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2001 - 01/11

UCAP Meeting of 01/11/2001


agenda status: approved


University Committee on Academic Policy

Meeting of Thursday, January 11, 2001
10:15 a.m., Board Room, Administration Building

1. Approval of Agenda

2. Approval of Minutes of the November 30, 2000 Meeting

3. Comments from the Chairperson

4. Comments from the Assistant Provost

5. Discussion with the Provost: Modes of Evaluating Teaching Provost Simon

6. Update on Joint UCAP-ICTC Subcommittee Activities Jeanne Wald

7. Roundtable

Attachment: November 30, 2000 Draft Minutes

Please phone or E-Mail Robin Pline (353-5380; if you cannot be present.


minutes status: approved

approved at meeting of 01/25/2001

UCAP Minutes for meeting held on 01/11/2001

APPROVED 1/25/01
University Committee on Academic Policy
January 11, 2001

Present: Henry Beckmeyer, Roy Black, Joseph Chartkoff, Craig Duskin,
          Cynthia Gibbons, David Imig, Fred Jacobs, Kurt Lausman, Rod Phillips, Shaun Phillips, Latonya Riddle, Jon Sticklen, Jeanne Wald,
          Winston Wilkinson
Others: Barbara Steidle (Assistant Provost); Lou Anna K. Simon (Provost)

Minutes Prepared by Joseph Chartkoff

1. Meeting was called to order at 10:20 am.

2. Agenda was approved

3. Minutes from the meeting of September 28, 2000, were approved with two modifications: 1) on Page 2, Item 8, line 5, the term “anecdotal” was substituted for “antidotal”; 2) in the same sentence as noted above, wording was changed to “…underscore the overall impact of finals scheduling upon…”.

4. Comments from the Chairperson: Chairperson Wald declined to comment at this point on the agenda.

5. Comments from the Assistant Provost: Assistant Provost Steidle first extended thanks to everyone in the campus community who coped with the major snowstorm which fell during the first day of Final Exams Week (December 11, 2000). Exceptional efforts given by students, staff and faculty enabled the University to avoid cancellation of final examinations with the myriad complications that would have resulted.
    Dr. Steidle also noted that enrollment for the Spring 2001 Semester will be between 41,000 and 41,400, which is at the projected level. Within this number, more new freshmen have begun their studies than is usual for the spring semester. The larger number of incoming freshmen appears to have been a result of extremely heavy applications for admission in the previous fall semester. Some applicants were admitted with the provision that they delay the start of their academic work until the spring semester. These delays were added to the number that usually applies to start in the spring semester, for a larger total than usual. At the same time, the number of students graduating per semester appears to be rising. The rising rate may result from more students completing their degrees at a faster pace than previously. Over the past several years the average length of time from entry to graduation has been at 4.76 years.

    The Early Warning System for freshmen has produced positive results. This past semester, fewer letters needed to be sent out to freshmen who were not progressing satisfactorily than in the previous year. At the same time, of those who did receive letters, a higher percentage than previously ended their semesters in good standing.

    The University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum will be held on Friday, April 6, 2001 from Noon to 5:00 pm at the Student Union. Faculty are encouraged to advise their students to participate and to attend.

