SENATE Year End Committee Report
Report of the Faculty Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy
April 21, 1998
The charge to the Faculty Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy was forward-looking: we were asked to examine the fit of "educational policy to current and forseeable realities" brought about by fiscal and technological "pressures" that require "educational adjustment" in the highly competitive environment that faces us as an institution. We were asked to consider three sources of pressure: funding and pricing in a competitive environment, the distinction between "teaching" and "research" universities, and the arrival of information technology.
We divided ourselves into three subcommittees to examine topics in the three areas of our charge. The summary of specific findings is followed by some overall conclusions and recommendations based on our charge.
The subcommittee was charged with examining the growth of non-traditional instructional programs in the University and the role of the faculty in the development, governance and teaching of such programs. The subcommittee examined the implications of the new College House System, and the status of non-traditional degree and certificate programs.
The subcommittee found that considerable thought had been given to the educational aspect of the houses and that appropriate structures for faculty governance of house-based courses were being evolved, in full conformity with the traditional practices of schools and departments. There is every reason to believe that courses offered in the houses will be subject to at least as much review by standing faculty as other courses. While issues about priority of access to such courses, competition for resources with other departmental courses, and the like, may arise and need to be resolved, the current requirements for review assure that the standing faculty will be fully involved in the resolution of such issues.
The subcommittee also examined non-traditional degree and certificate programs, including some initiated quite recently. These programs have originated because of faculty interest, are governed by committees comprised largely of standing faculty, and are largely taught by members of the standing faculty. There are safeguards in place to ensure that faculty participation in such programs does not come at an inappropriate cost to primary faculty objectives of research and teaching in traditional degree programs. The subcommittee urges that present models be followed as new programs develop.
The subcommittee sought to find out what was actually happening about installing education-related information technology infrastructure on campus, and whether faculty were being involved.
There was much to applaud in the current instructional adjustments to the impact of information technology: in particular, major efforts to provide a comprehensive electronic infrastructure that effectively supports our educational mission, and to make its presence known to both faculty and students. The infrastructure is well-maintained and growing. A great deal of information about it is available through well-designed web pages that disseminate accurate, timely, and important information. Administrative support for faculty involvement is available and helpful. We have found partnerships involving administration and faculty in place and functioning well, as for example the Classroom Committee, residential support for assisting undergraduates with new technologies, and active outreach to faculty from library staff. However, the current process for reaching out to the faculty as a whole to inform them of possibilities and invite participation leaves gaps that need to be filled.
The subcommittee undertook to address the question of who is teaching our students. A number of faculty from several schools were polled informally about the involvement of non-standing faculty in teaching. The results informally compiled suggest the need for further systematic inquiry. This is not a simple task, because there are so many classifications of non-standing faculty with major teaching responsibilities--including but not limited to categories such as adjunct faculty, graduate-student lecturers, and practice professors--and so many reasons for engaging their services.
The problem of teaching by non-standing faculty is difficult to monitor under our current practices. The subcommittee found enough grounds for concern to recommend further study.
While we were alert and sensititive to the possibility of abuses of customary academic roles, we did not encounter anything that we could tie to pressures of the competitive marketplace or technological challenge.
We do not believe the mix of roles and interests entailed by the concept of a "research university" is clearly understood. We believe faculty must have their voice in the evolution of this concept through the mechanism of the Faculty Senate.
It is useful to offer some illustrative examples of the kinds of pressures that suggest a need to assure the means by which faculty input is secured for the planning process. Our charge asked us to focus on "pressures", not necessarily specific incidents of policy abuse.
The magnitude of the College House undertaking is such that it might, as a consequence of success, influence the balance between standing and non-standing faculty involvement in instruction. This undertaking provides a clear-cut case where reasonable, even excellent institutional decisions (stemming from adoption of the College House programs) may, in the process of implementation, tend to drive rather than follow important policy matters. College House teaching is unquestionably an attractive opportunity; at the present time, the number of courses is limited and well within the faculty's capacity to meet them. Over time, however, a proliferation of specially designed courses, combined with the need to cover general topics in ways slanted towards house interests and members' privilege, might suggest the need to secure instruction from other than standing faculty as a practical means of satisfying the intellectual demand we hope the house system will stimulate.
