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Following are the minutes of the regular Faculty Council meeting of January 23, 2006.

Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The General Faculty


January 23, 2006

The fourth regular meeting of the Faculty Council for the academic year 2005-2006 was held in the Main Building, Room 212, Monday, January 23, 2006, at 2:15 p.m .


Present: Lawrence D. Abraham, Seema Agarwala, Peter R. Antoniewicz, Matthew J. Bailey, Susan N. Beretvas, Elizabeth Ann Brummett, Cynthia J. Buckley, Douglas C. Burger, Patricia A. Carter, Miles L. Crismon, James W. Deitrick, Philip Doty, Janet M. Dukerich, Sheldon Ekland-Olson, Linda Ferreira-Buckley, Kenneth Flamm, Richard R. Flores, Jeanne Freeland-Graves, Thomas J. Garza, Jessica L. Geier, John C. (Jack) Gilbert, William P. Glade, Linda L. Golden, Sue A. Greninger, Phillip Hebert, James L. Hill, Martha F. Hilley, Archie L. Holmes, James O. Jirsa, Joni L. Jones, Robert C. Koons, Desiderio Kovar, Nancy P. Kwallek, Dominic L. Lasorsa, Desmond F. Lawler, William S. Livingston, Glenn Y. Masada, Charles C. McDowell, Julia Mickenberg, Karl H. Miller, Kate Nanney, Omar A. Ochoa, Patricia C. Ohlendorf, Melissa L. Olive, Alba A. Ortiz, Bruce P. Palka, Kenneth M. Ralls, Wayne Rebhorn, Linda E. Reichl, Clare E. Richardson, Peter J. Riley, David W. Springer, Pauline T. Strong, Janice S. Todd, Angela Valenzuela, John M. Weinstock, Erica L. Whittington, Karin G. Wilkins.

Absent: Efraim P. Armendariz, Jeri Baker, Pascale R. Bos, Patrick L. Brockett (excused), Joanna M. Brooks, Lorenzo F. (Frank) Candelaria (excused), Patricia L. Clubb, Andrew P. Dillon, Diana M. DiNitto (excused), Richard B. Eason, Stanislav Emelianov (excused), James L. Erskine, Lester L. Faigley, Larry R. Faulkner (excused), William L. Fisher, Robert Freeman, George W. Gau, Juan C. Gonzalez (excused), Oscar Gonzalez (excused), Charles R. Hale, Donald A. Hale, Roderick P. Hart, Thomas M. Hatfield, Fred M. Heath, Kevin P. Hegarty, Lori K. Holleran (excused), Bobby R. Inman, David Justin, Manuel J. Justiz, Richard W. Lariviere, Janice Leoshko, Steven W. Leslie, Edward W. (Ted) Odell (excused), Yolanda C. Padilla (excused), Theodore E. Pfeifer, William C. Powers, Mary Ann R. Rankin, Elizabeth Richmond-Garza (excused), Victoria Rodriguez, John J. Ruszkiewicz (excused), Juan M. Sanchez, Dolores Sands, Christine E. Schmidt, M. Michael Sharlot, Frederick R. Steiner, Michael B. Stoff (excused), Ben G. Streetman, Daniel A. Updegrove, N. Bruce Walker, Alexandria K. Wettlaufer, Barbara W. White.

Voting Members:
Non-Voting Members:
Total Members:



The written report appears in D 4327-4334.

The minutes of the Faculty Council meeting of December 12, 2005, (D 4335-4340) were approved by voice vote .

A. Comments by the President — None.

B. Questions to the President. — None.



Chair Elect Linda Golden (marketing administration) reported on the agenda planned for the joint meeting between the UT Faculty Council and Texas A&M Faculty Senate to be held February 27 in College Station. She said the meeting would start at 11:00 a.m. with lunch served shortly thereafter in the Clayton Williams Alumni Center. Remarks by President Bill Powers and President Robert Gates are scheduled from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Topics of common interest, including the role of undergraduate research and issues pertaining to the course-instructor survey, will be addressed. Chair Elect Golden said that carpools were being arranged through the Office of the General Faculty, and faculty members who were planning to attend would need to file a request for travel authorization. She encouraged all Council members to attend.


A. Discussion of Task Force Report on Curricular Reform (TFCR).

1. Framework for College/School Forums.

Chair Alba Ortiz (special education) asked Council members to review and make suggested improvements to a handout outlining a framework for use in discussing the recommendation of the TFCR at the forthcoming college and school forums, (See Appendix A.) She said the framework was designed to provide a consistent format for providing feedback from the forums about the task force’s key recommendations. She said the colleges and schools were being asked to (1) provide feedback on the pros and cons of the key proposals in the task force’s report, (2) make alternative recommendations or suggestions for consideration, and (3) identify areas of confusion and specific questions arising from the task force report. Chair Ortiz asked Council members to look comprehensively at all of the task force’s recommendations and not to allow the proposed creation of the University College to entirely “take over the deliberation of the report.” She said questions had been included in the handout to determine faculty attitudes toward the University College concept under different funding assumptions.