    This coming Monday (January 15, 2001) will mark the University’s formal celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Under current policy, classes are cancelled for the day, but the University will be officially open. The scheduled events for the day are announced in the Friday, January 12, issue of The State News.
6. Discussion of the Provost’s Visit: Chairperson Wald noted that the Provost would join UCAP’s meeting shortly to discuss policies and practices with regard to recognizing the significance of teaching in assessing faculty performance. Chairperson Wald summarized questions UCAP had proposed to ask the Provost in this regard:
a. What assistance would be provided by the Administration to promote the evaluation and enhancement of teaching?
b. Would teaching be made more important in the evaluation of faculty performance, and if so, how?
c. Would teaching units be provided with additional resources to support improved teaching and teaching assessment?
d. Would efforts, authority and resources for the enhancement of teaching and teaching assessment be handled centrally or be decentralized?
e. How would the issue of fairness in teaching evaluation be handled?
f. How would diversity in teaching or learning styles be accommodated?
g. Would teaching quality be handled in a positive fashion or in a fashion of avoiding penalties?
h. Would accommodation be made to recognize changing professional priorities among faculty as they grow older, or would aging faculty become increasingly disenfranchised?
    Professor Roy Black asked when the Administration last made a survey of how teaching is evaluated. Steidle said that the last major effort was reflected in the CIERT Report, issued a number of years ago through a joint effort of several university faculty committees. The CIERT surveys showed 90% of unit chairs/directors reporting that their assessment of teaching effectiveness relied solely on student SIRS forms. Black commented that, if real action would not result, the reasons for pursuing the issue were not very clear. Professors Fred Jacobs, David Imig and Jon Sticklen all encouraged the Committee to raise the issue with the Provost. Professor Joe Chartkoff noted that positive results could occur if efforts to improve teaching quality were institutionalized rather than voluntary, giving as an example the Xerox Research Laboratories, at which each researcher is required to devote 20% of the work week to professional improvement. Further questions asked how unit decisions about teaching improvement could be enforced, and what would be counted. Professor Cynthia Gibbons noted that evaluation tools are not the same thing as values, asking what is being valued about educational quality in university and unit policies. Student Representative LaTonya Riddle commented that in her college (Engineering) several highly-valued teachers were leaving the college or retiring early because teaching was so undervalued compared with research. Professor Sticklen asked whether the balance between teaching and research is considered at the level of the individual or across the unit. Professor Black commented that, even within the same college, there was immense variation across the college as to how faculty are evaluated, so no consistent policy exists. Professor Sticklen commented that evaluation of teaching was done poorly, and not only in a skewed fashion. Professor Imig commented that good methods to measure teaching quality do exist, but are not used by MSU. Reliance on SIRS results is poor policy because SIRS measure how much students like courses and professors, not how good the teaching may be.
7. Discussion with the Provost: Modes of Evaluating Teaching. Provost Simon joined the Committee at 10:55 am. Chairperson Wald summarized for the Provost the Committee’s questions as indicated under Item 5 (a-h) above. Professor Imig commented at that point that there was concern as to the value of putting more effort into the revision of SIRS or similar measures given the lack of significance of teaching in faculty evaluations compared to the significance of obtaining external funding and publishing.
    Provost Simon offered several comments in response to the Committee’s questions.
a. The work of Boyer suggests that the first step in broadening the basis for faculty evaluation is to broaden policies for tenure and promotion to recognize active scholarship of teaching. MSU has already changed its policy statements, whether or not faculty realize this. The MSU Faculty Handbook indicates changes in tenure and promotion guidelines that have been implemented in the past several years.

b. One element of these changes involves the concept of annual evaluation, building upon tenure and promotion criteria, which has been underway for several years. Annual evaluation policies take into account shifting faculty emphases in their careers. Faculty can be recognized for how well they carry out the workload they had agreed upon with chairs, rather than by a single prototype applied to all faculty. Professor Black asked at this point whether all unit heads were required to do annual evaluations. Provost Simon replied that they were, though there was still variation across the university on the extent to which this was being done. In addition, the evaluation of faculty was a significant section of the agenda of the Faculty Work Life Committee. That committee encouraged the Provost to have UCAP work to help improve faculty evaluation procedures. (In response to a question as to whether teaching assistants were able to provide evaluations of the faculty they assisted, the Provost replied that such evaluations were conducted by some units, but that the practice is not a University policy nor widespread within the University.)

c. The Provost noted that the University would continue to support Lilly and Faculty Seminar programs, which addressed issues of teaching quality.

d. The Provost also noted that, starting this past summer, incoming unit chairs and directors were required to attend orientation seminars on policies, including faculty evaluation, because of the unevenness in evaluation and other practices that exists across the University. This effort is an attempt to address the considerable differences that exist among units as to their missions, responsibilities and constituencies. To a large extent, this debate resembles the tensions in the American federal system between states’ rights and national governance. The university community is by no means unified on such issues as how central policies and strategies are seen compared to what issues and practices are best left to units, with unit control but administration provision of the tools. She noted that the Administration has not mandated any uniform evaluation practices for instruction, but that such efforts have been undertaken with regard to University Outreach, with positive results. She feels the key to dealing with evaluation issues on campus will be through conversations with the deans, to promote variation in the recognition of excellence in terms of the diversity that exists among programs, and relative to the goals set forth for the units—that recognition of excellence needs to be not only honest, but also as appropriate to each niche the units are trying to fill.

