Faculty Council criticizes new UT System policies, enacts curriculum changes at final meeting

Jordan Rudner

Faculty Council passed two agenda items criticizing recent actions by the UT System, as well as four other proposals and resolutions at its final meeting of the year Monday.

The council also voted to approve the creation of a new interdisciplinary degree for students in the College of Natural Sciences and elected executive members for the 2013-2014 school year.

One of the council’s measures was a resolution harshly criticizing a new UT System policy that enacts a series of disclosure requirements on all University employees, including, in certain cases, graduate students. The policy, known as UTS 180, was subject to several hours of debate at the council's meeting in April, and the criticism was submitted on behalf of the Faculty Council Executive Committee.

“The proposed policy, as it is currently written, represents a serious invasion of privacy and an intrusion into constitutionally protected rights,” said Alan Friedman, English professor,  author of the resolution and a former council chairman.

Friedman also criticized Dan Sharphorn, associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel for the System, who recently said many faculty members “don’t have an objection to [UTS 180].” Friedman asked if anyone at the Faculty Council meeting wanted to defend or express support for the policy and received no response.

“I kind of thought he didn’t have any examples in mind,” Friedman said. “To my knowledge, all faculty who have weighed into this issue are opposed to it … a number of current UT faculty have cited UTS 180 as the reason they are leaving or contemplated leaving.”

The policy, which was meant to go into effect on May 1, has been delayed until September for further revision and examination, Sharphorn said in an interview last week.

The Faculty Council also passed a resolution responding to the UT System Task Force Report on the Evaluation of Faculty Teaching, proposing four amendments and expressing a series of reservations about the task force’s recommendations.

“No study is cited to demonstrate that using social media to "continuously evaluate" the professor during the course will not devolve into an anonymous ‘slam table,’” the response stated. “

Psychology professor James Pennebaker warned of potential repercussions the evaluations might have if they are enacted in the way the task force recommended.

“The full evaluation system that is being proposed will undermine faculty morale, be a huge drain on faculty time and research productivity, and likely will not lead to any substantial improvement in teaching,” Pennebaker said in an online comment about the policy.

The council also voted to approve several resolutions aimed at personalizing and simplifying the degree-obtaining process. One resolution approved the creation of a new degree, a Bachelor of Science and Arts, to allow College of Natural Sciences students to take a more interdisciplinary approach to their education. Sacha Kopp, associate dean for curriculum and programs at the college and a physics professor, said he felt a more interdisciplinary approach would allow for scientific achievement to be viewed in different contexts.

“The old joke is the 'is/ought' problem,” Kopp said. “[Right now], we teach you what something is, but not necessarily what you ought to do about it.”

Other approved changes to the General Information Catalog included a proposal that students be required to discuss the implications of adding a major, which associate sociology professor Mary Rose said would help forward a culture of four-year-graduation goals. Another proposal would standardize and implement the process of recognizing minors on students’ transcripts.

The council also voted to remove a policy requiring an additional 24 hours of credit in order to obtain a dual degree. Rose said there was no logical reason the rule existed and that its only impact was to further slow down degree progress for students who wish to seek multiple degrees.

“We can’t find any reason why we have this rule,” Rose said.

The three-hour long meeting also included remarks from UT President William Powers Jr., who fielded questions on campus security and tobacco policies and expressed tentative optimism about the ongoing budget process at the Texas Legislature. When one faculty member asked about campus safety in light of the recent Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent shoot-out on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Powers said he was confident in the abilities of the UT and Austin police departments.

“For major incidents, shooters, bombs and bomb threats, there is a very robust team in place, a great deal of preparatory work done in terms of policing,” Powers said. “We have an extremely good relationship with the intelligence communities in the state and in Washington, D.C.”

Faculty Council also voted for a chair-elect and three members of its executive committee. Mathematics professor William Beckner will serve as chairman-elect, while Brian Evans, electrical and computer engineering professor, Elizabeth Gershoff, human development and family science associate professor and law professor Susan Klein will also serve on the executive committee.

Evans criticized UTS-180 in a statement about why he was running for the position.

“We’re under a lot of external pressure, both from within the System and outside of it,” Evans said. “If elected, I would like to join President Powers and Provost [Steven] Leslie, or whoever the new Provost is, and fight back against egregious system policies.”