Faculty Senate addresses newfound concerns

The Faculty Senate assembled this past Wednesday, September 14, to discuss several topics. The meeting took place in the Fischbach Room of the Folsom Library. Following a detailed agenda, the meeting commenced with opening regards from Faculty Senate John Tichy and from Provost Prabhat Hajela. Tichy welcomed all the attendees and proceeded to express his hope of having a productive year and his goal of changing “little by little” the perception of the Faculty Senate to “important, without skepticism.” Tichy plans to accomplish his goal by carrying out meaningful projects for the Institute.

In his opening remarks, Hajela reminded everyone present of Rensselaer’s new ranking as the 39th research university in the nation. He mentioned that the improved rank came as a result of an increase in the number of positive peer evaluations. But regardless of RPI’s advancement in rankings, Hajela showed concerns. Hajela’s main concern is RPI’s six-year graduation rate, which has recently dropped from 84 percent to 81 percent. Unlike the low six-year graduation rate, the first-year retention rate is a high 95 percent. Hajela explained that most students are lost between the second and third years, and therefore he asked a question to all faculty: “How are we losing students?” The question was not answered in the meeting, but was instead left to be thoroughly investigated and discussed.

After the opening remarks, the Senate continued to follow the agenda. The next matter of importance was the approval of new Faculty Senate committee appointees. Professor Nikhil Koratkar, of the Departments of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, was appointed to the Committee of Honors until the spring of 2019. Associate Professor Shawn Lawson, of the Department of the Arts, was also approved, in his case, to the Committee of Academic Standing. With the need to elect a new member from the School of Architecture to the Planning and Resources Committee, the Faculty Senate chose professor and Lighting Research Center Associate Director Russ Leslie.

Next, a member of the Faculty Senate briefly reported on a visit to a recent Student Senate meeting. The topic of “saving the Union” was brought up and the faculty agreed that the best thing they could do was act as a support group for the students. They want to reassure the students that this is not about “empire building.” Also on this topic, the faculty discussed Vice President for Student Life Dr. Frank E. Ross III’s controversial email that was sent to the Rensselaer community. The Faculty Senate agreed that the email was inappropriate and contained misleading information; they are looking for an explanation.

Another important topic discussed was Summer Arch. Parents and students have expressed great interest in the new program, to the point of personally coming to RPI to find out more about it. The program is expected to start in the summer of 2017. Summer Arch was expected to have about 5,600 participants, but after the entrance of the largest ever incoming freshmen class, the program will have to expand its capacity. In preparation for Summer Arch, there are many things to consider. There are surveys planned to be given before and after Summer Arch which the Senate hopes will help them understand the progress of the program. The Senate, as well as the rest of the Institute, wants to evaluate the effectiveness of Summer Arch. They want to be able to answer questions such as: will the curriculum be covered in the shorter period of time? Does it help students find internships and co-ops? Is it a significant going-away experience? Are sports and clubs handled properly? Is a full fall semester too much after Summer Arch? How will financial aid cover the program? These and other questions regarding Summer Arch will be further discussed in a meeting scheduled to take place on September 21.

Following the discussion of Summer Arch came a discussion on graduate education. The representative from the Graduate Council expressed their lack of plans to expand. He explained that they are happy with current collaborations with both the Rensselaer Union and the faculty. The Faculty Senate has designed a survey for the faculty involved with graduate education. The survey is designed to acquire information in order to improve interactions between the faculty involved in graduate education and the graduate students, which will help them “achieve educational and administrative goals.”

In their closing remarks, both Tichy and Hajela reminded all the attendees of their goals. Tichy wants to have a successful year and gain respect for the Senate by working on meaningful projects that will benefit the institution. Hajela wants to focus on increasing the graduation rate and finding the explanation for why so many students are lost after sophomore year.