September 24, 2007
(Minutes Approved on 11/8/07)
Officers Present: Betsy Bryan (Vice Chair), Erica Schoenberger (Secretary). Officer absent: Todd Hufnagel (Chair).
1. The meeting was called to order by Professor Bryan at 3:02pm. A motion was made, seconded and carried to approve the minutes for the meeting of March 6, 2007 as written.
2. Professor Bryan spoke briefly about the faculty assembly and the present steering committee's goals for the future. She stressed a commitment to the idea that faculty should be able to use the assembly as a forum for bringing issues to the community at large so that we can talk with one another in an environment we don't otherwise have on campus. She encouraged faculty to email her about issues of interest so that we may put them on the agenda for future meetings. She announced there will be a second assembly meeting later in the semester on a different day and time so that people unable to attend on Monday afternoons would have the opportunity to participate.
3. Professor Bryan introduced Provost Johnson who spoke about her impressions of Hopkins since arriving in September. She also spoke about her philosophy of education, referring to Ortega y Gasset's views that we are responsible for 1) passing on our culture to the next generation; 2) training the next generation of researchers; 3) training the next generation of professionals and 4) preparing citizen leaders. She described her interdisciplinary avocation, remarking on the importance of interdisciplinary research in such areas as the origins of life, thought, and language. As an engineer, she is very aware of what the humanities and social sciences bring to her own thinking: an awareness of self and awareness of others around us. She hopes it is also evident to scholars in the humanities and social sciences what science has to offer, for example, in the areas of digital music, arts, language training on iPods and the like. Provost Johnson noted that she has already been able to see how the idea of interdisciplinarity has been embraced at Hopkins. Her own background is in interdisciplinary research and she wants to promote programs that cut across disciplines and schools. She stressed that the culture of research and teaching has changed, as they are increasingly focused around groups and teams. She also wants to promote the idea of independent research for our students and getting them out of the classroom to address real-world problems. She asked the audience: if there was one thing you would ask a new provost, what would it be?
Q. Professor Ball (Psychological and Brain Sciences) said that he resonated with the talk of collaborations, but thought that the 'every tub on its own bottom' model here was more of an impediment than it should be. He hoped the Provost's office could facilitate things.
A. To have a great team, the individuals — the tubs — have to be strong and they are here. If you go too far in this direction, then you have an institution that is merely the sum of its parts. If you are too centralized, then the institution will be less than the sum of its parts. This is a classic conversation that has been going on for centuries. What is the role of the provost in facilitating collaboration? Seeding. Helping the conversations.
Q. Howard Katz (Materials Science) noted that he hasn't been here very long and thinks that the best thing about Hopkins is that more individual faculty pay more attention to students than he has seen elsewhere. He further commented that he doesn't see that the business model here necessarily tracks well with the mission of departments and centers in terms of how money moves around.
A. Provost Johnson offered the mnemonic BAD: budgets, academic quality, work with deans — that is what the provost does. She needs time to understand the system better.
Q. Charles Meneveau (Mechanical Engineering) suggested that the SAP system may benefit from more faculty feedback.
A. Provost Johnson divided the world of problems into big rocks, medium rocks and stones. Hopkins One is on the big rock list. She wants us to make her office beware of specifics, where it's slowing things down. She has had numerous meetings about it already and hopes to provide a progress report at an upcoming faculty assembly meeting.
4. Professor Bryan introduced the topic of academic council structure and election procedures. She mentioned that A&S chairs have already discussed the proposed changes and urged us to discuss them together. Professor Paul Feldman (Physics and Astronomy and a current member of the Academic Council) had been invited to present the council's thinking on the issues to date.
Professor Feldman described the council's mission as being to enhance academic excellence. He noted that since the change in tenure policy, the bar had been raised on promotions to associate professor, creating a somewhat bigger task for the council. There were concerns about how elections worked, whether there was sufficient balance across areas and disciplines and whether the five-year term was a disincentive to serve, adding however that he thought that council fundamentally worked well and that big changes were not needed. He described a study considering different options for change led by Professor John Bagger (Physics and Astronomy) that had been presented to the chairs and council the previous spring. Their goal is to have a new model in place by next spring. According to Professor Feldman, the council would make the final decision about its own operations, but sought input from the faculty.
