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Annual Report for the Educational Policy Committee (EPC)
Prepared by Mary R. Rose, 2013-2014 Chair
May 20th, 2014

Committee Membership:
  Agarwala, Seema
Associate professor, biological sciences
  Arledge, Jane
Lecturer, mathematics
Cummings, Molly
associate professor, integrative biology
Delgado, Cesar
assistant professor, curriculum and instruction
De Lissovoy, Noah
assistant professor, curriculum and instruction
Glavan, James J.
professor, theatre and dance
Roberts-Miller, Patricia
2012 -2014
Professor, rhetoric and writing
Rose, Mary
associate professor, sociology
White, Stephen
professor, classics

Faculty Council Appointees:
  Julien, Christine
associate professor, electrical and computer engineering
  Martinez, Alberto
associate professor, history

Four Students:
  Belanger, Robert
Senate of College Councils representative
  Herrejon, Juan
Senate of College Councils representative
  Sridhar, Siddharth
Senate of College Councils representative
  Mishra, Columbia
Graduate Student Assembly representative

Administrative Advisors (without vote):
  Abraham, Larry
ex officio
associate dean, undergraduate studies
  Keller, Harrison
ex officio
vice provost and executive director, Center for Teaching and Learning
  Fenves, Gregory
ex officio
  Stanfield, Shelby
ex officio
associate vice president and registrar

  Carpenter, Linda .
ex officio
chair, Student Deans' Committee, associate dean, communication
  Poyner, Robert
ex officio
president, Academic Counselors Association, academic advising coordinator

The Educational Policy Committee (EPC) had a very productive and successful year. We began by outlining our accomplishments, all of which have appeared in our monthly minutes; the report closes with a description of issues likely to emerge next year.

*Consistency in Foreign Language Pre-Requisite. As with last year, we scheduled our September meeting ahead of time so that we could begin the year right away attending to any new business. Associate Dean Larry Abraham (undergraduate studies) notified EPC that he was working with the admissions office on trying to more consistently enforce the rule that students must have taken a foreign language before entering UT. Undergraduate students who have not met the pre-requisite would have to take courses at UT to meet the requirement, but those hours may not count toward their degree. Although few in number, students who have not met this pre-requisite may not be treated consistently across colleges and schools because only a small number of bodies audit for it. When foreign language is required for a degree, it is conceivable that some students could apply the hours earned to make up for the foreign language deficiency toward their degree, despite the language of the rule. There was no proposed legislation at the time, but EPC unanimously passed a “sense of EPC” resolution supporting efforts to consistently enforce the requirement across campus. This resolution was supposed to come before Faculty Council at the May meeting to get full Faculty Council support. However, there was not time at that meeting to get the body’s support, and Professor Abraham was hoping to have a similar resolution passed by the Faculty Council Executive Committee so that the Office of Admissions would have faculty support in this effort. 

*Course evaluations. At the October meeting, we began work on the mandate from UT System to revise course evaluation forms to bring them into compliance with the items System now requires to appear as the first five items on all forms.  Discussion of what should appear on the basic form (the most commonly used form) consumed four meetings (October, November, December, and January), with final discussions taking place over email. Our aim was to preserve as much of the current form as possible but also to use the opportunity to revise any confusing language and to drop items that we felt were not working well in practice (or that were now redundant with UT System’s items). We also were able to incorporate requests from students to rate the usefulness of supplemental materials and assigned texts (see last year’s annual report for more information on this). We presented EPC’s proposed form to Faculty Council as a report at their March meeting; that body offered a few suggestions, and the basic form was approved in April. A subcommittee consisting primarily of Professors Cesar Delgado, Noah De Lissovoy, and Mary Rose worked on a proposed extended form incorporating the approved items from the basic form, existing items, and any ideas from best practices in measurement. EPC discussed and approved this proposed form over email, and it was presented to Faculty Council as a report in April with a final vote taken in May. In addition to changes in language, both forms will now include instructions that clarify that “neutral” should not be used to indicate “not applicable.” 

