SENATE Committee Report

Report of the 1996-97 Faculty Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy

April 28, 1997

Our committee was given three charges this year: (1) to monitor the University's progress in developing both actual and virtual college houses; (2) to examine whether modifications in the University budgeting procedures proposed by the Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy and other University Committees have been instituted and have given the provost the means and the appropriate administrative structure to promote new undergraduate initiatives, particularly cross-program and cross-school initiatives; and (3) to examine the proposed changes in eligibility requirements for athletes, both for the academic implications of the changes as well as academic authority process issues.

To these three charges we added a fourth concern: what happens to this committee's recommendations after they have been communicated to the Senate Executive Committee and thence to the administration? We are the only Faculty Committee charged with overseeing University-wide educational policy, and have a responsibility to ensure that considerations at that level are not ignored in the process of school-based budget negotiations.

We have no reason to doubt that there is general agreement, among faculty and administration, that educational policy must be based on educational principles as the faculty understand and represent them and not on budgetary philosophy. And we believe all agree that educational policy must be implemented with due respect for budgetary realities.

We affirm the current practice of reconciling conflicts between these two principles by discussion and advocacy among faculty, the schools, and administration. However, our report reflects a concern that at present, the opportunity for effective faculty advocacy in University-wide educational policy matters is remarkably limited and produces an imbalance in the advocacy process that often results in a neglect of faculty viewpoint. We hope this report will initiate a process of redressing this unfortunate imbalance which threatens to diminish the effectiveness of the University's overall academic practices.

We offer a summarized chronology of our sometimes frustrated efforts to address the three original charges. We hope to give our colleagues insight into the causes of our concern about the advocacy process and to provide a background for the recommendations that follow.

Charge 1. College Houses: In our investigation of the development of residential and virtual college houses, an issue addressed in the committee's 1994 report (Almanac April 19, 1994) we discovered that admirable progress has been made. After several changes of oversight of the project during the past few years, beginning with the Provost's Council on Undergraduate Experience, moving to the Council of Undergraduate Deans, continuing with the Housing Master Plan Steering Group, the Residential Faculty Council Steering Committee, and the newly organized Residential Planning Committee, efforts to coordinate educational planning and facilities improvement seem to have been well made. Dr. Susan Albertine and Professor David Brownlee both met with the committee and provided clear and comprehensive overviews of both the difficulties addressed and the achievements made by those undertaking this complex task.

Charge 2. Undergraduate Initiatives: In the committee's April, 1996 report (Almanac April 16, 1996) we identified serious administrative and budgetary obstacles to the kinds of inter-faculty innovation in the undergraduate curriculum recommended by our Committee and called for under the 21st Century Project. We stressed the importance of such innovation for Penn's reputation and called for the appointment of a Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Attempting to gather information about progress in addressing these obstacles and on the administration's reaction to our recommendations proved more difficult than to track the progress of residential planning. Further, along the way, we discovered that some in the central administration--including the provost--argue that there are no serious obstacles to starting and maintaining cross-school programs. In the following, we briefly outline our attempts to obtain helpful information and feedback; and, through an account of the specific difficulties reported to us by the heads of the Cognitive Science and the Biological Basis of Behavior programs, we offer examples of the kind of information we received that led us to conclude more than a year ago and to reaffirm in the current year that serious problems do exist.

We began by seeking information from the provost and the president. They very graciously replied, the former in person and the latter by letter. The president in particular, while demurring on the issue of a new vice provost, informed us that a number of important steps had been taken to the direction we had proposed, referring us to the information she had received about our earlier meeting with the provost for details and to the work of Michael Masch, the Executive Director of Budget and Management Analysis.

When we reviewed the minutes of our meeting with the provost, we found we still had continuing questions about progress on this issue. Much of the discussion had been more concerned with the sheer difficulty of any such action at Penn than with concrete proposals for overcoming budgetary obstacles to educational cooperation.