In the changing educational marketplace non-degree programs may develop into important and profitable instructional vehicles. We have a general concern that sufficient safeguards may not presently exist to guarantee that faculty have a decisive voice in every educational enterprise the University undertakes, as they do now in recommending regular degree candidates for graduation, and for establishing their own curricula. Non-degree programs that represent an educational alternative to the regular degree tracks should involve faculty at all levels of policy formulation, and accountability for educational programs sould remain, undiminished, with the faculties of the schools.
Adjustment to the impact of new technologies is a third area where we find a pressure that needs greater faculty response. We find that at present there is far more concern with establishing the informational resources than with anticipating and actively managing their educational impact. While this is readily understandable, our present balance may not be advantageous. Because a one-size-fits-all approach to the new technologies is neither desirable nor efficient, means must be found to bring faculty and technologists together to develop the variety of models needed. New policy questions will arise as the new technologies become commonplace: for example, are faculty in any way obligated to use them?
These three illustrative examples, and the broader issues they represent, are matters to approach with caution but not alarm. The traditional mechanisms for ensuring faculty oversight of educational policy are currently honored and are working well for traditional educational adjustments. However, the Faculty Senate, with its dedication to academic perspectives and its cross-school purview, appears to be an underutilized source of information and advice for managing the growth and change brought about by the contemporary pressures we have considered. It is to the advantage of the University that an independent faculty voice be present at all stages of response to these pressures in order to ensure that faculty expertise and faculty values are represented in the solutions that are adopted.
Recommendation 1: That a mechanism be established through which Faculty Senate committees could, at the discretion of the chair and the committee itself, respond in a timely manner to requests for consultation and for faculty perspective.
We also recommend a bold step forward that would ensure consideration of the educational impact of all major University initiatives, from inception to adoption. Throughout our long history, Penn's faculty has provided the means by which the Trustees' intentions are interpreted and translated into accredited educational programs and activities. To ensure the continuation of this historically powerful and successful tradition, and to guarantee that Penn's educational goals remain sound, effective, efficient, and consistent with the Trustee's policies, we propose that the University create an Educational Impact Statement to serve as a part of every review process for major expenditures. Our recommendation is intended to ensure that the anticipated educational impact of major capital and/or operating investments and expenditures receives formal consideration by appropriate committees of the Faculty Senate. The Trustees would thus be assured that these impacts have been reviewed jointly by the President, Provost and the faculty from the viewpoint of educational policy.
The Educational Impact Statement would be a matter of public record, prepared by the group initiating the expenditure request. As part of the final review process the Committee on Students and Educational Policy, or in special circumstances another committee designated by the Faculty Senate Chair, would review the Educational Impact Statement and attach a reaction, giving reasons for favorable and unfavorable regard from the faculty committee's standpoint.
Our proposal is not intended to introduce another bureaucratic hurdle into the planning process, but to encourage awareness and reflection about the educational impact of all budgetary initiatives at every stage of the planning process. Planners would be welcome to consult, informally and collegially throughout all stages of the planning process, with the Senate leadership, members of Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy and any other Senate committees. It is understood that any such consultation would not constrain a committee's final evaluation of an Educational Impact Statement in overall context. The final evaluation would be public and advisory.
Recommendation 2: Institutions of higher education, including the premier research universities, will continue to experience pressure to evolve and change in the years to come. Academic concerns must be at the heart of all response, and faculty must meet their responsibility to play a central part in the process. The Faculty Senate's role is pivotal. We recommend that the Senate Executive Committee appoint an ad hoc committee to develop guidelines for an Educational Impact Statement, to become an integral part of every proposal for important initiatives. We believe this faculty initiative will contribute to goals that have been set forth in the Agenda for Excellence, and will further new developments. The faculty looks forward to carrying out its advisory role to the President and Provost in support of their initiatives (see suggested sketch-Attachment 1).
Attachment 1: Sketch for an Educational Impact Statement
In order to make knowledgeable judgments, both the Faculty Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy and the administration must have access to the same relevant information about, in addition to the rationale for, each proposed policy or program. The committee must also be given sufficient time to study the proposal and to engage in thoughtful exploration of its probable impact on the schools and the University as a whole.
An Educational Impact Statement should include the following information:
Almanac, Vol. 44, No. 31, April 28, 1998