Chair Dean Neikirk (electrical and computer engineering) reported on the criminal background check policy that has been under development by The University of Texas System. He said all current, non-temporary UT employees would be required to self-report convictions and be subject to a criminal background check by August 2011. He indicated that the policy had “substantially improved over time.”1

With regard to the faculty surveys that were discussed at the October Council meeting, Chair Neikirk said requests for participation in an on-line survey had been sent to faculty members in the colleges/schools where policies and procedures used in their units for educational policy decisions had not been approved by their respective voting faculty in accordance with Faculty Council resolution D 7986. In an effort to secure additional responses before discussion of the survey results at the monthly meeting of the Faculty Council Executive Committee with President Powers and other administrators, Chair Neikirk said he would be sending out reminder notices within the next few days to the faculty in the five respective colleges/schools: communications, engineering, fine arts, law, and liberal arts. He said the survey tool requires log-ins so only faculty in those five units may respond to the questions, but the tool is designed to protect the identity of all respondents. Chair Neikirk said a second survey instrument related to faculty involvement in budget planning and prioritization is currently under development with the intent of sending it out to faculty, chairs, and deans in all colleges/schools before the end of the semester.

In keeping with his plan to report on the goals of various Standing Committees of the General Faculty this year, Chair Neikirk said he had chosen to focus on two committees, each of which dealt with issues involving faculty productivity and accountability. He said the report from the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR) noted the requirement in the Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP) stating that faculty members are to receive written annual evaluations. He said he thought the committee was looking at issues regarding how extensive these reviews should be and what information should be included in the written documents provided to faculty members. He said these are important issues since the annual reviews and written evaluations are now the primary measures involved with faculty accountability and productivity. He said the Faculty Welfare Committee reported that its first agenda item this year would be to look into issues related to changes occurring in fringe benefits. In addition, he said this committee planned to look into the possibility that teaching load requirements could be increased and how this might impact the possible restructuring of the faculty into two groups—teaching-intensive and research-intensive. If this classification process were to occur, the committee is interested in knowing how and at what level the decisions would be made and whether or not the faculty will have a voice in these decisions. Furthermore, the committee has indicated it would want to know how issues related to teaching load would be monitored and at what level—University, college/school, or department—to best provide for fairness and transparency if such a categorization of faculty members were to occur.

Chair Neikirk reported that he had sent out an email to Council members that contained information about the recently released report of The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) that proposed changes in the funding formulas for higher education institutions. He said the plan was based on the state’s “Closing the Gap” initiative, which set a goal of 210,000 undergraduate degrees and certificates in Texas public colleges and universities by 2015. Chair Neikirk said this would be a 46,000 increase, or 28%, over the degree production in 2009. Given the tight budget and unlikely expansion in faculty positions across the state, he said faculty workloads could substantially increase. He encouraged Council members, who had not previously read about the THECB plan, to review the materials, which also includes a programmatic accountability system with numerical performance ratings. Chair Neikirk said he thought it was instructive for faculty to see how the program ratings are currently determined and to review the recent THECB proposal for changing the allocation formulas for higher education to what is referred to as “outcomes-based funding.” To illustrate this possible change in the formula for funding, Chair Neikirk said he had chosen one of the slides from a THECB PowerPoint presentation to show the Council, which is included in Appendix A. He said he had sent the Council members links to a document plus the full PowerPoint presentation that summarizes the proposed move from a student enrollment to an outcomes-based formula for determining funding allocations. He then reviewed the information on the slide, pointing out that the number of degrees awarded would be a major criterion with double weighting for degrees awarded in critical fields, such as science and technology. Additional weightings in the proposed system are provided for degrees awarded to at-risk populations of students and to actual rates of graduation. He again recommended that Council members pay attention to these proposed changes because of the “dramatic impact on how we do things” that could result should the recommendations be formally adopted.

Chair Neikirk reported that the Faculty Council Executive Committee (FCEC) members were moving toward the decision to form a new ad hoc committee, which is informally being thought of as focusing on “faculty accountability and productivity.” He said he was using quotation marks because of uncertainty regarding the official name, charge, and composition of the committee. He said he was interested in the formation of this as-yet-undefined committee because he thought if the faculty did not “develop some measures of faculty performance that someone else will do it for us.” He said a move toward establishing an increased emphasis on accountability and productivity was already underway, and he felt it was in the faculty’s interest, as well as the UT Austin administration’s interest, to determine “what the appropriate definition of success is” and “what accountability means.” Although there are a number of other General Faculty Standing Committees, such as CCAFR, grievance, welfare, and admissions, according to Chair Neikirk, involved with accountability issues, he said he felt none of these other committees provided the good fit that an ad hoc committee could provide in initiating efforts to meet this challenge. He said the FCEC has not yet formalized a recommendation regarding this committee, but he would welcome inquiries, comments, and suggestions from Council members later in the meeting when the “questions for the chair” agenda item occurred.

1The University of Texas System policy on this issue may be accessed at the following URL: http://www.utsystem.edu/bor/procedures/policy/policies/uts124.html

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