Address to the Board of Control on December 9, 2011

Chair Richardson and members of the board; distinguished audience:

On behalf of the Senate Executive Committee, thanks for breakfast and, if possible, we look forward to doing this again next April.  I believe these interactions serve a useful purpose of providing you with a different perspective on the institution and perhaps contribute in a small way to your assessment of the direction in which the institution is heading.  Today I would just like to bring you up to date on the accomplishments and meetings that took place in the Senate this semester following the outline on this slide. Some of this material has already been covered today and it is my privilege to present the Senate's perspective on some of these topics.

We have now had presentations by the research and teaching award winners as shown here.  Both teaching award recipients featured interactive presentations requiring audience participation, strategies which perhaps lead to increased attention in their classes.  It is no doubt useful for some of us to become aware of these techniques of instruction.  Several presentations of an informational nature were also heard.  The Senate was assured of the efforts of student services in recruiting students and convinced that the IT consolidation, though fraught with difficulty and problems for some at certain times of the year, is making slow but deliberate and good progress.

On this slide we also heard about health and sick leave changes and anyone looking at this massive percentage of 90.52% assigned to the employees might conclude that we are led by a hard taskmaster, one who emanated out of the pages of a Dickensian era novel.  However the Senate, partly on the basis of a finance workshop by Vice-President Reed, is aware that the matter is more complex than would appear prima facie and that it involves a delicate balancing act of the merit raise coupled with reduced state appropriations and the hardship imposed by increasing tuition fees on the families of our students.  The fact that parking fees have not so far been imposed has also not escaped our attention.

Next we listened to the update on AQIP projects and had various discussions on the 2035 vision for the university by Provost Seel.  This prompted an assessment of the graduate program and, further, led to a presentation by VP Reed on the reasons and history behind the fact that we only have one graduate student tuition fee since 2003, whereas at the undergraduate level we have two, the resident and the non-resident.  The Senate was satisfied with the conclusion on the last slide of this presentation which stated that given the length of time for this policy being in place, a re-examination of the pertinent issue sometime next year would be advisable.  The Senate Research Policy Committee, being aware of the Strategic Plan of the University and the difficulties in getting the more established of us to sustain or perhaps reactivate their research activities have distributed these two questions shown on this slide.  The answers to these questions may help us attain a realization of the difficulties in attaining the announced goal of 3,000 graduate students by 2035.  At our last Senate meeting, Chair Barkdoll of the Research Policy committee was elected as the secretary of the Senate to replace Martin Thompson who is going on sabbatical next year. At this stage it is not clear if Chair Barkdoll chose this route so as to avoid compiling the results of this survey but time will tell since the survey closes this week and he assumes secretarial duties on January 18.

This slide displays University Standing Committees outside of the Senate and the Senate is responsible for conducting elections to find people to sit on these committees.  It was decided to list the yearly accomplishments of these various committees on the Senate website.  As you can see so far two committees have responded to a request by Provost Seel and their reports are quite interesting.  In one committee, there were deliberations as summarized but in the other, the Faculty Review Committee, there was no activity.  This is actually quite a constructive and positive thing to know.  This committee’s charge is to “review and provide recommendations regarding grievances that go beyond step two of the grievance process”.  The fact of no business means that the university resolved problems and issues before they attained this level.  More recently reports from three other committees have been received.

The Senate has received and deliberated on the proposals on this slide and these have all been approved by the administration.  Proposals 2-5 of 12 pertain to rules and regulations in the graduate program and proposal 1-12 will “allow outstanding undergraduate students to pursue an accelerated research-based master’s degree and apply up to three undergraduate-level research credits earned as a senior-level student toward the research requirement for a master’s degree.”  This proposal has already resulted in one department shown here outlaying a plan for the specific requirement for this degree allowed under this proposal.  No doubt other departments will soon establish their own specific goals and we look forward to seeing what kind of enrollment and financial benefits accrue to our graduate program in the upcoming years as a consequence of this proposal.

