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Stanford Report, December 10, 1997

Faculty Senate Minutes - 12/4/97 Part II

Faculty Senate Minutes

(continuation of minutes)

Proposal to Establish a Committee to Oversee the Training of Teaching Assistants (SenD#4753)

The Chair reminded Senators that they had received background materials from the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement concerning this item, which had originally been brought to Senate attention by an ASSU resolution. Conley noted that Senate guests included Doug Natelson, the graduate student author of the ASSU resolution, Michele Marincovich, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and Professor Russ Fernald, who chaired the C-AAA subcommittee on teaching assistant (TA) training.

Professor Gelber, Chair of C-AAA, set the context for the committee's proposal, noting that the Senate had enacted policies regarding TA training in 1989 and guidelines for that training in 1991, but that due to restructuring and the dissolution of the centralized graduate studies office no clear point of accountability for TA training had emerged. Fernald reported that his subcommittee concluded quite simply that "Legislation is easier than oversight." TA training programs were established in some departments but many were ephemeral, he said, advising that as of Spring 1997 less than 25% of graduate students were in departments that had consistent TA training programs. The C-AAA proposal, he stated, asks the Provost to create an oversight committee that will help departments meet the Senate legislation. Gelber said the committee would be co-chaired by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the Associate Dean of Graduate Policy and would be a "reporting committee" to C-AAA. She said that the committee would be left to develop the details of its procedures, adding that it should act as a clearinghouse for information about effective TA training methods.

Vice Provost Saldívar advised that he and Associate Dean Wasow had met with C-AAA and fully supported the proposal. Natelson recounted that he had become concerned when he learned that TA training had not been fully evaluated since 1988, meaning that "roughly 10,000 undergraduates had gone through this university" without anyone actually checking to see if graduate student TAs were being trained to teach. He expressed pleasure that a periodic evaluation mechanism was about to be put in place. Professor Lindenberger (English) urged that the new committee ensure that all faculty members are informed of their individual responsibilities for supervising TAs. Gelber concurred that this should be a part of the committee's task.

Professor Kirst (Education) cautioned that the training expectations outlined in Gelber's memorandum are very ambitious, asking how individual departments could accomplish this and what the capacity-building and structure might be for the university to assist in "pulling this off."
Gelber clarified that her memo largely reiterates existing Senate policy, and may set forth an ideal that won't be reached in actuality. She said that she envisions a feedback loop between the committee and departments, so that as resource needs are identified C-AAA and others can work to obtain the necessary resources. Marincovich commented that it would take two to three years to implement all of the training, and that CTL would begin by talking to departments about what they are already able to handle versus what they would need help with. The important thing, she believes, is that "this finally clearly and unambiguously establishes that the university has committed itself" to TA training. Professor Brauman (Chemistry), describing himself as "very sensitized to issues of regulatory compliance," echoed Kirst's call for support to departments. Professors Heller (Biological Sciences) and Efron (Statistics) also stressed that the committee should focus on making help available rather than set up hoops for departments to jump through. Heller observed that some of the best TAs might succeed not because of formal training but because of a successful relationship with a faculty mentor. Fernald agreed that the committee needs to be flexible in evaluating TA training approaches in different departmental environments.

President Casper stressed the importance of the expressed selection criterion that TAs should be "sufficiently fluent in spoken English." Gelber and Fernald agreed that this continues to be a problem in some areas, noting the complicating factor that many graduate students are required to serve as TAs in exchange for their fellowships. In Casper's view, departments must first take responsibility for proper selection of graduate student TAs.

Commenting that she shared people's concerns about over-regulation, Provost Rice expressed the opinion that regulation was needed in this case because there is unacceptable variation in whether TAs are receiving adequate training. She added that "as trainers of graduate students, we have an obligation to train them not just to be researchers, but to be teachers as well." Rice said she sees this important legislation more as an opportunity ­ to identify what is needed and to share ideas and best practices ­ than as a stick. "We want to support good training of TAs with university resources because we think that is an important thing to do," Rice confirmed. Professor Osheroff (Physics) said that he uses 10-15 TAs each year and starts by telling them that they represent the university and the professor. "I can't imagine why any professors in this university would not want to have their TAs have training," he remarked.

Professor McCall (Classics) expressed concern that the present lack of oversight for TA training probably results from the decentralization of the graduate division, and asked the President or Provost whether they might be giving any consideration to establishing an administrative structure for graduate education similar to what Saldívar heads up for undergraduate education. Noting that the question diverged somewhat from the proposal on the floor, the Chair asked McCall to defer the question, perhaps bringing it up at the informal executive session following Senate. Professor Schupbach (Slavic Languages and Literatures) volunteered that instead of this legislation, the problem would go away if all faculty agreed that the quality of graduate student teaching would become part of the student's official Stanford record and would accompany letters of reference. Professor Camarillo (History), using his own department as an example, stressed that the new committee should focus less on the mechanics of training and more on changing the departmental culture of support for graduate student teaching.

The proposal to ask the Provost to establish a committee to oversee the training of teaching assistants, as set forth in SenD#4753, moved and seconded by the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement, was approved on a nearly unanimous voice vote (one opposed). Chair Conley thanked Gelber and members of C-AAA for their work on this issue.

