Faculty Meeting News and Notes: November 21, 2019
By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
The faculty heard a proposal for a new minor in data science and struggled through technology issues while voting on changes to the Faculty Handbook proposed by the Faculty Grievance Committee during its Thursday afternoon meeting.
Proposal for Data Science Minor
The Academic Policy and Program Committee (APPC) opened the meeting by presenting a motion for a new minor in data science. Speaking on behalf of APPC, Professor and Chair of Psychology Daniel McCall said that the committee “liked the interdisciplinary nature of this program” and noted that APPC’s student representatives thought it would provide students marketable skills.
The proposed minor was developed by an ad hoc committee consisting of faculty from each of the college’s academic divisions after Provost Christopher Zappe issued a call in the fall of 2018 for interested members of the faculty to consider the prospect of such a minor.
Zappe said Thursday afternoon that the work the committee did throughout the past academic year, over the summer, and into this fall semester stands as an “extraordinary” example of cross-disciplinary collaboration.
“I would say that, in my career in higher education, which includes being a faculty member, a dean, and now a provost, I have never really witnessed such a beautiful display of interdisciplinary work as this proposed minor,” he said.
“I have never really witnessed such a beautiful display of interdisciplinary work as this proposed minor.” – Christopher Zappe, Provost
The minor would require six courses:
- Any statistics class
- Data Science Programming (new course)
- Applied Data Science (new course)
- Three elective courses (at least one from outside a student’s major and no more than one at the 100 level)
Professor of Environmental Studies Rutherford Platt and Bittinger Professor of Philosophy Lisa Portmess presented a list of elective courses that could count towards the minor. The list included offerings from the Departments of Art & Art History, Biology, Computer Science, Economics, Environmental Studies, Mathematics, Management, Philosophy, Physics, and Psychology. In addition, Platt highlighted a new elective course geared towards students who do not have a background in statistics called “Data Science and Society” that would be taught by Assistant Professor of Political Science Scott Boddery and aim to introduce particular arts and humanities majors to quantitative data science. Several other courses await APPC’s consideration including a course titled “Just Data” and another titled “Cultural Analytics,” both of which have been developed by Assistant Professor of Economics Margaret Blume-Kohout (the latter in collaboration with Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies Junjie Luo).
Platt emphasized that the committee sought to craft a major that “exemplifies the liberal arts” and would help students understand, process, interpret, visualize, and communicate data.
“This is not a technical minor,” Platt said. “We are interested in some of these big liberal arts skills like being able to frame good questions.”
Associate Professor of Mathematics and Chair of the Faculty Finance Committee Beth Campbell-Hetrick said that her committee supports the proposal from a financial standpoint given the “relatively low” added cost. The proposal says that four new class sections taught by adjunct faculty would be required.
Associate Professor of History and Chair of International Affairs Dina Lowy said that, while she supports the proposal conceptually, she is concerned about the proliferation of academic programs overseen or advised by committees of faculty members that do not receive additional compensation, noting that, as a member of several such committees, the college is “sucking faculty members dry.” Additionally, she questioned the wisdom in a proposal to add new adjunct sections at a time when “there is so much talk about belt tightening.” She suggested that a new hire might be necessary.
Portmess responded by noting that the minor would not be directly administered by the committee that helped to develop it and instead would be housed in the interdisciplinary studies program with support from a data science advisory committee. She added that, if the popularity of the minor were strong, Lowy’s concerns would become “much more acute” if the minor expanded into a full-fledged program separate from interdisciplinary studies.
The faculty could vote on the proposal at its last meeting of the semester on Dec. 5. If approved, the minor could begin as soon as Jan. 2020.
Grievance Committee Revisions to Faculty Handbook
The faculty proceeded in the latter half of its meeting to revisit changes to the Faculty Handbook proposed earlier in November by the Faculty Grievance Committee. Associate Professor of Physics and Committee Chair Jacquelynne Milingo presented the pair of motions, the first of which removed from standards of behavior for department chairpersons an expectation of “set[ting] the example for personal professional behavior,” and the second of which added a clause to the expectations for all faculty that members exhibit “high standards of collegiality, honesty, and civility” in interactions with others.
The first motion, which remained unchanged from its original presentation, passed without any substantive discussion by a margin of 107-11-4.
The second motion, which was amended from its original presentation to clarify that the standards of collegiality, honesty, and civility ought to be “high,” did generate discussion both in support and in opposition.
Professor of Physics and Faculty Grievance Committee Member Timothy Good endorsed the motion, arguing it embraces the college’s “community ethos” and is consistent with the statement of institutional philosophy on freedom of expression adopted in 2018.
“I support the notion and the motion,” he said.
Professor of Italian Studies Alan Perry, who began the process of reviewing the Faculty Handbook during his term as Chair of the Faculty Grievance Committee, said that adding language on faculty behavior — even if largely statements of aspiration rather than policy — would provide the Faculty Grievance Committee guidelines as it conducts its work.
Chair of History and Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies Scott Hancock said that, while he supports the ideal of collegial, honest, and civil interactions between faculty members and agrees with what both Good and Perry said, he is uneasy about the motion because he worries that the faculty is not equipped to properly evaluate compliance.
“We know that often these kinds of subjective terms like collegiality and civility are culturally loaded, and we know that, often, certain groups — like black women — are often perceived as not being collegial and civil by many white Americans because of the way that they communicate or a host of other things,” he said.
Hancock added that he would have more faith in the faculty’s ability to make fair assessments as to collegiality and civility if a high percentage of faculty members had completed intercultural competency assessments and if department chairs did not have to pull teeth to convince members of the faculty to become trained as inclusion partners for faculty searches.
“Then I’d be confident that we can assess this more fairly and accurately, and, until that happens, I just don’t think I can vote for this,” he said. “I support the intent, but I’m uneasy with the possibilities of how this could be applied.”
After an initial attempt to vote in which more than a dozen faculty members were locked out of the electronic voting system (and a suggestion from President Bob Iuliano that faculty members reboot their phones), the motion passed by a narrower margin of 75-55-9.
A brief presentation from Associate Vice President of Information Technology Gavin Foster regarding online course evaluations concluded the meeting, which adjourned promptly at the one-hour mark.
The faculty’s final meeting of the semester will be held on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 4:00 p.m.