The proposal being most seriously considered at present envisions 4-year terms, with three members rotating off each year. There would still be 12 members in all, with 3 each representing the humanities, natural sciences and engineering and 2 representing the social sciences. There would be one at large member. They were not proposing the idea of voting within disciplinary areas so that e.g., only humanities faculty would vote for humanities candidates and so on. Faculty would vote for up to three candidates without ranking. This way you can vote for people you know in your area and you don't need to vote on people you don't know as the present system requires. The winners would be the candidates with the highest totals in the areas that needed representation given who had rotated off. If the assigned distribution was achieved, the 12th member would be the highest remaining vote-getter. The council would itself elect replacements for people on sabbatical, as it presently does. These recommendations are somewhat simpler than the procedures recommended by the Bagger committee.
There followed an extended discussion which centered on the following issues:
1. is this divisiveHoward Katz (Materials Science): is there any provision for candidates to provide a statement of philosophy?
Paul Feldman: We have a concern about that. We don't want candidates to be advocates for their disciplines. At present they aren't. Although council is a lot of work, it's a great experience to find out about other disciplines and how they work.
Steven David (Political Science): why did you reject a straightforward proposal to have voting by area? Paul Feldman: You could do that.
Sarah Woodson (Biophysics and current council member): Members feel strongly that the present system gives a sense of serving for the faculty as a whole. They are worried about the council becoming factionalized. This is the main reason for not opting to vote within disciplines.
David Bell (History and Associate Dean): At the A&S Chairs meeting several weeks ago, there was overwhelming support for voting within disciplines. The divisions are unevenly matched. Social science is particularly small. What if the people elected to fill the social science slots weren't those the social scientists themselves had voted for? The simplest possible system is to vote by discipline in order to elect expert representatives.
Bruce Barnett (Physics and Astronomy): What about the at-large person? If that makes, say, four engineers, does that person remain at large or become one of the engineering representatives at the end of the year.
Paul Feldman: Probably the latter.
Ed Scheinerman (Math Sciences and Associate Dean): I've regularly voted for people from all disciplines. I'm more concerned about the diligence and quality of the person, not their discipline. Any move that tends to unite us I support. I'm concerned about any move that tends to balkanize us. I'm in favor of voting at large for everyone.
John Bagger (Physics and Astronomy and chair of the study group): We canvassed the faculty and asked for input. There is a strong undercurrent of faculty who are disaffected with the present system and who feel their interests are not being represented appropriately now. We were trying to think of ways to change elections to engage as many faculty as possible so they would feel ownership of the results. He personally thought at the outset that he would like the right to vote for everyone. But he heard very strongly from smaller groups that they felt their representatives would be chosen by the third vote of the scientists rather than their own first vote. They need someone to speak to the issues of the disciplinary community. He came around to the disciplinary vote approach. He hopes that at the end, something that will pull us together will emerge.
Alan Stone (Geography and Environmental Engineering): I'm in a new discipline that didn't really exist 25 years ago. I felt out of place then. Now, more and more people are very difficult to categorize. Some of the most exciting areas include these people. The very, very best of the Homewood campus is when you see people resonate across disciplines. This labeling of people is going backwards, putting walls up where walls don't really need to be.
Kevin Hemker (Mechanical Engineering): is concerned about relegating engineers to only voting for 25% of the council. We won't have a chance to vote for 75% of the council.
Paul Feldman: We're not proposing voting by discipline.
Kevin Hemker: Fixing the number of representatives and voting by discipline would be a bad idea.
Paul Feldman: The social sciences and humanities seem to prefer voting by discipline; the natural scientists and engineers do not.
Jean McGarrity (Writing Seminars): The system has been working rather well. We should make small changes. Voting by discipline opens up the opportunity for electioneering and gaming.
