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Report on Actions of the RWU Faculty Senate For Academic Year 2008-2009

Matthew Stein, 2008-2009 President

As per Article IV, Section 1 of the Roger Williams University Faculty Senate Constitution, the Faculty Senate President shall ensure all actions of the senate are communicated to the faculty as a whole.  This document reports on faculty senate actions for the academic year 2008-2009 for the purposes of satisfying this requirement.  The report presents annual actions by the senate as a whole and by the executive committee on behalf of the senate, followed by actions of the senate standing committees and ad hoc committees.

Executive committee and senate actions

Senate Structure

The senate conducted a full faculty caucus at the fall faculty conference for the purposes of amending its constitution and considering structural changes.  The senate received approval to amend its constitution to create a standing committee on Diversity.  The senate created the new Diversity committee, see standing committee reports below.

The faculty directed the senate to interpret its constitution to allow increase in the size of the senate and to consider alternatives to caucus meetings.  The senate conducted elections using the model of one senator for each seven full time faculty in each school or division, plus ten at-large senators, five elected each year for a two year term, electing thirty-four senators for the 2009-2010 term.  The senate created an ad hoc committee to consider alternatives to the faculty caucus but no conclusive action was taken.  The senate did not conduct a full faculty caucus in the Spring 2009 semester but requested time during the fall faculty conference.

Academic Reorganization

In September, President Nirschel asked for faculty senate suggestions on moving the university structure to a more interdisciplinary/holistic model.  The senate did not discuss this issue at length until its December meeting, and at this time the senate had more questions than answers.  The senate requested the RWU 2020 task force report on reorganization and this report was provided by Provost deAbruna.  The senate discussed this issue at length in its February meeting.  Consensus developed that there are any number of ways to organize a university, but the process should begin with understanding the purpose of the reorganization.  President Nirschel attended the March meeting with Vice Presidents Williams and Noonan, with academic reorganization consuming a large portion of the meeting.  From the March minutes of the faculty senate: “Many were still not clear as to what’s on board with the President reticent to put forth proposals.  Many like the movement and momentum with having a wide range of faculty input to contribute to the President’s decision.”  The senate moved to invite any senator to bring forward proposals for academic reorganization to the April meeting.  Some organization proposals were discussed in the April senate meeting but no motions were passed.  In April, President Nirschel sent President Stein a memo expressing his disappointment in the Senate’s inability/unwillingness to contribute to the university reorganization discussion.  President Stein objected to this characterization of the Senate.  From the ensuing discussion, President Nirschel indicated he was encouraged by comments that the Senate, going forward, appears to have an interest in discussing the reorganization.  He will articulate the concept further with Provost deAbruna to provide a number of models to the Senate as to how we may wish to reorganize and rejuvenate the university.  The executive committee of the 2009-2010 senate intends to use a portion of the Fall Faculty Conference to discuss this topic.

Board of Trustees Recommendation

In 2007-2008, the senate requested that President Nirschel consider recommending new members to the Board of Trustees who had an academic background.  In Fall 2008 President Nirschel asked for faculty senate recommendations.  The executive committee solicited nominations from the senate and the faculty as a whole through an ALL-FACULTY email.  The executive committee presented the names and vitae of six potential candidates to the president in its March executive committee meeting.

Foundation to Promote Scholarship and Teaching Election

The Foundation to Promote Scholarship and Teaching (FPST) is a committee created in the 2008-2012 faculty contract and is not a standing committee of the faculty senate.  On request from Provost deAbruna, the faculty senate executive committee conducted elections for four faculty members to serve on the committee, two from FCAS and two from “professional schools”.  Although the faculty contract specifies minimum qualifications for committee members, the senate conducted elections without vetting candidates.

Nirschel Hiring

In response to an article appearing in the Hawk’s Herald and then in Inside Higher Education, the senate debated the hiring of Chris Nirschel at length in its April and May meetings.  At the April meeting the senate moved to request more information from the president and from the director of Human Resources.  In May the senate moved to “object to the hire of the President’s son which did not conform to the university’s hiring policies and detracts from the transparency so important to the functioning of the university and violates the principle of inclusive excellence. “  Due to Chris Nirschel’s resignation no further action was taken by the senate.