e. At present, evaluation applies to three areas, with quite different degrees of adequacy in measurement. One area is research, for which standards and criteria tend to be fairly clearly expressed, measured and recognized in terms of publication in appropriate refereed journals, measurement of impact of publications in terms of the citations of the work appearing in the works of others, success in obtaining external funding to support research, the number of graduate students supervised and number of graduate degrees completed under the faculty’s supervision. Another area involves Outreach activities, where regularization of standards is being attempted but still is in its early stages. Yet another area is teaching, in which the means for evaluation are least clear and least widely shared. How do we determine what constitutes excellence? The practice of having peer visits to classrooms is not common. The working assumption seems to be that the amount of other scholarly productivity is a proxy for teaching quality, with the unspoken assumption that those who publish new work bring it into their courses, and that those who do not publish new work do not update and enrich their courses. This assumption is unsupported by any evidence and needs to be abandoned. Instead the university needs to become involved in better assessing what it is that demonstrates the scholarship of teaching, what measures the outcome of effective teaching, and what measures results in terms of effective student learning.
      The Provost asks UCAP for help in suggesting how better to help faculty document teaching quality and how to help unit heads assess teaching quality without relying solely on SIRS, which some regard as an entertainment index. She noted having heard from many alumni that later in their professional lives they had come to appreciate the importance to them of courses whose value they did not understand or appreciate while still students. This experience, she feels, illustrates the handicapping limitations of reliance on student course evaluations as the sole or primary measure of teaching quality.
f. Professor Fred Jacobs asked the Provost why so many faculty seem to feel that teaching quality doesn’t matter when the Provost says that it does. Provost Simon noted that few faculty seem to understand the place of the criterion relative to the placement of faculty in the annual evaluation process. Very few faculty are judged to be at the extreme upper end of faculty performance. Those faculty tend to perform spectacularly in several areas, and they are the ones who are given the most substantial annual salary adjustments. Also, relatively few faculty are judged to have serious problems, and they are the ones who would receive adjustments of 1% or less. The great bulk of the faculty fall in the middle group, who typically receive adjustments in the range of 2-4%. It is in this middle group that the confusion exists as to how the multiple criteria are applied. They are applied differently depending on the individual, but the nuances may be too fine to be evident. The significance of teaching excellence is in fact taken into account in many cases, but it tends to be obscured. This matter is hardly unique to MSU; it occurs on most campuses. One individual may be given a 2% merit increase for teaching excellence in the absence of significant publication. Another may gain a 3% increase with a good but not outstanding teaching record but also for having gained a grant or made a significant publication. Both the review criteria used in annual reviews and the implementation of those criteria by individual need to be better accessible and understood.

g. Professor Black raised the matter of portfolio balance among the faculty of a unit, and how faculty with different balances or emphases among the areas of research, teaching and outreach would have their various contributions evaluated, especially with regard to teaching performance. Provost Simon commented that, under current practice, units do not know what goes on in the classroom as a rule. They do not have effective assessments, for example, of how much students have learned from a course compared to what they knew before they began the course. There is no decision about whether to look at outcomes assessments, scholarship input by the instructor, or other factors. In addition, faculty have perceptions about what the importance is of what they invest in teaching and what is recognized about their teaching effectiveness that may not be in concert with actual practice. At the same time, units not only vary in how they weigh criteria, but their criteria evolve over time.

h. Central administration has the ability to educate unit heads about these matters, and also may be able to take away excuses for unit non-recognition of faculty performance. Central administration does not have the authority to impose unit criteria and methods, which, in the final analysis, reflect faculty judgments and values. Central administration already has in place the means to educate chairs and directors. The question therefore is one of how to most effectively take away excuses.