Chair Ortiz explained that one of the representatives of the Faculty Council from each college/school had been asked to provide leadership for his/her unit’s respective forum; other Council representatives from the unit were being asked to support the person taking the lead role. She said that the Office of the General Faculty and the Faculty Council Executive Committee were available to help address logistical matters regarding the forums.


  Professor Janice Todd (kinesiology and health) asked how existing programs such as Connexus would be impacted by the proposed new college. Chair Ortiz responded that Professor Todd’s query presented a good example of the type of question that needed to be raised and deliberated in the upcoming forums.

2. Discussion of Recommendations.

a. Signature Courses.

Chair Ortiz asked that members of the TFCR who were not members of the Faculty Council be allowed to speak at the meeting. She requested that all participants in the discussion limit their remarks to three minutes and wait until all others had spoken before requesting a second opportunity to speak.

Professor Robert Koons (philosophy) said that he supported the idea of providing a common experience to undergraduates through the signature courses. He said he was concerned that the labels of “nature” and “culture” were so general that virtually any course at UT could qualify and therefore the goal of a shared common experience for all students would not be realized. He thought the core courses on global cultures and multicultural perspectives provided an opportunity to focus on cultural ideas that had been most central in forming current institutions. Professor Koons suggested that a course on the ancient Mediterranean world up through 400 B.C. be followed by a course on European thought and culture from the end of antiquity until the founding of the American Republic.

Professor Linda Henderson (art and art history and TFCR member) said the members of the task force debated long and hard on how to provide freshmen with a distinctive intellectual experience and concluded that inquiry across disciplines should be the key focus of the freshman signature course. She thought courses centered on ancient and European cultures would be too restrictive, and she thought the task force hoped perspectives from humanities, science, and technology could be addressed in the signature courses. She said the task force wanted the signature courses to be team taught where the students would observe faculty members learning from one another on topics that might include the following: science and science fiction, feedback across disciplines, networking across disciplines, conceptions of nature from physics and art, and global warming. She said a clarification was needed on the framework handout because it was hoped that the freshman signature course would not be “pigeonholed into any particular requirement.” She said the sophomore class could begin to satisfy requirements, but flexibility and collaborative learning were important features.

Professor Doug Burger (computer sciences) said he thought the signature course was promising if done well, but he was concerned that the course might be “watered down” due to its instructional scale. Asking if the task force had addressed metrics, he said it was important to identify the body of knowledge that UT graduates were expected to know and to incorporate that content into the core curriculum and signature courses.

Noting that the sophomore course seemed to be less developed that the freshman course, Professor Pauline Strong (anthropology) asked how the sophomore signature course would differ from the courses currently taught about culture at the sophomore level. Professor Evan Carton (English and TFCR member) said the sophomore course was less developed than the freshman course because the task force thought decisions about course design and management would rest with the particular faculty members involved in teaching a specific course. He said the University College would work with the faculty teaching the signature courses but would also encourage on-going development of the course’s content through core curriculum elements provided by


  individual departments. He said the task force envisioned the sophomore course being offered in new offerings that cut across the social sciences and humanities as well as through high quality courses that already exist. Professor Carton said he expected strategic new hires and teaching loads issues would need to be addressed to successfully establish the signature courses.

Professor Philip Doty (information) asked why the task force had chosen to use the term “signature” and whether the dichotomy between “nature” and “culture” might be outdated. He said he did not think this type of “reductionist/essentialist nature/culture dichotomy” is beneficial to students today. Professor Michael Starbird (math and TFCR member) responded that the word “signature” was chosen to emphasize that the courses would be memorable and transforming. Professor Starbird said he did not know if UT had the will and resources to accomplish this, but he thought there was a possibility that it did. He said that the task force was attempting to address the reality that the world is not divided according to the academic organization of the University and that the signature courses were a way to break down those barriers in a constructive manner.

Professor Jan Todd (kinesiology and health education) recalled that her participation in a freshman program at Mercy University had been life-changing; however, she thought the small class size and the direction of faculty members had been the reason for her positive experience. She said she was concerned about the large lecture format being proposed and the quality of teaching assistant support that could be secured. Saying he didn’t remember any of his large classes as memorable, Professor Bruce Palka (math) concurred with Professor Todd. He said that if smaller sections could be offered then he would be in favor of the signature courses; however, he did not think the resources were available to do this. Professor Seema Agarwala (neurobiology) commented that she preferred to create a course that covered modes of information across disciplines, but she was also concerned about the difficulties of finding qualified teaching assistants who were well-suited for interdisciplinary courses. Professor Desmond Lawler (civil engineering and TFCR member) responded that the task force wanted the signature courses to be unique to UT and not courses that students could test out of taking. He said members of the task force would prefer for the signature courses to be offered to sections of 18 students but the size of UT Austin made large sections necessary. He said the task force wanted the small breakout sections to involve faculty at least some of the time. He said teaching assistants would be provided with a great deal of faculty oversight.

