Address to the Board of Control on February 23, 2012

Chair Richardson and members of the board; distinguished audience:

In terms of “delivering a report properly”, I wanted to start by asking why Board Member Woychowski’s recently extremely successful company has not so far constructed a car where when you open the door, snow does not fall onto the car seat but unfortunately I drive a Ford.  While not a GM product, it is still made in America unlike the fancy foreign imports favored by some members of the University’s administration, though to be absolutely honest, this is more a reflection of my salary, not necessarily a manifestation of patriotism.  Just recently I discovered a simple solution which is a measure of intelligence since I was living here for 14 years.  Gently crack open the car door and then pull it out slowly.  I am pleased to report that this slower opening of the car door solves this problem and this is just a long winded way to apologize for the speed with which I read out my previous address back in December.

President Obama recently gave a speech (SLIDE) at an institution located in lower Michigan specifically aimed at somehow containing the cost of higher education.  I was not particularly impressed with this speech for President Obama pointed out only one reason for the fact that state run institutions have to increase tuition, which was reduced State support for universities.  He mentioned that States should be encouraged to give more to universities and also alluded to the fact that he wants to have some sort of equivalent “no-child left behind’ policy applied to universities where measures as to the value of the education that students received should be available online so that people can judge where to send their children.  He would also restrict funding to those institutions where the tuition level was not kept under control.  President Obama did not mention many of the other reasons why tuition costs are increasing, including, rising health care costs, IT infrastructure, administrative increases, energy and building costs, costs of conducting top-level research, and a much more competitive environment to get students, including modern housing facilities and maintenance of athletic facilities such as a renewed surface for our racquetball courts.  Incidentally, I did notice that earlier today you approved the expenditure of funds to repair the SDC and perhaps some of these could be used to repair the racquetball courts.  I can testify that water on the roof does indeed leak into these courts.  President Obama did correctly state that as the economy transfers from a manufacturing to a service base, the nature of the job skills required are so complex that a university or two-year college education is mandatory for us to maintain a position of pre-eminence in the world economy. 

An important message from President Obama’s speech was the reference to some sort of yardstick by which to measure the value of the education that students are receiving.  Board members Ashford and Ollila are no doubt intimately aware of such measurements.  I believe we would be wise to foster some attention on this issue and our current position here is already noteworthy.  Provost Seel has recently asserted that the average starting salaries of our graduates are among the highest in the state and indeed higher than the institution where President Obama spoke recently. President Mroz also made a related claim in a recent speech to the Michigan State Senate.  However, the University Senate was recently made aware of a situation which would appear to have an easy solution and for which a mechanism to effect a quick remedy would not appear to have been utilized.  It came to the Senate’s attention that a student was in a course for 8 weeks without receiving any indication of progress.  Eight weeks is the drop date, i.e., the date to drop the course and only receive a “W” on the transcript.  Because the student did not have any quantitative feedback to know whether to drop out of the course, she maintained hope but unfortunately received a low grade.  We should not have a circumstance such as this.  Given the competitive capitalistic nature of the education enterprise, I think we need to add to President Mroz’s transformational strategic goals the suggestion that everyone appreciates the complex nature of the educational enterprise and regard students as customers entitled not only to a product but also a certain level of professionalism and competence in the courses they take.  These changes if deemed necessary would not add any extra costs to our budget but they might be very difficult to accomplish since they involve changing the culture.  However, it should be noted that we do have successful examples of changing the culture and Senate Proposals 5 and 6 of 2011 dealing with redefining charters and searching and evaluation of chairs and school deans are examples.  I would also add the “Centralization of Computing Services” to this list.

