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Faculty Senate | Archive of Meeting Summaries

2015-2016 Meeting Summaries

May 11, 2016 Meeting Summary

Updates were received from the Ad Hoc Committee on Term Faculty Language in the Faculty Manual. Sherburne Laughlin reported that the committee was finalizing the proposed Manual revisions and would present them to the Faculty Senate next fall after seeking input from the campus community; she asked senators to urge their constituencies to read and comment on the revisions.

Stina Oakes and Christine Dulaney presented findings from the Grade Inflation Committee, stating that the problem was complex and would not have a simple, straightforward solution, and that the committee would issue a full report to the Faculty Senate early in the fall.

The committee charged with developing faculty-conduct guidelines, under the direction of Lydia Fettig, presented a draft of its guidelines document. The document is being finalized and will be presented in final form next fall.

May 4, 2016 Meeting Summary

Summary of May 4, 2016 meeting As part of the discussion relating to American University’s presidential search, the Faculty Senate approved a “Sense of the Senate” by a 19-4-1 vote, on traits the faculty seek in the University’s next president:

The Faculty Senate urges the presidential search committee to give consideration to finding a president who has experience as a tenured faculty member, a distinguished record of peer-reviewed scholarly work (as defined by the university’s Faculty Manual, which includes scholarly, creative, or professional activity), and strong experience in academic administration. The Faculty Senate recognizes the trends in higher education of hiring public intellectuals from the public sector and corporate and non-profit leaders. Some such experience may be beneficial, but the candidate first and foremost should have a long record of academic achievement and leadership. American University has achieved success by fundraising successfully, understanding its position among national and regional universities, and greatly improving its scholarly record while maintaining a strong tradition of teaching and service.

Additionally, the Senate unanimously (24-0-0) approved the following resolution seeking a faculty committee to interview presidential candidates, with an election of members to the committee to occur early in the fall:

The Faculty Senate resolves that the presidential search committee receive feedback on the finalists from a committee of faculty interviewers. This approach to the search is essential, given that faculty are among the most vital stakeholders in the performance of any president, that faculty are represented by only three members on the search committee, and that the precedents for presidential searches included faculty interviews. Indeed, in the normal course of candidate consideration, candidates for president are interviewed by constituencies beyond members of the committee and the Board of Trustees. The faculty interview committee will uphold the same standards of professionalism as members of the search committee, including confidentiality.

The faculty interview committee will comprise representatives elected from each unit, with one each from KSB, SIS, SOC, SPA, SPExS, the University Library, and WCL, and three from CAS, with an additional two members nominated by the Executive Committee and approved by the full Senate and the three members currently on the presidential search committee. The election will occur approximately 45 days before the final round of candidate interviews. The faculty interview committee will meet with all finalists.

The Senate also approved by a vote of 21-0-0 a “Sense of the Senate” approving the fall 2016 pilot of some elements of the new general-education program and recommending assessment of the pilot and its effects on other programs. The new AU Core curriculum as a whole is still subject to budget and other implementation considerations.

April 6, 2016 Meeting Summary

Several faculty members stated that the Board of Trustees’ allocation of two seats for faculty members on the committee to select President Kerwin’s replacement was inadequate. Senators queried the Senate leadership how Senate Vice Chair Todd Eisenstadt had been named to the committee without their knowledge. Eisenstadt said he had been appointed by Trustees Jack Cassell and Jeffrey Sine but sworn to confidentiality and thus had not discussed the appointment with the Senate. The Senate passed a unanimous resolution (23-0-1) seeking to have a presidential search committee named that had an equal number of faculty and trustees. Senate Chair Larry Engel said he would report back on the trustees’ reaction to the resolution.

Past Senate Chair Lacey Wootton followed up on a January 2016 resolution by the Faculty Senate and reported that the president’s committee on social responsibility had commissioned a report on possible violations of the rights of Aramark workers at American University. 

Vice President for Campus Life Gail Hansen conveyed the university’s Guidelines for Freedom of Expression, which apply to members of the university community (students, faculty, staff, administrators, and invited guests). Further discussion of the document was deferred. 

President Kerwin spoke about the state of the university, stating that the university was fiscally sound, that some of the new construction on East Campus may be delayed, but that undergraduate selectivity and admissions were stronger than ever at the institution. Senators stated their dissent with a failure to include more faculty on the committee to search for President Kerwin’s successor, but President Kerwin argued that the Board of Trustees was highly competent and had named sufficient faculty representation.

A discussion of the new General Education Program requirements was started, although the representatives of that committee said that they would still be drafting one more version of that new program and that they would seek final Senate approval in May for the program, which would be piloted next year and begin more extensively in the fall of 2018.