When Professor Martha Hilley (music) asked about the source of funding to support the teaching assistants, Professor Henderson said the task force wanted the signature courses staffed with specially trained, advanced teaching assistants, and she expected the new University College would provide the needed funds. Professor Henderson thought the teaching assistants in her field of art history would complete two years of work in her department before they were eligible to provide support for the signature courses. She expected that graduate students would be eager to gain this new pedagogical opportunity.

When Professor Julia Mickenberg (American studies) asked if team teaching among the teaching assistants had been considered to enhance the interdisciplinary approach, Professor Carton responded that resources for the recommendations had not been determined yet, and the possibility of interdisciplinary teaching assistants had not been discussed. He said two faculty members would ideally team teach a signature class and would interact both with the undergraduate students and the teaching assistants. He noted that this new operational method would be beneficial to both graduate and undergraduate education here at UT. Professor Archie Holmes (electrical and computer





  engineering and TFCR member) commented that he had actually been inspired in large lecture classes taken outside of his engineering major when he was a UT undergraduate. He said the goals of the signature courses were to provide students with opportunities to see an array of what is actually available for them and to enhance the breadth of their undergraduate education. When Elizabeth Brummett (Plan II and student government) asked if the task force had considered integrating the new proposals with the Freshman Interest Group and Freshman Seminar programs, Professor Lawler said the task force was hoping to take advantage of these existing programs and organize the Freshman Interest Groups in conjunction with the signature courses. He said he did not think any of the new proposals would prevent the continuation of the successful Freshman Seminar program.

Professor Linda Ferreira-Buckley (English and rhetoric) said she liked the idea of the signature courses, but she was not sure how they would distinguish UT students from other institutions because other universities, both small and large, commonly offer similar broad-topic courses. She asked if topics such as ethics and knowledge in the information and internet age or something pertaining to world cultures had been considered by the task force. Professor Henderson responded that developing students’ understanding of world cultures was a central issue to the task force and had been addressed in the flagged areas within the core curriculum. She said the sections led by teaching assistants could visit the Blanton Museum or the Ransom Center to view the many exciting collections and resources housed there.

Professor Nick Lasorsa (journalism) asked the following questions: (1) if the task force’s projected 6,720 seats in the signature courses would accommodate all freshmen entering UT; (2) why the sophomore signature course would satisfy one of the area requirement in history, government, social sciences, and fine arts but not in natural sciences, composition, literature, or mathematics; (3) how the new signature course would impact tightly prescribed programs of study that currently have no room for electives; and (4) will the break-out discussion sessions or labs add an extra credit hour beyond the typical three hours for a lecture class. He said he would like to get an idea of the allocation of faculty time expected for teaching the course versus assisting or training the teaching assistants. Professor Holmes said the all incoming freshmen would attend the signature courses, but he did not know if 6,720 was the correct number. With regard to the second question, Professor Holmes said it seemed practical to adopt classes for the signature format that already crossed disciplines, but the departments involved would determine whether the course content met the expected standards to be counted as an area requirement. He said he thought the class would involve three contact hours each week.

Chair Ortiz shared examples of comments that had come into the Faculty Council’s dedicated email address for input on the task force report. Professor Tom Palaima (classics) raised the issue of funding by pointing out that the freshman signature course alone would require 28 faculty members and a minimum of 84 teaching assistants. He also asked whether team teaching to smaller numbers of students at the upper division level in existing interdisciplinary area centers might not be a better alternative to the large lecture classes for freshmen. He also said evaluation of the sophomore course concept was impossible given the vagueness with which it was addressed in the task force’s report; he also asked if “small” classes at the sophomore level meant 20 or 60 students per section. Chair Ortiz said Professor Mona Mehdy (molecular, cellular, and developmental biology) stated in her email that she agreed with the goals of providing interdisciplinary exposure and increased opportunities for improving student writing skills but disagreed that large signature courses provided the appropriate mechanism for meeting these goals. Professor Mehdy suggested that the rhetoric and composition faculty be consulted in course development and expressed concern about the training


