mathas, K. McPherson, T. Minner, C. Minson, V. Ostrik, M. Pangburn, A. Papiliou, F. Pyle, L. Richardson, P. Rounds, G. Sayre, A. Schulz, A. Sherrick, J. Sneirson, N. Tublitz (*non-voting participant)
Excused: N. Fujii, P. Gilkey, P. Lambert, J. Newton, D. Olson, C. Parsons, G. Psaki, J. Stolet
Absent: G. Berk, S. Cohen, A. Djiffack, S. Gary, K. Mourfy, K. Wagle
CALL TO ORDER
The regular meeting of the University Senate was called to order by Senate President Jeffrey Hurwit at 3:03 p.m.
APPROVAL OF THE MINUTES
Minutes of the November 8, 2006 meeting were approved as distributed.
STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY
President Hurwit welcomed OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner and OUS benefits administrator Denise Yunker to the meeting. Chancellor Pernsteiner had been invited to speak to the senators on the overall state of the university system, especially related to budget, and on matters related to proposed changes for the retirement plans, particularly the Optional Retirement Plan (401[a]) and tax deferred investments (403[b]).
Mr. Pernsteiner began his comments explaining his optimism for anticipated increases in the state's budget for higher education. The governor's budget is expected to reflect the State Board's request for substantial reinvestment in higher education. Mr. Pernsteiner anticipates improved funding in several areas: faculty salaries, reduced student-faculty ratios, deferred maintenance problems, sustainability of regional campuses, and capital construction. The total price tag of such improvements, combined with current budget levels, will result in a request near $1 billion. He indicated that regardless of how closely the governor's budget reflects the board's requested funds, the real work of the upcoming legislative session will be to convince the legislature that investing in higher education is investing in the future of Oregon. Mr. Pernstein emphasized the importance of reinvesting in higher education by alluding to statistics showing that as a state, Oregon is 46th in the nation in amount spent on students per capita, and is one of only a few places in the world where the current student population is not as well educated as their parents are. These trends need to be reversed, and he is hopeful that the proposed budget will start us on that path to recovery.
Moving to the proposed changes in the retirement system, Mr. Pernsteiner indicated that his office is withdrawing the proposal to decouple the Optional Retirement Plan (ORP) from PERS (Public Employees Retirement System). He indicated that the way contributions are made and the way PERS is structured, there is inequity in retirement results that needs to be looked at, but for the 2007-09 biennium, the idea to decouple the two plans will not be pursued.
The chancellor went on to say that the system has several retirement plans for faculty and staff. Most current employees are either in Tier I or Tier II Plans run by PERS (i.e., the state). In 1996 unclassified employees had the opportunity to "opt out" of PERS and into an alternative to PERS, the Option Retirement Plan (401[a]). Additionally, all employees have tax-deferred investment opportunities (403[b]), which are voluntary retirement savings programs, currently with 16 authorized vendors of annuities and mutual funds, and 3,500 active participants (about 16% of the workforce). These 401 and 403 plans are administered by OUS, not the state. Because the federal government is proposing new requirements regarding administration of 401 and 403 plans to be effective in January 2008, OUS has begun looking at the way these plans are designed and administered by OUS. An advisory group has proposed several changes, with the goals being to make it easier for employees to both take advantage of the retirement savings plan (403[b]) and to want to participate in it. A second goal in planning for the future was to provide high quality investments and services, and third, that the plan redesign would meet the proposed federal requirements.
Mr. Pernsteiner explained that the proposed plan has two basic components: recordkeeping via a trust and custodian platform (transactions, statements, participant services, advising and education), and the investment platform (mutual funds, fixed and variable annuities). The chancellor indicated that having a single record keeper would drive down the investment costs now paid by the investor through fees deducted from earnings. Currently, the recordkeeping and fees charged are done by each of the various investment funds themselves. Ms. Yunker clarified that the system acts as a pass through accounting system for the various vendors. OUS is proposing to have a central record keeper that would consolidate the funds and provide advising and education to participants. Funds for investing would be chosen by a committee of the record keeper based on a range of investment criteria that they determine. A request for proposals from potential custodial record keepers has been sent out and some information has come back to OUS. However, the chancellor explained that what the system needs now is to hear from faculty and staff regarding what they think about the new plan concept, in general, and the proposed changes. He has asked the presidents of each of the institution's senates to appoint one or two faculty members to participate on a committee to advise OUS on two things: the administrative (recordkeeping/custodial) aspect, and the way to approach investments. A further question for the advisory committee is whether the system should unbundle the administrative recordkeeping part of the plan from the investment portion. (Note: the UO representatives on the OUS advisory committee are professors Joe Stone and Larry Singell, economics.)