*Q-drop rules altered. EPC received notice from Professor Mihran Aroian (McCombs) that last year’s removal of the faculty signature on Q-drop forms resulted in some students being able to Q-drop a course in which a professor has accused them of some form of academic dishonesty. Professor Aroian requested that EPC align the Q-drop language with that of the One Time Exception policy (which contains a prohibition against using the OTE to avoid a charge of dishonesty). The committee found one challenge in proceeding with the request was that drops connected to cases of non-adjudicated charges of academic dishonesty could not be held up. Student Judicial Services (SJS), which investigates and rules on these cases, does, however, need clear power to retroactively change a grade back to a letter grade in those cases in which the charge is eventually supported. The committee worked across two meetings to develop language that would empower SJS in this way. This was presented as a report at the April Faculty Council meeting, with final approval coming in May.

*Vice Provost Subcommittee (Policy Implementation Group)/last 24-of-30 rule. The EPC chair served on the ad hoc committee created by David Laude that had arisen from the Task Force on Graduation Rates report to assess which policies could be implemented quickly and might have an impact on four-year graduation rates. The ad hoc committee has since transformed into a committee that looks more generally at ways to improve the General Information catalog (GIC). This body recommended that EPC submit a proposal to eliminate the so-called “24-of-30” rule, which predates a University-wide sixty hour in-residence rule. Prior to the sixty-hour rule, the logic for requiring twenty-four of the last thirty semester hours counted toward the degree be completed in residence ensured that the degree was earned from courses taken at UT Austin, particularly for major courses, which many students complete at the end of their time at the University. However, the sixty-hour rule requires that a substantial portion of one’s degree be earned from UT Austin coursework. In addition, colleges, schools, and departments have been free to create their own in-major requirements, and all colleges, except (currently) the College of Education, have some minimum residency requirements. With the latter in place along with the sixty-hour rule, the “24-of-30” rule had less justification and limited the semesters in which students could study abroad or take courses at other institutions closer to their homes. (UT Austin would accept such transfer credit, subject to existing limitations, if it were done, e.g., a year prior). After discussion at the December and March meetings, the EPC supported the change. The proposed elimination of the “24-of-30” rule was presented to the Faculty Council as a report in April with a final vote occurring in May. The secretary of the Faculty Council, Dean Neikirk, classified the proposal as major legislation, which meant the legislation had to be presented on a no-protest basis to voting members of the General Faculty. Since only four protests emerged, on May 22, the legislation—with some minor editorial changes identified from a faculty member during the no-protest period—was transmitted to the president for consideration. 