Bernard Shiffman (Mathematics): There are other ways to correct imbalances than fixing the number of representatives. Were alternatives discussed? You could have appointed members along with elected to pick up underrepresented departments.
Paul Feldman: One year members now feel like second class citizens on council.
Bernard Shiffman: Appoint them for 3 years or 4 years. For example, 9 members could be elected for 3 years, with 3 appointed by council itself. The majority is still elected. The method of voting should be reformed.
Steven Zelditch (Mathematics): Keeping track of representation by departments hasn't worked that well. The math department never won with the system and finally gave up.
Betsy Bryan (Near East Studies): wondered about discussions in council about methods of nomination. Was that a major discussion point?
Paul Feldman: No, but the Bagger Report proposes a complex structure of nominating committees. The council thought this was too complicated. There's a devil in every possible solution. We don't want the deans to control the nomination process. Some don't want the chairs to. You want to identify the best people, but without a highly politicized process. They tried to get to a middle ground. Chairs presently do have a big weight in nominations, but this is because of apathy. He has asked humanities people why don't they caucus and find good candidates?
Betsy Bryan: because we're not team players.
Lester Su (Mechanical Engineering): Why do we need proportional representation? Different disciplines have different standards. But beyond that, it doesn't need to be proportional. One person is sufficient. Is it a significant concern that there isn't adequate understanding of other disciplinary standards on council and people are being rejected for poor reasons? In what way are interests not being represented?
Paul Feldman: Within engineering, there are different cultures in different disciplines already. What does the council do? Does the council pass on the scholarly qualifications of the candidate? No. The council sets standard and departments know what these standards are. The Ad Hoc committee goes to independent referees. Departments are less connected to Ad Hoc committees. Disagreement in these independent assessments is where issues arise. The Chair of the Ad Hoc committee and the department chair come before the council to answer questions about what the letters mean and how the discipline assesses quality. You don't have to be an expert in the field. You have to understand a bit about e.g., the difference between books and journals, which journals are good and so on. But that is not difficult.
Lester Su: If technical expertise is being provided externally, you really just need judgment on the council?
Alan Stone: Right now, the deans send out word of upcoming election with a list of everyone who is eligible. Let's have nominations. Now, we just get the letter in the mail, with no opportunity to exchange ideas.
Kristin Johnson (Provost): Offers a comparison with other systems. The council was appointed by the provost at Duke. This just focuses the disaffection on the provost. Whatever system you choose, the most important thing is to choose the highest quality individuals.
Someone asked how many people vote at present and the answer was about a third of the faculty.
Paul Smolensky, (Cognitive Science): Not convinced the academic council isn't broken. He would like to be clearer on what the problem is. What problem is proportional representation meant to solve? We don't understand the incentive system. If the problem comes from the change in the tenure system, why is this the solution?
Paul Feldman: There is proportional representation. One-year appointments have maintained representation over the last 20 years. The council DOES work. Decisions are well thought out. What's broken is the election system. We need a fairer and more transparent system.
David Bell: A lot of faculty, including many of the best, don't put themselves forward because the current election system doesn't work for them. The system becomes arbitrary or slanted towards the most interdisciplinary departments. The very interdisciplinary departments, even small ones, do well.
Someone asked how many votes does it take to get someone elected? Dean Adam Falk replied that, with the existing system, it's a complicated question. What one sees in the current system is a huge sloshing around as you count ballots. The effect of people having strong departmental preferences outside of their own disciplinary areas has a real effect in ballot counting. In the first round, with five candidates, the least number of votes gets eliminated. Out of 100, if 20 is the mean, the last one probably has less than 10. Professor Zelditch pointed out that this always works against small departments.
Adam Falk: Not advocating for any particular system but wants to highlight some issues. 1. the role of balance: the different things that go into a decision and how they're weighted is very different across disciplines. If there are only one or two people from that area, there can often be no one present in the room speaking for that discipline on a given day. 2. He is concerned about the health of the academic culture here. There is something in our democratic governance of ourselves that leaves large segments of faculty feeling that it doesn't work for them. We have to take the problem seriously as a community and we have to fix it. We have to come out with a system that the faculty as a whole believes in.