  and preparation of teaching assistants to support large interdisciplinary signature classes. Professor Holmes responded by saying he did not personally think the freshman signature course would be able to accomplish what a rhetoric course does in improving student writing. He said he thought the signature courses would be motivational in helping students see how important good writing and speaking skills are for their intellectual and professional development. Professors Lawler pointed out that the signature courses were intended to incorporate writing but not count as a rhetoric course He said the task force was asking to increase the amount of required writing in every program of study through the flag requirements. When Professor Todd asked if the task force had discussed the possibility of increased funding for teaching assistants in regular writing component classes, Professor Carton said he thought it would be helpful to have faculty and teaching assistants trained for writing instruction in all disciplines. He said there were initiatives underway at UT, especially those under the direction of Joan Mullin, to improve writing instruction across campus. In response to Professor Palaima’s email, Professor Carton said he thought the signature courses would help overcome the following two preconceptions that are common among entering students: (1) that disciplines are discreet and unrelated areas of knowledge and (2) that top professors are only available in the higher level courses in major fields. Professor Carton said that the purpose of getting two dynamic faculty members from different fields in front of the incoming students was to “wow” them.

Professor Ken Flamm (public affairs) related his experiences with similar experimental educational approaches as an undergraduate at Stanford. His perception was that only one of the three was successful, and the successful program was the one where a faculty member rather than a teaching assistant actually led the break-out sessions. Although he was appreciative of the work done by the task force, Professor Flamm said he agreed with Professors Palaima and Palka that upper-level, small classes taught by outstanding faculty were more likely to result in signature experiences for undergraduates. Professor Agarwala asked why UT could not incorporate the signature course concept into existing small courses that have writing, speaking, and philosophical components.

Professor Cynthia Buckley (sociology and Slavic and Eurasian studies) spoke in favor of early undergraduate intervention in the freshman and sophomore years before students are engaged in degree programs and less willing to visit the Blanton Museum or to take foreign languages. Professor Henderson said she agreed with the idea of early intervention. She thought having two faculty members, whose only instructional assignment for the semester was to team teach a signature course, would result in a faculty member being present in a section for more than half of the class meetings during the semester. She said she thought 240 students meeting with excellent teachers would feel like a community, especially if the Freshman Interest Groups overlapped in small sets of approximately 20 students. She said the theme of nature in the sophomore signature course could be augmented by having three different outstanding professors present significant lectures during the semester.

Cale McDowell (Senate of College Council representative and TFCR member) said the term “signature” meant having classes where students were introduced to the special resources that are unique to UT. He said there were outstanding large courses whose quality rivaled and even surpassed the quality offered in many small classes. Although large class settings might not be ideal, he felt it was worthwhile to introduce students to UT’s resources very early in their academic careers as undergraduates. He felt the trade-off between class size and signature quality was worthwhile.

Chair Alba Ortiz thanked everyone for their participation in the meeting, saying the input reflected the spirit of what was the colleges and schools were being asked to


  provide through their forthcoming forums. She said it seemed to her there was considerable support for the signature course concept, with more Council members speaking in favor of freshmen/sophomore than upper division placement. Questions focused on the size of the classes, responsibility of faculty versus teaching assistants, and required resources for implementation. There was also interest in building linkages with the Freshman Interest Groups and Freshman Seminars or at least reviewing these existing programs as models. She asked everyone to send their comments to the dedicated email address and to remind their colleagues to do so. Chair Ortiz especially thanked the task force members for coming to the meeting and sharing their viewpoints.




A. Each Standing Committee should elect a "chair-elect," as provided in the revision of the rules and regulations by the Faculty Council last spring: "During the first half of the spring semester the voting members of each committee shall elect a chair elect, who shall assume the office of chair on the first class day of the following fall semester for a term of one year. Faculty members of the committee whose terms of service extend through the following year or who are eligible for reappointment to the committee are eligible to be elected as chair elect. A chair elect whose term of service does not extend through the following academic year will be reappointed for an additional term."

B. Standing Committee nominations are scheduled for January 30 through February 17.

C. Special meeting of the Faculty Council with President William Powers, February 1, 11:15 a.m., Main 212.

D. The Standing Committees should submit reports for action by the Faculty Council at the February and March meetings no later than February 2 and March 2, respectively.

E. General Faculty College Elections, nomination phase, are scheduled for February 27 through March 10.

F. Joint Meeting of the Texas A&M Faculty Senate and the UT Faculty Council, February 27 at Texas A&M. Submit carpool preferences to

G. General Faculty College Elections to the Faculty Council, final phase, are scheduled for March 27 through April 7.

H. Chair Ortiz reminded Council members that the new email address for sending comments and opinions relating to the recommendations from the Task Force on Curricular Reform is



Adjourned at 3:34 p.m.

Distributed through the Faculty Council Web site on February 16, 2006. Copies are available on request from the Office of the General Faculty, WMB 2.102, F9500.