In some cases there seemed to be incomplete awareness of the interdisciplinary efforts that were underway, such as the Cognitive Science program. Such programs generally begin with support from outside funding, in this case a substantial and extremely prestigious NFS Science and Technology Center award to the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science, and supplementary funding obtained for this purpose from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Because of their interdisciplinary nature and the way they cross faculty, administrative, and budgetary boundaries, such developments need a degree of active support and interest from central administration. In its absence, a number of anomalies have resulted. Similar reports, given to our committee in 1995-1996 by those involved in the earlier development of the program in Biological Basis of Behavior, suggest that such absence of support is endemic at Penn, and that the development of such initiative is made unreasonably difficult. The efforts to stimulate curricular innovation that have emerged from the provost's and the deans' offices in the past year did not seem to the committee to have been directed towards building on developments already under say, but rather towards the institution of new programs, again without commitment to continuity or direction. Creative inter-school educational initiatives have been developed on a dean-to-dean basis. However, because these entrepreneurial efforts are dependent upon the tenure in office of the individuals involved rather than on the outgrowth of overall planning, the long term viability of these programs remains uncertain as the administration has no commitment to their continuing existence.

We continued to pursue these questions in multiple sessions which the executive director of budget and management analysis kindly granted to us. He was extremely helpful and informative about the real difficulties in finding funds not already allocated to operational costs. However, we remained uncertain as to whether there are any currently envisioned budgetary reforms and, if there are, whether they would address our central concern for educational excellence. Instead we came away with the impression that the current budget is highly constrained by prior commitments and entitlements, with little current flexibility to support new initiatives.

At this point the committee was not clear whether any steps to modify budgeting procedures had actually had been taken or whether there were some source of information unidentified which could provide clarity for us. In any case, we came away certain that the faculty role in sustaining the institution was being under used. We therefore tried to answer the question ourselves in the light of the information that had been vouchsafed.

The committee felt that the main problem with promoting interschool programs lay, at present, within structural constraints within the School of Arts and Sciences. Arts and Sciences is currently in the unfortunate position of struggling annually against an enormous budgetary deficit, while, possibly as a direct result, having for some years had a rapid turnover of deans. As a result, the most continuous culture of SAS is at the associate dean level. These dedicated associate deans have little choice but to act reactively and defensively, if they are to fulfill their obligations as rational agents acting in the interests of their constituency. As a result, trade restrictions have been instituted, and innovation has been stifled. The committee felt that a policy vacuum had been created both within and outside the School of Arts and Sciences.

Charge 3. The task of examining the impact of Penn's changed eligibility standards for intercollegiate athletes (from 2.2 to 2.0) depended on analysis of several years of student achievement and retention data. A change in the leadership of the Office of Institutional Research together with the need to clean up data from the several undergraduate schools meant that these data will not be ready until June. The analysis therefore will have to be conducted by next year's Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policy.


Believing that, over the past years, there has been a considerable amount of confusion, duplication of effort, lack of effective coordination, and occasionally time wasted by different constituencies working, without awareness of each other, at cross purposes, and following upon the analysis of both process and product in the work done this year, the committee makes the following recommendations, hoping thereby to improve cooperative efforts between schools and between the faculty and the administration.

  1. That, in working toward the appointment of a new, committed dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, efforts be made to provide him or her with adequate resources for reforming the position of SAS within the institution and that, in the process, a thorough review of the effects of responsibility-based budgeting be undertaken, which has interfered with the support of ongoing interschool and interdisciplinary programs.

  2. That further consideration be given to the appointment of a vice provost for undergraduate education with the support of a faculty committee made of up of members of all schools, undergraduate, graduate, and professional, in order to allow and encourage undergraduates to construct their educations from the widest resources of the University.

  3. That a formal process of administrative response to committee reports be instituted by the opening of the Fall semester in any year, beginning in the Fall of 1997, the University community would receive, through publication in Almanac, a point by point reaction to recommendations contained in the report from the previous Spring.

  4. That greater advantage be taken of the committee's unique perspective as the only Faculty Committee primarily concerned with the University-wide implications of educational policy decisions. In particular, the committee would welcome requests from the central administration for advice on matters of educational policy that affect more than one school.

  5. That next year's committee begin its work by analyzing the data on the effects of the change in athletic eligibility standards. In the process it will have the advantage of adding student-athletes' performance during the full 1996-97 year to the data pool.

Committee on Students and Educational Policy

Alice Kelley (English), Chair
James D. Laing (operations & info mgmt)
Neil Shubin (biology)
Mark Steedman (computer & info science)
Lorraine Tulman (nursing)
Guy R. Welbon (South Asia regional studies)
David R. Williams (psychology)
ex officio:
Senate Chair Peter J. Kuriloff (education)
Senate Chair-elect Vivian Seltzer (social work)


Volume 43 Number 33
May 6, 1997

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