More recently as shown on this slide we have deliberated on five new degrees.  I should mention that before the Senate receives a proposal, it has to be first considered within the department of origin perhaps other university wide committees, and also the appropriate Chairs and Deans.  After receipt in the Senate office it is distributed concurrently to the Curricular Policy Committee which evaluates the intellectual merits of the proposal, and the Finance Committee which is charged with assessing the financial viability of the proposal.  It can be said that during the deliberative process, both of these senate committees have encountered hostility from the various contending forces and between themselves as well.  To a certain extent some of this is warranted.  Chairs, Deans and even the Provost are frustrated with the length of time taken to ratify these proposals and they all want the Senate to hurry up.  The proponents who have to answer questions from a variety of sources, some of which are repetitive, are also in some cases annoyed over delays and perceived slights.  Suffice it to say that the Senate is guided in its deliberations by previously established policies and procedures all of which were devised to ensure that both the intellectual merits and financial viability of a proposal are in order and we will continue to do so.  Unfortunately the required information takes times to gather and, in some cases, the instructions outlined for the preparation of these proposals are not followed. 

In brief the Senate has concluded that the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology proposal had merit and is not particularly financially restricting for the following reason:  it will allow students from the Chemistry and Biological Sciences departments, and, the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences to graduate with this new degree.  In essence what it does is allow for a natural convergence of courses and research currently conducted in those departments for which this new degree option would be best suited to describe.  In so doing we will allow these graduates to have a PhD certificate that is more suited to their research.  This degree will also foster closer cooperation between these departments in keeping with goals of our Strategic Plan.

The masters program in biomedical engineering is also worthy of support.  This department has a PhD degree option approved by you on the 24th of June 2005 and it is obviously constructive to have a Master’s degree.  This is because circumstances may arise during the pursuit of a PhD which would result in a reason to leave prematurely and thus it is appropriate for this degree to be offered as an alternative.  Besides some of our undergraduates may want to avail themselves of the aforementioned accelerated research-based master’s degree proposal which we approved earlier this year.  The MS degree in Medical Informatics would appear to be a very timely degree as it trains students to organize, analyze, and manage information to improve health care using computer technology.  Practitioners of this degree are expected to come from a wide array of backgrounds and the specifics of the many new courses are yet to be clearly defined and approved.  The Senate recognized the merits of this degree and appreciated the financial details supplied which indicated that this degree should be a positive for our institution.

Two undergraduate physics degrees were also approved and these are anticipated to increase the numbers of students trained in physics which is important in light of the recent discoveries regarding neutrinos exceeding the speed of light, a subject matter that the Provost delights in discussing.  The new secondary degree option is critical in preparing more teachers trained in physics as the current BS education option takes a very long time to complete.  Questions were raised regarding a perceived diminution of standards but producing a teacher also contains the immeasurable aspect of producing people who can inspire.  For these reasons and the important fact that these two degrees are not a burden on our financial resources as attested to by our Finance Committee, the Senate approved these proposals and appreciates your approbation earlier today of all of them.

The Senate was pleased to receive revised charters and the first two are displayed here with this letter-year combination, namely f and g of 12.  These do not require Senate deliberation but have to be considered by the administration and only when so approved will the link to the actual charters be activated. The Senate was delighted to hear that the administration has already considered these charters and one of them, specifically, that for the Biomedical Engineering department has been approved.

Finally, the sense of the senate resolution was first distributed to the Senate Constituency on November 2nd with the idea that each Senator would lead his or her group in a discussion on the issue and then have them vote on it.  When the matter was raised for debate and final vote on the Senate floor, points were raised both for and against.  It does appear that much of the opposition to the resolution centered on whether or not this was a political proposition and thus had no basis being discussed in the Senate.  Claims of this nature are often made by people who themselves are busily engaged in trying to get people to vote one way or another on some issue, i.e., people engaged in the act of politics.  These same people use the word “politics” as if there were nasty connotations associated with the term itself.  Hopefully we are all aware that while there are alternatives to politics, these usually come at the price of human life and therefore, at present, it would be far preferable to engage in political acts rather than these other alternatives.  In any case, the Senate viewed this matter as one of merely affirming the wisdom of the Strategic Plan of our institution and the rights of our Board of Control to establish the policies and principles under which we function, in order to achieve our defined objectives.  I am pleased to report to you that the resolution was approved without any dissenting votes registered.  It was distributed to State Congressman Huuki, State Senator Casperson and Governor Snyder together with an invitation for them to attend any Senate meeting and justify their stance on the bill. We received a written response from Congressman Huuki who pointed out that the bill was aimed at preventing fraud and abuse from "roommates, friends, and children". Late yesterday I received an email from Provost Seel which contained a link to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education which stated that the Michigan Senate had amended and passed the bill to state that it would not pertain to state colleges and universities. This bill is clearly in a state of flux.

Thanks for listening.