October 25, 2010



Chair Elect Alan W. Friedman (English) asked Council members to save the date of Monday, March 7, to attend the joint meeting with the Texas A&M Faculty Senate, which will be held here on the UT Austin campus at the Alumni Center. He said the presidents of both universities would likely make remarks at the meeting regarding the legislative session that will be underway at that time. Chair Elect Friedman said he would very much like to receive suggestions for guest speakers and breakout session topics from Council members.

Chair Elect Friedman reported on the System Faculty Advisory Committee (SYSFAC) meeting that he and Chair Neikirk attended on September 23-24. Major topics discussed at the meeting included the following: need for a revised financial exigency policy, requirements involving criminal background checks for University employees, and course instructor surveys. He said each campus within the UT System was asked to produce its own policy and procedures for dealing with financial exigency. The SYSFAC recommendations were in keeping with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) policies that indicate faculty members “must play a meaningful role in establishing and implementing these policies.” In addition, Chair Elect Friedman said the process should be transparent and firing of tenured faculty should only occur as an absolute last resort. In the case of medical institutions, clinical care is supposed to be maintained at its existing level of service before exigency was declared. Chair Elect Friedman said SYSFAC wanted the revised policies developed at each UT System campus to be in accordance with AAUP guidelines, especially with regard to termination of faculty members and academic programs. He said the UT System’s Regents’ Rules have not clearly defined what constitutes an academic program, and this omission is seen as being a potential problem should financial difficulties occur.

Chair Elect Friedman said criminal background checks would be required throughout the UT System since the Board of Regents has mandated them. Some of the questions that have been raised but are still largely “in flux,” according to the chair elect, include the following:
(1) Are the checks required for current employees or only for new employees?
(2) Is a promotion the same as a new hire?
(3) Do pending charges have to be reported or all charges?
(4) Do misdemeanors have to be reported?

Chair Elect Friedman reported there had been discussion regarding eCIS implementation and the extent to which its use is being encouraged. The primary concerns raised by the SYSFAC member representative, according to the chair elect, is similar to that raised here at UT Austin. This concern involves the fact that typed comments by students completing the eCIS are subject to open records requests whereas handwritten ones done in the classroom are not. Although this policy offers identity protection for students, he said instructors are not offered any protection or redress against false charges made by anonymous student comments that could become public.

Other items of discussion at the SYSFAC meeting, according to Chair Elect Friedman, included the following:
(1) need for improved health plans for graduate students and how this need might be achieved;
(2) opposition to adoption of the Texas A&M accountability and evaluation model, whereby faculty work was highly quantified in an effort to rank faculty productivity;
(3) extensive reductions or total elimination of travel funds, especially for overseas travel, at System institutions;
(4) increasing pressure for larger class sizes and its impact on the quality of instruction;
(5) willingness on the part of Regent Stillwell and Vice Chancellor Prior to reassess the new rules regarding the posting of syllabi and curriculum vitas and support for a faculty regent.

According to Chair Elect Friedman, Executive Vice Chancellor David Prior said he thought the upcoming legislative session could be difficult for higher education in Texas, but he said the following remained as major system priorities:
(1) improving UT Austin, especially providing new resources for buildings and the library;
(2) supporting the four emerging flagship institutions (UTEP, Dallas, Arlington, and UTSA);
(3) supporting the Valley Initiative, which includes manufacturing, energy, environment, health issues and programs;
(4) supporting health care for all Texans;
(5) supporting the Energy Initiative.

Chair Elect Friedman quoted the vice chancellor as saying “the budget and the budgetary process must be made transparent and accessible to all faculty, who should be fully involved in the decision-making process.”

When Professor Mary Rose (sociology) asked if an individual would not be hired if they had a felony on his or her record under the proposed background check, Professor Friedman asked Vice President Patricia Ohlendorf (legal affairs) for assistance in answering the question. Vice President Ohlendorf said she thought this type of charge would be “taken into consideration in the hiring process if it were a felony and if it were related to the work.” She added that it was fairly common today for a driving-while-intoxicated arrest to be discounted unless the individual were applying for a position that involved driving. However, she thought that an applicant for a position in the pharmacy, who had been in prison for selling drugs, would not likely be hired. In general, she summarized her opinion by saying hiring could be affected if there were “unique and fact-based circumstances.”

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