i. Professor Sticklen commented that units see two routes to improve quality. One is through efforts to become a top-ten or top-twenty-five unit in their disciplines. This path lies pretty exclusively in the domain of research, so the teaching quality issue is not germane. The other route is through budget resources that go to the department. This is the path that can be manipulated. The Provost responded by noting that top-ranked departments do not say that they do not do teaching well, so the situation may not be as disconnected as it was presented. Professor Black noted he was aware of some top departments that in fact discount undergraduate teaching by relying heavily on adjuncts to teach those courses so that the regular faculty can concentrate on research, grant-getting and graduate education. Professor Chartkoff compared the level of teaching assistant support at MSU with that at the University of Michigan to suggest that institutional investment could have alternate ways to support the quality levels of undergraduate education. Provost Simon replied that a key area for focus could be large-class instruction, and that the reward of faculty innovation in large-class instruction that succeeded in improving the quality of that form would be particularly appropriate.

j. Ms. Riddle suggested that an innovative approach might be to do additional course evaluations of such courses a year after they were taught so that students could reflect back on the impact and significance of the course. She also commented that in the College of Engineering an earlier emphasis on undergraduate education was being replaced by increasing emphasis on grant-getting and research, leading to growing alienation among faculty who have been committed to the importance of teaching. Provost Simon noted that teaching loads in the College of Engineering were similar to those elsewhere in the University, so it wasn’t being de-emphasized. On the other hand, the Board of Trustees has expressed concern because the faculty of the College of Engineering is less productive that colleagues at other universities in using external funding to support their research time. The Board is concerned with the extent to which General Fund resources are being used to subsidize faculty research, a pattern not allowed at many peer institutions. It accentuates the problem of what the University should do in the face of scarce resources. For example, she said, state funding has provided for no new program funding for the past seven years, and tuition increases have to be concentrated where students are concentrated, so investment flexibility is severely limited.

k. This discussion led to the Provost’s charge to UCAP. Provost Simon asked UCAP to bring together as many ideas as possible about how teaching excellence can best be promoted, evaluated, and rewarded within the context of this institution. She asked UCAP not to devote extensive time and effort to this task, but rather to discuss the issue in the near future and share its ideas with her.

l. Professor Imig raised the problem of how best to have an impact on faculty thinking. Provost Simon asked for UCAP’s help and contributions, as a faculty-representative body, and pledged the efforts of her office to help change community values and perceptions. Ideas put forward immediately around the table included Ms. Riddle’s suggestion to re-sample student course evaluations a year later and Professor Chartkoff’s suggestion to expand recognition of teaching excellence through college-level annual teaching excellence awards.

8. Chairperson’s Summary: Upon the conclusion of Provost Simon’s discussion and her departure from the meeting, Chairperson Wald summarized the charge given to UCAP in preparation of the Committee’s agenda for its February meeting.

a. UCAP’s charge is to address the promotion of teaching excellence and the recognition of teaching effectiveness through evaluation beyond what currently is gained through the use of SIRS surveys. The Provost has asked for a prompt response from UCAP and not an extensive research report. UCAP’s message needs to communicate intended values, both to the central administration and for communication with the faculty in general.

b. Another part of this charge involves policies and programs that the central administration has already adopted or developed, and of which the faculty need to be more fully and widely informed, both for the substance of the resources and to aid the administration in sending its message about the significance of teaching.

c. UCAP needs to develop more ideas about how to enhance the significance of teaching in professional responsibilities, and also to better inform the rest of the faculty about the importance of teaching.

d. A significant part of the challenge is the need to figure out how better to communicate with individual faculty in our world of expanding bureaucracy.

e. UCAP needs to shed light on experiments that might be done to better assess the effectiveness of teaching. It needs to pool ideas about how best to highlight efforts, such as focusing on large lecture classes. At the same time, given the Provost’s charge, UCAP needs to limit its current effort to ideas.

f. UCAP needs to discuss how better to get feedback from both faculty and students about teaching quality on the existing forms apart from other efforts.

9. Agenda Item Six, concerning joint UCAP-ICTC Subcommittee activities, was tabled until the next meeting.

10. The meeting was adjourned at 12:15 p.m.