Standing Committee Actions

Admissions and Enrollment

In October, the senate charged the Admissions and Enrollment committee with investigating the best practices of other institutions and obtaining feedback from other faculty in regards to marketing, advising, open house and website issues.  The committee met in November with Vice President Fawthrop and Didier Bouvet to discuss a list of questions related to marketing issues and the committee felt that majority of its questions were addressed.  In response to widespread disappointment with faculty participation in the development of marketing materials, the senate requested that Enrollment Management create a program that would be designed to facilitate faculty involvement in recruitment.  The executive committee requested this in its January 30th meeting. President Nirschel agreed in principle and indicated he would address this request with Enrollment Management.

The committee fulfilled their charge of producing a report documenting best practices in recruiting and retention activities.  The Survey of Best Practices in Admissions and Enrollment Activities at Institutions of Higher Learning report is available on the Faculty Senate website.  In defining best practices it was discovered that there are commonalities throughout as listed in the report.  The research also showed a great delegation of authority where everyone played an active role in recruiting and retention as opposed to the centralized control model used here.

Curriculum Committee

Following actions of the 2007-2008 faculty senate, the Curriculum Committee expanded its charge to include graduate curriculum.  The senate requested that Provost deAbruna convert the Graduate Council to a Graduate Curriculum Committee and that curriculum procedures and flow documents were altered to indicate that graduate curriculum changes require approval of the faculty senate curriculum committee.  In a related motion the senate changed the operational procedures of all of its standing committees to include graduate concerns.

The curriculum committee met all year to consider and approve numerous curriculum change proposals of varying complexity.  To help identify potential problems, the committee invited university registrar Dan Valinski to attend meetings ex officio.

Academic Standards and Policies

The academic standards and policies committee requested, through the senate and executive committee, to change the due date for changes to the “I” grade from the last day of classes to the last day of the semester.  Because students with an “I” grade typically repeat portions of the course the following semester, the student’s new grade is often not determined until the finals period.  Provost deAbruna and Registrar Dan Valinski agreed to make this change.

The committee was charged by the senate to investigate the prevalence of academic dishonesty in online courses as compared to face-to-face courses.  The committee reported back to the senate that its investigation of peer institutions shows no specific academic standards for online courses.

The committee investigated procedures for academic appeals in the university and found great disparity between schools and between undergraduate and graduate programs.  In its December meeting the senate charged the Academic Standards Committee with developing recommendations for a more uniform process grade appeal process. The Senate agreed that the process should have less ambiguity and be clearly defined in the catalog.  The senate believes the President should never be involved.  There should be more uniformity between graduate and undergraduate programs in the grade appeal process. The catalog of the university is a contract with its students and should be clearly adhered to.    The committee has not yet made recommendations.

The committee was charged with investigating the apparently new requirement to grade all internship and coop classes pass/no pass.   Although this policy was announced in an ALL-FACULTY email from Registrar Valinski prior to the Fall 2008 semester, the announcement was easily missed, and indeed most faculty missed it.  The issue thus surfaced when students complained to faculty that their fall grades were changed to pass/no pass.

The senate moved to request that 1) each school or department shall have the option of providing either letter grades or pass/no pass grades for coops, internships, and student teaching courses;  2) Any change of grading policy shall have the department or school faculty input in the decision-making process;  3) Any new grading policy should be clearly stated in the new catalogue, but not be applied retroactively to students who have already completed courses under the conditions described in their catalogue year.   These motions were brought to Provost deAbruna in the May 12th executive committee meeting.   Provost deAbruna indicated she will bring the concerns of the Senate to Dean’s Council.  She will then meet with Registrar Vilenski and President Stein to finalize details.  This issue remained unresolved at the end of the 2008-2009 academic year.

Faculty Development

This committee reviewed nine (9) grant proposals for the 2008/09 Provost’s Teaching Colloquium and recommended six (6) to the Senate for consideration.

The committee created a new RWU Excellence in Teaching Award and defined the three-step process for soliciting nominations and selecting the award recipient.  The committee refined and implemented the process throughout the academic year, culminating in the awarding of an Excellence in Teaching Award at the 2009 commencement.


This committee considered online and distance education courses taken by regular day students.  The discussion was prompted by an email sent to students suggesting they may take no more than one online course per semester, an apparent change from the a priori policy of students only permitted to take online courses in the summer.  The senate discussed the consequences of this change at its December meeting, first asking Provost deAbruna to rescind this message.  The executive committee met with Provost deAbruna in a special meeting where the provost explained her preference not to rescind the message but rather to use this opportunity as an experiment.  Senate President Stein agreed to this proposal with assurances that online sections had relatively low enrollment caps thus limiting potential consequences.

