Executive Committee Minutes - October 6, 2004




Present:          Alexander, Beck, Bradford, Fech, Hoffman, Peterson, Scholz, Shea, Signal, Stock


Absent:           Bolin, Wunder


Date:               Wednesday, October 6, 2004


Location:        Academic Senate Office, 420 University Terrace


1.0       Call to Order

            Peterson called the meeting to order at 3:01 p.m.


2.0       SVCAA Couture

Peterson stated that the Committee wanted to discuss three issues with the SVCAA:  the ES/IS courses and the proposals to revise them, concerns regarding non-tenure track faculty members, and strategic planning for academic programs. 


SVCAA Couture stated that her understanding of the general education issue is that the Senate wants to make it less complicated.  She noted that some have said that students find the program too complex and may cause difficulty for transfer students.  She stated that the IS component of the program appears to be lacking energy. 


SVCAA Couture stated that she has had discussions with the Chancellor and he indicated that he wants to remove barriers for students so that they can get their degrees in four years if possible.  She pointed out that some aspects of the ES/IS program may create barriers for students.


SVCAA Couture noted that preparations for the NCA accreditation process are underway.  She stated that it can take one to two years to gather all of the required information that is needed to go through an accreditation process.  She pointed out that UNL is scheduled to have the accreditation team visit sometime during the 2006-07 academic year. 


SVCAA Couture stated that assessment of learning is something that the accreditation process takes seriously.  She noted that 75% of the undergraduate programs at UNL are turning in reports of their assessment programs but only one third of graduate programs are doing so.  She pointed out that there has been no real assessment done on the general education program at UNL and this is something that will need to be addressed before the accreditation team arrives.  She stated that it will be important to show at the very least our intent to assess the general education program. 


SVCAA Couture noted that most institutions review their general education program every ten years.  She stated that the campus has an opportunity to redesign the general education program or to just patch up the existing program.  She noted that the campus will need to be involved in discussions in a holistic way if a new program is designed.  She pointed out that assessment of the program can be built into it if a new program is developed.  She noted that the Senate has a strong role in assessing the program but the leadership for proposing changes to the program should come from the Office of Academic Affairs, working with faculty and academic chairs and deans.


Peterson stated that the framework outlined by the SVCAA is useful and helpful.  He noted that the Senate has a proposal before it to gather opinions from the colleges on what they can accept and what they cannot accept as revisions to the current ES/IS program. 


SVCAA Couture stated that she has had discussions with the deans regarding the Senate’s proposed changes to the ES/IS program.  She noted that Dean Hoffman of the College of Arts and Sciences spoke with the faculty of his college and developed a proposal which has been presented to the Dean’s Council.  Other deans are looking at his response. 


Peterson stated that the Committee would be interested in seeing Dean Hoffman’s proposal.  He pointed out that he feels a commitment to the ES/IS Review Committee to continue pursuing revising the program.  He noted that some members of the Review Committee did not want to discuss the philosophical issues of general education.  SVCAA Couture pointed out that it is not wrong headed to think about the outcomes of a program.  She noted that there is an opportunity here to build the general education program from the outcomes back.  She stated that this could be a way to get the campus invested in improving general education. 


SVCAA Couture was asked the question of how capstone courses and experiences are dealt with in general education programs elsewhere.  She noted that the commitment of the university to the general education program is important.  She stated that some institutions require students to compile a writing portfolio to demonstrate the effectiveness of the general education program.  Other institutions may have the students demonstrate service/learning or leadership skills.  She noted that there is a movement across the country for institutions to demonstrate the results of their general education program. 


SVCAA Courture sated that one of the philosophies behind a general education program is for students to develop a connection with the larger community.  She asked how an institution can determine if a general education program is working if there are no assessments of it.  She pointed out that the campus is at a good point to grapple with general education.  She stated that the campus should define what is distinct about a UNL education.


