The University Record, March 15, 1999
By Kerry Colligan
Faculty focus groups results unveiled
Last fall, LS&A Interim Dean Pat Gurin set up faculty focus groups to document some of the concerns of the faculty. David Schoem, assistant vice president for academic and student affairs, and four faculty facilitators presented some of the comments made during the 33 focus groups.
"Many of the issues raised were consistent with other discussions at the University," Schoem said. Among those frequently talked about were tenure, interdisciplinary research, faculty ties to LS&A, and undergraduate education.
Deborah Goldberg, professor of biology, summarized comments from junior faculty about tenure. "They were almost unanimous in wanting to be excellent teachers," she said, but they expressed frustration that "teaching does not count for much." Several junior faculty members voiced concerns about the teacher evaluation process, citing the current procedure as "completely unsophisticated."
To outsiders, the University seems a wonderful place to do interdisciplinary work, said Jean Krisch, professor of physics, but there are some road blocks:
_ The departmental structure causes problems regarding course sponsorship.
_ Some interdisciplinary work is very difficult to evaluate.
_ The reward structure for individuals and departments does not always promote interdisciplinary work.
_ A fair and uniform measure needs to be adopted for team teaching.
Frances Aparicio, professor of Romance languages and literatures, discussed recruitment and morale. We have, she said, "a culture of tiredness among tenured faculty, and a culture of fear among junior faculty." There is a sense of overwork, of overwhelming bureaucracy, and of a need for both time and funding for "retooling."
Many faculty were critical of the "outside offers" system, Aparicio added. "There is a feeling," said Schoem, "that our lives are not the 'life of the independent scholar' that we thought they would be."
Margaret Root, professor of history of art, summarized focus group comments about undergraduate education. She said the focus groups urged the College to "move beyond initiatives and the alienation created by the 'mega-dorm'."
Many faculty, she explained, feel alienated from the student body, in part because the evaluation process has created an "us vs. them" environment.
Schoem and other facilitators will be writing a draft report in the coming weeks. A list of summarized comments from the focus groups is available in the LS&A Dean's Office, 2522 LS&A Building, 764-0322. Ask for the "Preliminary Summary of Suggestions from the LS&A Faculty Focus Groups."GEO president discusses negotiationsGurin invited Eric Dirnbach, graduate student research assistant in the Institute of Gerontology and president of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), to address the LS&A faculty about GEO's stance on the unresolved contract negotiations.
The most recent contract governing graduate student employment expired Feb. 4, Dirnbach said. That, coupled with the administration's "refusal to engage in substantive negotiations or to seriously consider our proposals," led GEO to vote in favor of the work stoppage March 10-11, he explained.
"It is an unfortunate necessity. We ask the faculty to not regard GSI [graduate student instructor] participation in the work stoppage as a personal attack on them or their department, or to confuse this with a lack of seriousness about our teaching or research."
The three central points of contention are a living wage, the calculation of work fractions, and the status of international GSIs, he stated.
Graduate students spend an average of 40 percent of their monthly income on rent, Dirnbach said. That economic reality pushed GEO to propose a 9 percent increase each of the next three years.
Work fractions are not calculated based on the actual amount of work graduate students complete. GSIs may work a very different number of hours for the same wage, he said.
Because international GSIs are required to take a pre-term training course, GEO believes those students should be covered under the contract during the training period, while the University maintains that because GSI employment does not begin until the official start of the term, international students should not be included under the GEO contract while being trained.Faculty Code revisions approvedTwo motions to revise the faculty code were passed.
The first-to Faculty Code B 6.15: Concentration Requirements for A.B. and B.S. Degrees-brought by Robert Megginson, associate professor of mathematics, provides undergraduate students the option of selecting a structured coursework minor concentration. There is strong evidence, Megginson said, that most students come to the University with the intent of pursuing study in a professional area. In that environment, the undergraduate years should be a time to "broaden one's educational background," he said.
Terry McDonald, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of history, brought a motion to revise the Faculty Code concerning appeals procedures. The revision was drafted by a committee appointed by the Provost's Office and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. According to McDonald, the revision addresses shortcomings in tracking individual grievances in the appeal procedure.
LS&A faculty will meet April 5 for a forum about tenure procedures. Steven Director, dean of the College of Engineering, and Steven J. Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, will discuss how each handles tenure and promotions. The tenure forum will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Auditorium B, Angell Hall.