The chancellor then opened the floor to questions. A number of issues and questions were posed by senators and faculty in attendance. Comments included suggestions that having multiple investment choices did not necessarily equate with confusion – many faculty like having many options, and preferred to stay with their current investment company(ies), which may not be guaranteed in the proposed plan. Others questioned whether having a new record keeper would indeed reduce costs to individual investors. One faculty member suggested that total compensation is the real issue, and wondered what the system is doing to address that problem; he asked if the chancellor could promise not to cut compensation. Similarly, another faculty member opined that the proposal takes money out of the employee's pockets, and that it essentially means cutting benefits; withdrawing the notion to decouple ORP from PERS is a help, but the continuing rise in costs of benefits is heading toward a net loss in compensation. Rather, he continued, the system should be looking in to means for increasing benefits and salaries to attract and retain faculty and staff. Another faculty member felt the system was breaking a trust with employees who opted for one plan, making an irrevocable choice in the belief that there would not be changes in the plan.
The chancellor responded that the goal of the proposed plan is to simplify what has been confusing, reduce costs to employees if possible, offer better investment options and encourage greater retirement savings participation. The chancellor did not purport to have all the answers, hence his request for advice from an advisory committee. He addressed the compensation questions by saying that the system was working hard with the governor to increase faculty and staff salaries in the coming legislative session, and there is no proposal to change the current benefits plan. Nevertheless, he recognized the continuing pressures of ever-rising health insurance costs, for example, and is actively seeking advice from faculty and others regarding how to deal with this issue as well as issues surrounding retiree health care (pre-Medicare) costs. President Hurwit closed the discussion by thanking the chancellor for his comments. The president expressed his appreciation that here is now a consulting process in place, saying that there is a major potential for weakening the system if compensation is decreased.
Faculty Representative to the NCAA. Mr. Jim O'Fallon, faculty representative to the NCAA, provided the annual report regarding the academic situation of student athletes (SAs) at the UO. He reminded the senators that the NCAA pays attention to primarily two indicators of academic performance of SAs: graduation rates and individual academic eligibility for competition. Mr. O'Fallon reported that there are two components of academic eligibility: ACT or SAT score plus grade point average of college prep courses upon entrance; second, in the first year the SAs have to complete 36 credits. Each year after that, there is a benchmark of a percentage of the degree completed: after 2 years, SAs must have completed 40% of their degree work, 60% after 3 years, 80% after 4 years, and after 5 years SAs should be in position to graduate, and must meet the institution's standard for undergraduate graduation GPA. At the UO, there was only one student who was academically ineligible for fall sports competition this year, and it was rectified by completing requirements for an incomplete. As a consequence, there currently are no ineligible SAs.
Mr. O'Fallon reported that the graduation rate situation is not as good (based on federal aggregate data for all student graduation rates). Traditionally, SAs overall have higher graduate rates than the general students rates; however, most recent reports show that for the recent graduating cohort (students entering in 1999-2000), the SAs graduation rate was 47% while the general student rate was 63%, a significant fall off from previous years. Part of the fall off may be due to higher transfer out rates among SAs than among the general student population; consequently, the NCAA recently changed its rules to credit institutions for SAs who leave the institution when they are in good standing with the institution. This changes the success rate (SAs graduating) to a 72% graduation rate compared to 47% (when transfers were counted as not graduating). The IAC is now looking at the graduation rate issue.
Mr. O'Fallon indicated that the university had undergone an NCAA site accreditation team visit this fall. Their report is not released yet, but preliminary indications are that the UO exceeded the standards with flying colors. Lastly, to a question from the floor asking how SAs who leave early for professional sports are counted, Mr. O'Fallon replied that if the SA is in good academic standing when he/she leaves, the university is not adversely affected in terms of compiling graduate rates.
Fall 2006 Preliminary Curriculum Report. Mr. Paul Engelking, chair of the Committee on Courses, noted several corrections to the curriculum report: (1) repeatability options for ART: Digital Arts (ARTD) was inadvertently omitted from a previous report and is now added; and (2) MUS 250 is effective in spring 2007. Also of note is the change in name of the School of Music to the School of Music and Dance. With no other corrections or additions, the fall 2006 Curriculum Report was unanimously approved. (see http://www.uoregon.edu/~uosenate/dirsen067/FinCurF06.html)
Senator Nathan Tublitz, biology, indicated that he has withdrawn the motion for which he gave notice at the November 8th senate meeting concerning a parenthetical phrase added to the senate's on-line Enabling Legislation. The phrase has been removed.
Motion US06/07-5. The motion to request accessibility to affirmative action plans and summary data was withdrawn because the requests contained in the notice of motion (given during the November 8th senate meeting) have been met.
Motion US06/07-6. Senator Tublitz introduced the motion to establish a permanent Senate Committee on Academic Excellence as follows:
Be it resolved that the University Senate establish a permanent Senate Committee on Academic Excellence.
This resolution institutionalizes the current Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Excellence.
The committee is to be appointed by the Senate president in consultation with the Senate Executive Committee, is broadly charged to examine issues of academic quality on campus and the relationship between academic freedom and academic excellence, and is to report to the Senate at least once annually. The committee will consist of 8-12 members, the majority of whom will be Senators and instructional faculty members. The Senate president will sit as a member ex-officio, and the chair will be elected by the committee members. Term of service will be two years.