Peterson asked what the procedures will be if the campus was to undertake revising the general education program.  SVCAA Couture stated that she wished to discuss this issue with the Chancellor and academic administration before pursuing it, but if UNL were to engage in revising general education, the Senate would be a part of that process.  She pointed out that it is important to get closure on the current proposal for revising the program that is before the Senate. 


Beck stated that the proposal to revise the ES/IS program has generated discussion on campus and involved the faculty.  She stated that having the SVCAA and Academic Affairs’ leadership in the process is essential. 


Alexander asked if Dean Hoffman’s proposal recommends how to assess the general education program.  SVCAA Couture stated that Dean Hoffman’s proposal is a response to the Senate proposal and it is still under discussion by the academic deans.


Shea stated that starting with the outcomes would help in driving the process of revising the general education program.  He noted that faculty members are often required to go through cycles of strategic planning and they become reluctant to get involved because often times the plans developed are not followed.  SVCAA Couture stated that she does not want to engage the faculty in a process that will not have outcomes. 


Peterson stated that at the Senate meeting on October 5th the SVCAA mentioned that the deans were to turn in their strategic plans for their colleges by March 15th.  He asked if a deadline date has been determined for the departments.  SVCAA Couture stated that the departments may be required to turn in their plans earlier in those colleges where departments will do separate plans.   She noted that some departments and colleges have already developed strategic plans and they may only need to refresh them.  She pointed out that the planning process will be based on UNL’s core values and conclude for this year on March 15.  She stated that after March 15th the deans will make a presentation of their strategic plans. 


Bradford asked if a draft of the core values has been created.  He asked when the campus will see what these core values are.  SVCAA Couture stated that a draft has been completed and it will be sent out to the campus for discussion; Chancellor Perlman will announce this process. 


In speaking again about the general education program, Hoffman stated that there needs to be clarification between the ES/IS proposals and assessment and the accreditation process.  He stated that guidelines will be needed in the process of revising the general education program.  He stated that the questions of when assessments should be conducted need to be answered.  SVCAA Couture stated that assessment basically entails demonstrating what students have learned and what they are capable of doing once they have completed a program.  She stated that the question of whether students met the outcomes of the programs is part of this process, and that it is expected of every academic program.   


Stock pointed out that the English Department has a capstone course but that it is not well liked by either the students or the faculty members.  SVCAA Couture pointed out that a capstone course does not have to be part of a program in order to demonstrate that students have met the goals of the program; programs can demonstrate this outcome in different ways.


Alexander pointed out that the University of Kansas has their engineering students take a national exam.  The results of the exams can then be used as a measure of assessment and it allows the university to compare their success on a national level.  He suggested that determining how many students join professional organizations after they graduate could be another means of assessment.


3.0       Announcements

            No announcements were made.


4.0       Approval of 9/29/04 Minutes

Peterson moved and Alexander seconded approval of the minutes as amended.  Motion approved.


5.0       ASUN (Katie Weichman, Matt Maher, Ben Keele)

5.1       Academic Freedom Resolution        

Peterson stated that the Committee wants to address the request of ASUN for the Academic Senate to endorse adding a question on course evaluations asking students whether or not the instructor fostered academic freedom and intellectual diversity in the classroom.  Keele stated that he decided to write the ASUN Academic Freedom Resolution after reading articles and discussing the issue with UNL faculty members.  He noted that the ASUN has adopted the resolution.  He stated that some professors at UNL have language on their syllabus supporting academic freedom and intellectual diversity in the classroom.


Peterson asked whether students feel that there is a problem on campus with this issue.  Keele stated that he has heard of enough cases that he wondered if the students’ academic freedom might be violated in some classes.  He pointed out that by including a question on the course evaluation it would allow for input from the entire class, not just from one disgruntled student.  Peterson asked if the professors were not accepting of different viewpoints.  Keele stated that in some classes there can be a hostile environment in the classroom, the professor may give a poor grade because the student has a different viewpoint, or the professor goes off subject of the curriculum of the course.