The senate debated this issue at length in its December meeting with reports from Sen. Swiczewicz who also serves on the Online Distance & Education Committee.  There is no consensus in the senate for or against online courses taken by regular day students.  There is strong consensus, however, that the faculty senate should play an integral part in determining future policies.  The senate moved in its December meeting to ask senators who serve on the Online Distance & Education Committee to report monthly to the senate on their progress.  Senator Swiczewicz reported on committee activates in February and May meetings.  The results of the Spring 2009 experiment were 25 day school students enrolled in one online course and 450 total students taking online courses. The issue was discussed at length in the May meeting with several motions made and then tabled. The policy issues remain largely unresolved at the end of the academic year.

University Life

The senate moved to accept the report on sustainability developed by the 2007-2008 committee and charged the committee with developing a specific follow-up plan for this Sustainability Report.  The committee asked that the university formally adopt the following statement:

Roger Williams University recognizes that the environment is a fundamental commonality that unifies cultures around the world and that humans depend on sustainable ecosystems for their well being.  Consequently, we are committed to promoting the sustainable management of our environment and natural resources as part of our shared global responsibility.  The University community strives to operate following the best practices of sustainability and to provide its members and students with a foundational knowledge of sustainability principles and environmental literacy.

In his October meeting with the executive committee, President Nirschel indicated he will incorporate it with the work being done by the University Committee on Sustainability and review how it aligns with the pledge he recently signed with other University Presidents.

The committee discussed how to incorporate sustainability more strongly in the curriculum.  The committee met with the Alcohol Task Force but scheduling problems prevented the presentation of a report on this meeting at the May faculty meeting.  The University Life Committee will report early in the Fall 2009 semester.


In September the senate charged the Diversity Committee with investigating  what happened to the 1st round of “Not on our Campus” posters that were removed from campus doors.  In October the senate moved that the Executive Committee express to the President the Senate’s dismay at the marketing department’s decision to remove material from faculty’s office doors.  Dismay was expressed to the president in the December 1st executive committee meeting and dismay was noted.

The senate charged the Diversity Committee in December with developing a recommendation for the definition of diversity.  The committee returned in March with the following definition:

RWU, following the rich tradition of a liberal arts institution, is committed to fostering understanding, respect, and acceptance of diversity. Diversity is defined broadly and includes, but is not limited to, the representation, integration, and interaction among people of every race, ethnicity, national identity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, ability (e.g. physical, emotional, and cognitive), religion, and political persuasion. The university seeks to engender an inclusive community that cultivates trust and encourages growth.

In the March 23 Executive Committee meeting, President Nirschel appreciated the spirit and intent of the statement and asked for clarification of protection of groups whose philosophies could be harmful to members of other groups.  He also asked which other types of diversity are not covered according to the phrase “diversity….includes, but is not limited to….”.    The Diversity has agreed to investigate clarification to the statement based on the president’s comments.

The Diversity Committee was asked to send a representative to the President’s Committee on Inclusive Excellence.   Alan Canestrari, was selected, and the President was given his name at the May Executive Committee meeting.

Ad Hoc Committee Actions

Entrepreneurial Activities

The Senate was asked to report to the president on the current climate and impediments preventing faculty involvement in entrepreneurial activities. Some impediments with online courses are the lack of structure for defining payment systems and lack of support structure aiding entrepreneurial spirit.  Senators reported earning $25,000-30,000 for one online course elsewhere.    Sen. Sorger volunteered to form an ad hoc committee to report.  Senators Riley and Swiczewicz volunteered to serve on this committee.

The committee met with focus groups of SECCM and MNS faculty.  Faculty members report that they encounter barriers to entrepreneurial activities on campus.  Faculty sentiment is  unanimous that any type of entrepreneurial research should be separate from advancement.  Support for these activities should be in Academic Affairs.  The full report from the ad hoc committee on entrepreneurial activities is available on the faculty senate website.

Student Evaluation of Teaching

This committee was formed by the provost in 2007-2008 and continued to function in 2008-2009, reporting to the senate at its April meeting.  The SET committee came up with the 1st set of questions and Dean’s Council revised the 1st set with the only change as follows:  “How would you describe your learning experience in this course to another student?”  The 1st survey was administered in Spring 2009 with feedback due to the Senate at a fall meeting.  All suggestions from Dean’s Council, Faculty Senate, or all-faculty on the evaluation survey to be brought back to the SET committee to implement into a new instrument.

The very early start and close of student evaluations is a contractual specification.  In future contracts, Provost deAbruna will seek to change dates to end on last day of classes and start 3 weeks earlier.

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