The minutes from the March 2016 meeting of the Senate were approved 19-0-2.

March 2, 2016 Meeting Summary

The Faculty Senate’s March 2 meeting was held in Claudio Grossman Hall of the new Tenleytown Washington College of Law building. Dean Grossman was honored for the accomplishments of the law school and also for his own internationally renowned work on human rights in the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Executive Committee member Andrea Pearson was elected vice chair of the Faculty Senate for the 2016-17 academic year. Senate Chair Engel said that we will have an additional end-of-semester Faculty Senate meeting to address reports by committees on grade inflation and on proposals for promoting full-time faculty with multi-year contract positions.

Provost Scott Bass reported that several campus-wide searches are proceeding well and updated the body regarding the vacancy of the university’s Spring Valley building by the law school’s move to Tenleytown. Bass said that while the space allocation of the vacated building is still being finalized, the School of Education, the School of Professional & Extended Studies, and the School of Public Affairs’ executive-education program would likely be moving to the Spring Valley building.

The Faculty Senate’s Ad Hoc Ombudsman Exploratory Committee proposed the creation of an ombudsman position and recommended that this position be considered a priority for the university’s 2017-19 budget cycle. The proposal was accepted by a vote of 16 to 3 with 3 abstentions.

Several changes were made to update the Senate bylaws, and the body discussed a forthcoming bus trip by faculty, administrators, and staff to visit the Cleveland Clinic March 20-21 as part of the RiSE initiative.

February 10, 2016 Meeting Summary

After extensive discussion by senators and some twenty student attendees, the Faculty Senate unanimously approved the following resolution:

The arrest of former AU staff member Jim McCabe while pamphleting in October 2015 at the Terrace Dining Room, and his presentation in January 2016 before the Senate, brought attention to adverse working conditions faced by Aramark’s contract workers in housing and dining facilities. The Faculty Senate supports the Project Team on Social Responsibility, Business Practices and Service review of these issues. The Faculty Senate would like to be updated on contract discussions and negotiations among these workers’ union, Aramark, and the university, and we support the workers’ rights to more reasonable wages, benefits, and working conditions. We also ask the university to consider offering AU scholarships or tuition remission for Aramark contract workers and their dependents, as well as appropriate remediation for retirement benefits to those workers, some with decades of service to American University.

Provost Scott Bass reported that American University had been upgraded to a Research Level II institution on the Carnegie Foundation’s list, announced a record number of undergraduate applications for the fall of 2016, and said the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Washington College of Law building would take place on Friday, February 12. He also said searches were ongoing for the Dean of the School of Education and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, and that planning was underway for the fall 2016 campus-wide university retreat. 

Chair Larry Engel presented a timeline for the revised vice-chair elections, to be held next month: eligible candidates (including current senators and those who served on the Faculty Senate over the prior five years) were needed within a week, with statements of candidate interest needed on Feb 20th, so that an election may be held via secret ballot by the full Faculty Senate on March 2. In response to one senator’s request for a more diverse set of candidates, the Senate leadership responded that the Senate needed a more diverse membership so there would be a broader range of candidates eligible to serve in the vice chair position.

Several changes were made to update the Senate bylaws, and the body discussed the need to encourage faculty participation in the RiSE initiative (Reinventing the Student Experience).

January 13, 2016 Meeting Summary

Chair Larry Engel got authority for the Executive Committee to name a small group to hold conversations about issues of race and diversity that have emerged recently at the university, as applied to classroom settings. The group would work with CTRL (Center for Teaching, Research and Learning) and CDI (Center for Diversity and Inclusion) in devising programming to address these issues. The group needs to be formed expeditiously to contribute to the president’s effort to reach out to the campus community. 

Sharon Alston, Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment, said RiSE (Reinventing the Student Experience) would have a retreat January 20-21 to start crafting the new model of comprehensive service delivery.

University Police Director Phillip Morris spoke about conditions leading to the arrest of Jim McCabe on campus in mid-October 2015. McCabe, a former longtime staff member and faculty member, was distributing leaflets at the university’s Terrace Dining Room to publicize the lack of pensions and other issues facing contract workers with Aramark. McCabe was arrested for “unlawful entry” and banned from campus. Questions were raised about the rights of former faculty and staff to engage in citizen activities, even in areas where they do not have academic expertise. McCabe said that he may not have rights to distribute leaflets on a private campus, but that he had a moral responsibility to do so. Past Senate Chair Lacey Wootton said she would note that the Senate had discussed this issue when president’s committee on social responsibility meets. 

Minutes for the December 2015 meeting were approved, as were minor changes to the undergraduate academic regulations. The Senate also received an update on the Student Input into Teaching (SIT) revisions from University Registrar Doug McKenna; the university will move all SITs online this semester, with the new questions to be piloted this summer and next fall.