Peterson stated that he has hesitations regarding the ASUN resolution.  He questioned how valuable the information would be because oftentimes the evaluations do not provide constructive criticism.  He noted that evaluations can be used as part of a faculty member’s annual evaluation.


Peterson stated that he has concerns regarding the freedom from indoctrination language in the resolution.  He noted that instructors often discuss ideas or theories that might be interpreted as indoctrination when the intent of the instructor is not to indoctrinate but to provide information and knowledge on a particular subject matter.  Keele stated that the faculty members frame the curriculum but his concern is when an instructor becomes too constricting within a course curriculum.  He stated that instructors need to be clear with what they are expecting from their students.  Stock pointed out that it is the faculty member’s responsibility to inform students of hypothesis of a subject matter.  He noted that he does not ask students to commit to an idea being presented in the class but they need to explain what is being taught.  Keele stated that instructors should lay out the terms of the course to the students.  Bradford asked if students do not know or understand the content of the course and what they are being graded on.  Weichman noted that our society is structured to clarify and explain things and students sometimes expect or want greater clarification from their instructors on their courses. 


Peterson noted that it would be impossible to foresee all problems that could arise given the issue.  Keele pointed out that students tend to tow the line if they are unsure of what is expected of them. 


Signal noted that students have a right to disagree with an instructor but the argument should be based on solid evidence.  She stated that class can oftentimes become very personal for students and they often criticize an instructor based on personal feelings.  She stated that the issue should be addressed other than by course evaluations.  Keele stated that he thought evaluations would be less personal. 


Stock stated that the English department includes a question similar to that being suggested by ASUN.  He pointed out that some students can misunderstand a professor’s position but there are some professors who may not be as open minded as they think they are.  He noted that it is a matter of educating rather than indoctrinating. 


Bradford stated that he does not have a problem with the question being included in the course evaluations but he does have concerns with requiring language in the syllabus for the course.  Hoffman stated that the resolution could restrict discussion in class because what is being discussed might not be on the syllabus. 


Maher pointed out that the resolution would be enforced if an instructor was to attack a student’s view in class because the instructor does not agree with it.  Bradford stated that it could be a student’s perception that she/he is being attacked when in fact the instructor may be challenging the student so that the student learns to justify their argument in a clear and concise way.  Hoffman pointed out that students can be guilty of trying to restrict academic freedom as well. 


Peterson noted that the ASUN would like the Senate to support the resolution but he pointed out that the Executive Committee has not come to an agreement to support it.  He suggested that there be further discussion on the matter.  Beck commended Keele and ASUN on their efforts to tackle this issue.  She noted that there needs to be further discussion on the subject. 


5.2       Dead Week/Finals Week

Peterson noted that the Daily Nebraskan had an editorial several weeks ago calling for the Academic Senate to continue working on resolving the problems associated with dead week.  He stated that the Committee is still interested in trying to resolve the problems.  He noted that the Academic Senate voted down the resolution presented in April but he is interested in reconstituting an ad hoc committee to work on the problems associated with dead week and finals week.  He pointed out that he would like to have diverse viewpoints from the committee members and he wants to make sure that there are student members on the committee.  Weichman and Mohr agreed.  Weichman stated that she would like to see a committee representing all sides of the issues.


Mohr reported that there will be a Big 12 Student Government Conference on October 15th.  He stated that he has asked the members from Texas A & M and Kansas to give a presentation regarding how their universities handle dead week and finals week.  He noted that both of these institutions have stop dates where no classes are held. 


Peterson asked for more details of the presentations so he can notify the Senate should anyone be interested in attending the presentations. 


Bradford suggested that the Executive Committee should meet at least once each semester if not more with the officers of ASUN.  The Committee and ASUN officers agreed that this would be helpful to all parties. 



The meeting was adjourned at 5:00 p.m.  The next meeting of the Executive Committee will be on Wednesday, October 13th at 3:00 pm.  The meeting will be held in the Academic Senate Office, 420 University Terrace.  The minutes are respectfully submitted by Karen Griffin, Coordinator and Pat Shea, Secretary.