Paul Feldman: On the issue of whether departmental reviews should be done by the council: They give us some insight into the cultures of different departments. The reviews actually help them evaluate promotions and appointments.
Ed Scheinerman: He is concerned about the language he's hearing: "our" representative, "their" representative. He doesn't think of the academic council as a representative body and finds this troubling.
Andrew Cherlin (Sociology): what the council does is being understated. The council has to approve e.g., new masters programs. It has control over the academic program, even if not over the budget. It is not just a promotion and tenure body. It is a faculty governance body of great power compared with other universities.
Yair Amir (Computer Science): We often feel that A&S is very separate from engineering. We feel very small compared to A&S. Balkanizing the council, proportions, creates risk that in a few years there will be a demand for separate councils. He likes the fact that there's only one council and thinks the current system is not broken that much. If you have it based on proportions, make it proportional, not a fixed 3 and 3 etc. in case the numbers of faculty change. Howard Katz: Is there a democratic way? Many of the council decisions are unaccountable to individual votes. You have to trust that people know what they're doing.
Howard Egeth (Psychological and Brain Sciences): He supposes there's pretty good agreement about a 4 year term. He doesn't see a consensus otherwise. What's the time frame for making a decision about this?
Paul Feldman: We want to have the new system in place for next spring's election
Peter Wilcock (Geography and Environmental Engineering): There are two different objectives. We want to maintain a sense of community and increase the sense of ownership, investment, inclusion. The new proposal presents pluses and minuses on the latter. There's not a simple win for that objective. Discipline-based voting is definitely a loss for the sense of community. In his view, this is the higher of the two objectives.
Andrew Cherlin.: Favors apportioning of seats. The real reform is to get rid of ranking all five people. He favors the council proposal with allowing people to vote across the board, not to make them vote for all five.
Bruce Barnett: We have been talking only about representation by discipline. What about other kinds of representation such as on diversity criteria — women and minorities?
Barbara Landau (Cognitive Science): The discussion hasn't included the number of years. The Chairs meeting had a very strong preference for 3 year terms. They saw this as a way to increase participation which would improve the range and diversity of the membership.
An unidentified faculty member expressed concern that a 3- year term would be a problem in terms of the learning curve on council and that it would degrade the council's institutional memory.
Lester Su: Sees an inconsistency between complaining you don't have representation and needing to coax people to run. The voting system can't fix the lack of commitment or sense of ownership. What about increasing transparency of the council sessions?
Paul Feldman: there are methods for protesting unfavorable decisions. The institutional memory and the learning curve do matter. Once you've seen a number of cases, you can see where a given case is going better.
An unidentified faculty member offered more on term lengths. This is really the major governing body in the university. If we rotate too many people through too fast, the deans and provost will get too much power.
Sarah Woodson: The term length is not so much a learning curve, but a leadership curve.
Howard Egeth: A possible solution is to bifurcate the roles. One group handles promotions only and a second group does all the other stuff. If the time commitment is the problem, this could help.
Adam Falk: The current system has 4 members every year who are new. This would also be the case with 3 year terms. The share of the engineering faculty is roughly 4/13. There's no issue of objectivity or allegations of bias against certain disciplines. But the cases are not always unanimous. The ones that fail don't fail because the ad hoc report is so damaging. They fail because the letters and report are insufficiently positive. Teasing out "sufficiently positive" requires a lot of judgment and good understanding of the discipline. It's great that we have such a faculty-owned process. But the view of other faculty of the process needs to be good.
Erica Schoenberger (Geography and Environmental Engineering and Steering Committee Secretary): The steering committee wants to continue this discussion at future Faculty Assembly meetings along with discussions on other topics. We plan to hold a second meeting this semester on a different day and time so that more people have a chance to participate.
Betsy Bryan: We solicited other topics of conversation and got several, but all the proponents of them are teaching right now. But one of the issues — concerning graduate student access to underground garages at night — has been resolved. Graduate students will have special hang tags.
The meeting was adjourned 4:45pm.
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