Senator Tublitz explained that the proposed permanent committee is a continuation of an ad hoc committee appointed last year by then Senate President Peter Keyes and chaired by Senator Tublitz. The proposed permanent committee would be an internal senate committee, appointed by the senate president and responsible to the senate. Current members of the ad hoc committee are: Ali Emami, Andrew Marcus, Gordon Sayre, Jeannie Wagenknecht, Jeff Hurwit, Kate Wagle, Lisa Freinkel, Matthew Dennis, Peter Keyes, Regina Psaki, Renee Irvin, Sarah Brownmiller, Shaul Cohen, Suzanne Clark, and Nathan Tublitz (chair).
During a discussion period, the effective date of the new committee was set as fall term 2006. To a question about membership, President Hurwit noted that the committee is appointed by the senate president and he will do so in the near future. Another question was raised regarding the relationship of this committee to the advisory committee on academic excellence being established by Provost Brady. Senator Tublitz replied that the senate committee's agenda is to speak on behalf of the senate and its concerns. Although there may well be some overlap of concerns, the Provost's committee is a broader ranging one which includes the entire campus, whereas the senate committee is concerned primarily with faculty issues of academic excellence. It is possible that one or two members of the senate committee will be included on the Provost's committee and vice versa, to enhance good communication. The senate committee will help to broaden the conversation on academic excellence. A question was raised if any students would be included on the senate committee. President Hurwit said he would consider it. Regarding the issue of overlap with multicultural committees and issues of academic excellence, Senator Tublitz indicated that the topic of academic excellence is so pervasive across campus, there is consideration being given by the provost to look into ways to improve communication among the various committees addressing this issue on many fronts. With no further comments or discussion, motion US06/07-6 to create a Senate Committee on Academic Excellence was put to a vote and passed unanimously by voice vote.
Notice of Motion US06/07-8 to revise procedures for awarding honorary degrees. Mr. Dave Hubin, chair of the Distinguished Service and Honorary Awards Committee, gave notice of motion from his committee to revise procedures used to grant honorary degrees. He emphasized the proposed revisions follow the principles from 1991 by which the committee reinstated the honorary degree. He indicated that since 1994 only four such degrees have been awarded, in large measure because the process in place is too limited in the timing sequence to adequately arrange time in the awardees' schedules to present the award. Thus, the proposed revisions advocate creating a pool of candidates brought to the senate for approval, after which the logistics of making calendar arrangements for presentation would be worked out. A maximum of two awards would be given in any year.
Notice of motion US06/07-7 to establish time periods for students to complete on-line course evaluations. Mr. Brad Shelton, mathematics, gave notice of a motion emanating from the provost's working group on course evaluations, which has been charged with plotting the course of course evaluations on campus with the goal of moving them on-line. The proposed motion is as follows:
At such time as the University of Oregon implements an on-line course evaluation system, the window of opportunity for students to fill out course evaluations will be Monday of Dead Week through the Monday following finals week.
1. This rule does not apply to the School of Law. The faculty of the School of Law will establish a similar window of opportunity that suits the needs of their academic calendar.
2. This rule does not apply to summer session. The rules for summer session courses will be established after a course evaluation instrument has been chosen.
Mr. Shelton indicated that there are numerous reasons to change the way course evaluations are done on campus, suggesting that the current procedures are seriously flawed. His committee believes that such a change to an on-line system would save some of the $100 -250,000 per year currently being spent. Although moving to an on-line system would not be free, it would cut costs substantially. Mr. Shelton emphasized that his committee is charged with implementing a system for doing on-line course evaluations, and not with the substance of the evaluations themselves. He said, however, that the mechanics of moving to an on-line evaluation system may impinge on the content of the evaluations; consequently he wished to identify some ways in which this might happen. For example, in an on-line system, students will be filling out an evaluations form on line, and thus they need a specific window of time during which to complete the form when the system is open. Current senate legislation requires course evaluations to be completed during dead week or during the final exam period of the course. The proposed motion is made in the spirit of current practice. Also, the on-line system being considered for implementation will have an incentive for students to fill out course evaluations, that is, they will be able to access their grades early (if the instructor has posted them) – as soon as they fill out the form. Students will have the ability to opt-out of doing the evaluations (course by course), but will they will have to wait a period of time (until the deadline for posting grades, that is, Tuesday noon following the exam period) to access their grades.
During a brief question period, Mr. Shelton indicated that no specific on-line system vendor has been identified at this point, but that the projected operational time is fall 2007. The major change in the proposed legislation is that under current system, students fill out evaluations before they take the final exam; with the new on-line system, students could fill out evaluations after they have taken final exam, but not before receiving their final grade. In other words, with the on-line system students could include the final exam as part of their evaluation, which is a substantive change. Mr. Shelton asked persons who have questions to email them to him and he will compile responses and make them available through the senate president. He also addressed briefly the issue of evaluation response rate. Other universities who have switched to on-line systems typically see the response rate drop somewhat at first, but then usually they rebound. Other universities report a response rate of about 70% which is approximately the current UO response rate. To a question regarding whether other universities use incentives, Mr. Shelton replied that incentive vary from no incentives, to mild incentives such as what the UO proposes, to much more stringent incentives (not being able to access grades for 2 weeks after the evaluation period, and with no "opt-out" provision).
With no other business at hand, the meeting was adjourned at 4:50 p.m.
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