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From the Senate Office

The following statement is published in accordance with the Senate Rules. Among other purposes, the publication of SEC actions is intended to stimulate discussion among the constituencies and their representatives. Please communicate your comments to Executive Assistant Carolyn Burdon, Box 12 College Hall/6303, (215) 898-6943 or

Actions Taken by the Senate Executive Committee

Wednesday, September 5, 2001

1. Chair's Report. Professor David Hackney stated that a committee is being established to develop an institutional review board and policies for social science research, as required by Federal law. The committee will focus on rules appropriate for the social sciences, distinct from the existing medical model. He noted that the Gender Equity Committee Report is almost ready and will be published in Almanac and presented to SEC for consideration. Also due soon is a retirement task force report that will aim to make retirement appealing for older faculty. A Minority Equity Committee is being formed that will build on the work of the Gender Equity Committee.

2. Discussion on Nominating of Senate Nominating Committee. Professor Hackney noted the importance of the committee and reminded SEC members to submit their nominees by September 19, 2001.

3. SEC Vacancies. Nominations were made to fill a one-year vacancy for an at-large position and an assistant professor position on SEC. SEC voted on the nominees who will be contacted.

4. Report to the President and Provost Concerning Services to Students With Disabilities. Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum reviewed the recommendations in the report (Almanac September 4, 2001). Among the highlights were: construction of an office combining various services for students with disabilities has been completed; the hiring process is underway for a director, associate director and additional staff; a Web site has been created (; Denise Marone is the new learning instructor head; and many of the schools have identified their disability liaison.

SEC discussion centered on the protocol for letters to faculty. The preference was for an official letter to be sent to faculty by the Office of Student Disability Services at the beginning of each semester. A SEC member recommended that the list of school disability liaisons and guidelines for faculty be posted on the Web site. It was also suggested that a booklet containing relevant information be prepared for faculty.

5. Progress Report of the Teaching Evaluation Committee. Co-chair Deputy Provost Peter Conn and co-chair David Pope responded to questions submitted in advance by Faculty Senate Chair David Hackney. Deputy Provost Conn recalled that about one year ago the then Faculty Senate Chair Larry Gross and he established the committee. The conclusion at this point is that the University will continue to collect and use student evaluations, endeavoring to draft recommendations that make the instrument professional and maintain credibility and integrity. The former SCUE form is undergoing significant change.

Deputy Provost Conn stated that another group is focusing on the best practice for gathering student responses outside these forms, such as letters with longer comment by students.

A third group is working on faculty members' role in evaluating teaching of faculty colleagues.

And a fourth group was focussing on whether Penn should have Web-based evaluations. This has been tabled and will not be recommended at this point in time.

Deputy Provost Conn concluded by saying that he hopes the report will be completed this fall.

Professor Pope said the committee will reaffirm the use of student evaluation of teaching but that a determination is needed as to why questions are on the evaluation form and why they are appropriate.

In response to a SEC member, Deputy Provost Conn stated that research suggests that there is no difference between distributing the evaluation form before or after the final exam. Another SEC member inquired as to the status of the mid-term survey that was only for the eyes of the professor.

Emphasis was made by a SEC member that it was okay to use a SCUE form but that should not be taken too seriously. It is a mistake to approach this as consumer satisfaction. It is a question of evaluating teaching effectiveness. Answers to the questions raised suggest there is another form; it should be used rather than the SCUE form. The SEC member also underscored that use of anonymous evaluations is not allowed in the courts. These evaluations measure something but it is not teaching effectiveness.

Teaching Evaluation Committee member Paul McDermott presented information on validity of students' evaluations of teaching effectiveness (SETs). A SEC member noted that this information points to student evaluations being effective at the margins--the high and low--so there is a problem making a distinction among those in between. Professor McDermott stated that SETs are inflated at the high-end and at the low end are consistent. Several SEC members spoke to the affect of low ratings when a professor introduces an innovative teaching method, such as Maple, to which students are unaccustomed. Some SEC members expressed the concern that there is a relationship between grading practices and ratings. They believe that this drives grade inflation. Deputy Provost Conn stated the committee may recommend comments be requested from faculty on what they are teaching for inclusion in the package assembled for tenure and promotion review.

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 3, September 11, 2001


September 11, 2001
Volume 48 Number 3

Dr. Afaf Meleis--a prominent medical sociologist and specialist in women's health issues--will become the Dean of the School of Nursing in January.
Dr. Richard Gelles--a leading researcher in the study of family violence has been named Interim Dean of the School of Social Work.
Lucy Momjian is now Associate Vice President for Finance and Treasury Management.
Jack Shannon is named Associate Vice President in the Office of the Executive Vice President.
Dr. Battistini, director of Penn Health for Women, dies in a motor vehicle accident.
Convocation 2001: President Judith Rodin and Provost Robert Barchi welcome the Class of 2005.
Council Year-end Committee Reports: Admissions and Financial Aid as well as Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics are both on the agenda of this week's Council Meeting.
Penn moves up in the latest U.S. News rankings of the nation's best universities to its highest ever ranking.
A noisy night in the neighborhood prompted a Speaking Out letter and two responses.
Code Red Alert: Preventing a computer worm is possible with these steps.
The Models of Excellence program wants nominations to recognize staff achievements from the previous academic year.