*Unfinished/future business. As we had a busy year, particularly due to the need to revise the evaluation forms, there were several items that we were discussed but not finalized into proposed legislation for Faculty Council.  They are as follows:
  • -Clarification is needed for the rule governing when students may apply for a refund when they withdraw for a semester. Currently, there does not appear to be a time limit on when someone can request a refund if they retroactively withdraw many years after a semester (which can occur under very limited circumstances). It is onerous for the University to maintain all necessary accounting records for all students to make such a hypothetical refund possible. The registrar supports a rule that would set a limit on when refunds can be granted (e.g., ten years). In December we discussed possible language to create this limitation, but it was never finalized.
  • EPC would like to add a line to the GIC section on dropping courses that encourages students to discuss their circumstances with a faculty member before dropping a course. Given that we have eliminated the signature requirement, we need other means for conversations to occur between students and faculty because sometimes a student can be counseled into staying in a course and not waste the time/money associated with a drop. Although we had language approved for this purpose, the May Faculty Council meeting ran long, and we did not have time to have a final vote on it.  Because it is expected to be highly uncontroversial language, it was postponed until fall, where it can be taken up quickly.
  • The Policy Implementation Group also asked that rules for the one-time exception policy more closely resemble those for the Q-drop. In particular, it is proposed that the faculty signature requirement be removed; in addition, two-tiered rules for students who have versus have not completed two long semesters would be removed (currently there are different rules for freshman versus others); and there would be no grade restrictions on who can drop (currently a non-first-year student can drop only if they have a D or F in the course). EPC approved these changes. However, before presenting this to the Faculty Council, we identified one problem with the new rule, which is the need to verify that a final grade has not been assigned in the course. As of now, we do not know another way to confirm this without a faculty signature. Until that issue is addressed, the proposed change is on hold.
  • Appropriate ways to respond to struggling students. For our February meeting, EPC invited Senior Vice Provost David Laude to come to our meeting and describe a new program offered in the College of Natural Sciences. The program, “Major Switch,” was designed to assist students who are failing two or more courses in natural sciences in a given semester. Students failing at least two of these courses (typically introductory courses in chemistry, biology, and calculus) are identified about six weeks into the term and invited to come in for advising. As part of that meeting, they are told that they can switch out of those courses into ones taught largely in the evenings and online. The alternative courses are designed to be similar to the non-major versions of such courses in these fields. If the students pass these alternative courses, they get credit for the first six weeks in the original course, which allows the course to meet minimal contact hours, and they are assigned whatever grade they earned in the alternative course. In this way, the student’s GPA is not shattered by two or more F’s and they retain the credit, which will not, in theory, slow time to graduation. As a condition of switching, they cannot major in the natural sciences. Of 120 students who came in for advising in fall 2013, forty-five took the offer, and 90 percent went on to pass the alternative courses. EPC discussed the program for several reasons. First, it is permitted by a footnote in the GIC that allows drops or adds after the deadline for “programmatic needs.” (This footnote allows, for example, for someone who auditions late in the semester for a play and earns a role to be retroactively added to any credit-granting mechanism associated with that time commitment.) Major Switch is a quite expansive use of that footnote, although Shelby noted during the meeting that (a) he personally knew of designs for the program when the footnote was initially written and approved by EPC; and (b) not any “programmatic need” would be allowed to support a late drop or a late add. EPC would like to see the boundaries of “programmatic needs” formalized so that subsequent registrars understand such limits. As for the Major Switch program itself, it has been particularly useful for the subset of struggling students who have abilities but are simply in majors they do not like – hence the issue is motivation rather than skills (e.g., their parents expect them to major in a scientific field, but they do not like it). It is harder to identify such students earlier in a term (e.g., they may score well on aptitude tests). However, some EPC members expressed concerns that (a) the program benefits only some struggling students (e.g., someone who is struggling in another discipline would not have this option), (b) it is challenging to make an alternative course truly equivalent when it commences so late in the semester, and (c) how students are encouraged to join the program must be monitored carefully, to avoid an appearance of coercion. In general, this is the type of academic program over which Faculty Council should have input, and as far as we know, we have not seen that type of oversight yet. There is no current or pending legislation on Major Switch (and the chair had not seen the latest figures on any enrollments from the Spring), but Faculty Council and EPC should be made aware of how such a program operates on campus.
  • Student proposals to clarify rules governing multiple finals. At our final meeting in late April, student members submitted proposals that would address the issue of students’ having three or more final exams on a single day. Currently, students in this situation can request an alternative time from a professor, but no rule determines which professor has to shift the day/time of the exam. Because it was too late for any proposals to go before Faculty Council, EPC discussed the issue and identified challenges to crafting a rule, particularly when some professors are adamant about not giving alternative exams for reasons of test security and other factors. This issue will likely return to the EPC in the fall for more discussion/specification.
The Chair wishes to formally thank all committee members for their hard work and diligence this year. In addition, we are grateful to the College of Liberal Arts, School of Undergraduate Studies, and the provost’s office for allowing us to use their meeting spaces. Dr. Rose will continue as the EPC chair in fall 2014.