This (SLIDE) shows the various drop dates for courses at institutions around Michigan.  As shown in the fourth column, one school allows students to drop out of a course on the last date in the semester.  The fifth column lists which schools allow for students to withdraw completely with a W grade from all courses in which the grade is greater than a D- and with an E grade for failing work.  Most schools have a longer period for students to drop out of a course with a W grade compared to Tech.  Other schools also allow for first year students to remove all W grades from their transcripts if they complete the first year reasonably well.  Yet others specify that there should be no homework due in the last week before final exams.  I believe we only specify that a final exam should not be held during the week before the final exams.  This next (SLIDE) shows the situation regarding the commencement ceremonies during the fall and winter semesters.  Most schools have the commencement after the final exam period.  There are two reasons why these other schools have their present policies regarding the drop dates, restrictions during the final week of classes, study days before the final exam, and holding commencement ceremonies after the final exam period.  First, they acknowledge the fact of the student as a consumer.  Second, perhaps these schools also recognize that the student is not a responsible adult in the truest sense of this word but engaged in a transition from the stage of childhood into adulthood.  These seemingly lenient policies are used to perhaps soften this transition and are there to assist students in the maturation process.  Needless to say the Senate’s Instructional Policy Committee and the registrar’s office are working to resolve this matter. 

To date this year, we have received two new degrees to examine, the first of which is displayed here (SLIDE).  This details a degree in engineering management which was featured prominently in our local paper, the Daily Mining Gazette (SLIDE).  Interestingly, our Business School had a BS in Engineering Administration in the 80’s which was removed due to accreditation difficulties as it was only a one year program.  During the deliberation on this new degree, it was pointed out that the chemical engineering department would like to be included as an option in this School of Business and Economics degree and we were assured that this will be possible.  The second degree shown here (SLIDE) is currently being debated in the Senate.

Senate Committees (SLIDE) are each working on material falling under their respective charges as detailed in our By-Laws.  Academic Policy is investigating joint appointments where the situation regarding the duties and evaluation of persons hired and placed in two different departments is being examined.  Sabbatical leave policy is also being reviewed.  The Administrative Policy Committee has met several times to examine the evaluation questions for the President’s evaluation, and they solicited input from various administration sources including the AQIP Tsarina, Associate Provost Christa Walck and President Mroz.  Comments have been received from all sources, they were incorporated into the questionnaire and this should be conducted shortly after we receive the President’s statement.  The Curricular and Finance committees have examined several proposals to date and elections have been held for various committees on University Standing committees, most notably, the CATPR.  The Fringe Benefits Committee (SLIDE) has participated in the various Benefits Liaison Group meetings and has contributed to wellness plans initiated by our Human Resource department. The Institutional Planning Committee will try to comment on the Strategic plan and I have already mentioned the work by the Instructional Policy Committee in perhaps revising our academic calendar.  Joan Chadde assisted the Research Policy Committee in conducting the survey questions shown here regarding the research environment at Tech.  This survey, the purpose of which was to find out what could be done to assist faculty in research, was conceived by ex-chair Brian Barkdoll of the Research Policy Committee who worked with VP Reed to facilitate its distribution.  Some 51 pages of commentary, compiled by Senate Assistant Judi Smigowski, were produced as a result of this survey.  Once compiled, the material was distributed to the Provost, the VP of research and the Dean of Graduate Studies.  As can be observed from reading the selected material on the next four slides,(SLIDE) (SLIDE) (SLIDE) (SLIDE) some very complimentary points were made about our Research Services department in answer to the second question regarding which measures were useful.  The decision was made to request that the administration comment on the points written in answer to the first question.  Obviously the Research Policy Committee can rank these suggestions in order of perceived importance but since we cannot implement any of them, it would be more prudent to allow the administration time to deliberate on them.  The Senate was assured by Provost Seel in our meeting on February 1st that the concerns expressed in the survey will be addressed. 

Finally (SLIDE), our Professional Staff Policy committee is working on a proposal to rearrange the staff constituencies.  This will first require updating the constitution to reflect changes that took place external to the Senate.  For example, the Senate Constitution in Article II.C.1 refers to a Department of Physical Education.  This is now called the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology.  The Professional Staff categories are defined by the Senate Executive Committee as stated in the By-laws and are shown on this slide.  As the various employees move around these categories quite frequently, we propose to have this list consist of 12 titles, equivalent to the listings in bold on this (SLIDE) and maintain an accurate listing of the actual breakdown between the departments in the Senate office.  As this entails changes to the constitution, the entire Senate constituency will have to vote on this and, if approved by 2/3 majority of votes counted, it will next have to be approved by the Board of Control.

Thanks for listening.