December 9, 2015 Meeting Summary

During his Chair’s Report for the December 9 Faculty Senate meeting, Larry Engel took questions about follow-up to the incident in Mary Graydon Center involving Jim McCabe; the Senate will receive further information at the January meeting. Professor Engel also informed the Senate about the membership of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Term-Faculty Language in the Faculty Manual. In his report, Provost Scott Bass discussed ongoing issues regarding speech and diversity on campuses nationwide, and he asked that the Senate take up this topic at a future meeting. He also provided an update on the current building projects as well as on the different dean searches that are going on. The Senate then discussed the draft of the Faculty Conduct Guidelines, including the fact that they are not actionable and ideas for communicating them. Next, Peter Starr and Cindy Bair Van Dam brought the draft of the General Education revision to the Senate. They took questions about capstones, numbers of credits for AU Experience 2, and living-learning cohorts. The Senate then approved an addition to the policy for campus closures and delays, as well as a revision to the notification email for closures and delays. Finally, the Senate approved revisions to sections of its by-laws, including the procedure for electing a vice chair.

November 4, 2015 Meeting Summary

At its November 4, 2015, meeting, the Faculty Senate approved the minutes from the October meeting and then unanimously supported a motion to investigate the arrest and banishment from campus of former AU staff member Jim McCabe while distributing information about the condition of university contract workers. The Senate also approved Vice Provost Lynn Stallings' motion to allow students to automatically withdraw from courses until the 10th week of the semester, rather than until the 8th week, as the prior regulations allowed. Provost Scott Bass reported that the former law school building (the Spring Valley building) is being re-opened, and Registrar Doug McKenna informed the Senate that to accommodate walkers' one-mile round trip between main campus and the Spring Hill building, the class schedule was being adjusted. McKenna also reported on the new online modality for the Student Evaluation of Teaching (SETs), which is being piloted this semester in about 30 class sections and will, if the piloting goes smoothly, "roll out" campus-wide next year. Vice President for Campus Life Gail Hanson presented some of the challenges facing students, such as an increase in students seeking mental health, tensions resulting from lack of ability to address diversity, and issues of sexual harassment. Senate Chair Larry Engel extolled Senate members to extend this discussion of critical issues facing students in the months ahead.

October 7, 2015 Meeting Summary

Student leaders opposing the Faculty Senate Resolution on Academic Freedom spoke out at the October 7 meeting of the American University Faculty Senate. Student Council President Sasha Gilthorpe conveyed disappointment that the Academic Freedom resolution was approved at the Senate’s September meeting without student input. Furthermore, Gilthorpe and several other student speakers argued that trigger warnings about emotionally taxing content are vital in courses with sensitive material, and that such “triggers” do not result in students opting out of reckoning with difficult material. Senator Kyle Brannon clarified that the Senate’s failure to endorse trigger warnings is not the same as condemning trigger warnings. Senate Chair Larry Engel apologized for the error of omission during the Senate’s first meeting of fall 2015, as the new student leadership was not yet on the Senate email list and hence leaders were not individually informed of the meeting. 

Also at the meeting, the minutes from the September 9 minutes were approved, as was the composition of the Ad Hoc Grade Inflation Committee. The Senate discussed possible changes to the class schedule, which could involve an 8:10 start time and more time between classes. Vice Provost Vi Ettle described the International Accelerator Program (“bridge” or “pathway” for international students) and said the university will hire a full-time academic director for the program. The Senate approved several changes to the undergraduate regulations, with one issue, whether to extend the final day for dropping classes without failing them, postponed until for further information.

September 9, 2015 Meeting Summary

At the September 9, 2015, meeting of the Faculty Senate, a declaration of “Freedom of Academic Expression” was presented by Senate Chair Larry Engel and unanimously approved. The declaration is a statement by the faculty, endorsed by Provost Scott Bass, of support for the teaching of controversial issues, without the advance “trigger warnings” that have been implemented at some universities. Also at the meeting, minutes from the May 13, 2015, meeting were approved, and Senate committees made their reports. John Nolan and Andrea Pearson were elected as members of the Senate Executive Committee, and the Faculty Senate voted to refer the administration’s High Impact Research report to the Committee on Faculty Actions to consider report recommendations that service as a “public intellectual” be considered in faculty tenure and promotion. The Senate also heard about issues to be discussed during the 2015-16 academic year, including the formation of a faculty committee to explore the causes and consequences of grade inflation, and the university’s Mellon Foundation-funded effort to improve AU students’ experience, Reinventing the Student Experience (RiSE).