Proposed Revisions to Faculty Grievance Procedures (SenD#4753, 4755, 4760, 4758, 4759)

Chair Conley reminded Senators that they had received a complex but well-organized report with a cover memorandum from Provost Rice and a promulgation memo from President Casper and Advisory Board Chair Sheehan. These materials set forth proposed revisions to two key documents pertaining to faculty grievance procedures, she said. The first document, the Statement on Faculty Grievance Procedures, was adopted by the Senate in 1975 and requires Senate action in order to change it. Revisions to the second document, the Standing Rules of Procedures Governing the Filing and Appeal of Grievances, were promulgated on November 24, 1997 by Casper and Sheehan, and will become final unless the Senate vetoes them at either of its meetings of December 4, 1997 or January 8, 1998. Conley reiterated that the latter document cannot be amended by Senate. She noted that Senators had received two forms of both documents, a "clean" version with revisions fully incorporated and a "red-lined" version of existing documents with additions and deletions clearly marked. The Chair welcomed as guests Professors Sheehan and Mahood from the Advisory Board, Tom Fenner and Mike Roster of the Legal Office, and Kathy Gillam from the Provost's Office.

Provost Rice drew attention to a chart (SenD#4767) at Senators' desks, emphasizing that among Stanford's many grievance procedures the only one under discussion was the grievance process for Academic Council and Medical Center Line faculty as set out in the Statement on Faculty Grievance Procedures and its related Rules. The Provost thanked Gillam and Fenner for their extensive assistance and acknowledged the role of prior and current year members of the Advisory Board in developing the proposed changes. Noting that in her four years as Provost she had dealt with 16 grievance appeals from faculty members and two from lecturers, Rice said that she had been struck by two particular issues. First, she said, the current process mandates that a grievance be filed at the same administrative level at which the negative decision was made, a feature which is particularly problematic for the grievant, and makes the process take longer. Second, she stated that the absence of explicit time frames for the various steps in the grievance process has been unhelpful to the grievant. The revisions before Senate address principally these two issues, Rice stated ­ adding specific time frames and specifying that the grievance will be started at the level above the one at which the negative decision was made.

Rice explained that in the revised documents, administrative flexibility has been retained to remand a case back to the level at which the decision being grieved was made, if the particular circumstances suggest that this would be helpful. Normally, however, grievances will be handled at the level above, she said, which will serve the grievants better "as they go through what is already a difficult, long, and obviously quite stressful process." In addition to these two substantive changes, Rice advised that the language in both documents had been edited to provide more clarity, eliminate redundancies, and the like. Rice pointed out that if Senate approves the revised Statement and lets stand the revised Rules, faculty who have grievances currently pending will be given a choice about which version they would like to have apply; grievances and appeals filed after the effective dates of the revisions would be governed by the revised documents.

Advisory Board Chair Sheehan stated that in his view the proposed revisions streamline and clarify the grievance process, particularly with regard to the rules governing the Advisory Board's activities. He said that he also believes that adding timetables improves the process. Sheehan stressed that "these are modest changes . . . for the good."

Professor Brauman (Chemistry) expressed support for the revisions, seeking reassurance however from the Provost that there was "nothing lurking beneath the surface in these legalistic documents." Rice quickly provided that reassurance. Professor Parker (Graduate School of Business), noting the similarity to ballot initiatives where there are arguments for but no arguments against, moved approval of the revised Statement on Faculty Grievance Procedures; the motion was seconded by Professor Osgood (Electrical Engineering). Conley stated that the motion to approve was now on the table, and that discussion remained open.

Professor Freyberg (Civil and Environmental Engineering), noting that the changes seemed quite appropriate, said he was nonetheless struck that the documents contain no language about the relative "public-ness or private-ness" of the grievance process. The Provost responded that no changes in this regard are being made to the existing documents, but underscored that grievances are treated as entirely confidential personnel matters at all university levels. Professor Wexler (Radiology) sought clarification as to why a grievant was not permitted to have a legal advisor present at the grievance hearing, unless that person happened to be a member of the professoriate. Roster responded, at Rice's request, that Stanford has tried as much as possible to keep faculty grievances a peer process, not turning them into highly legalistic challenges of evidence and procedures. The role of Stanford's Legal Office, he said, is principally to assure that the process functions effectively and to let the faculty make the decisions.

President Casper and Provost Rice reiterated that very few changes are being proposed at this time, noting however that if Senate would like a larger revision of the grievance procedures, which might be highly appropriate, that process could be set in motion. Professor Kennedy (History) pursued this point, asking, "Is this a sufficient change in our grievance procedures or should we in fact undertake a more thorough review of this matter?" Rice said that there are other improvements that can perhaps be made, but that the larger question might be whether or not the grievance process can continue to rest on the notion of peer review, with grievance officers who are busy faculty members, not trained in the legal profession. Rice expressed her personal opinion that the grievance process, though difficult to manage, maintains the right spirit of peer review.

Professor Veinott (Engineering Economic Systems & Operations Research) questioned the wisdom of starting a grievance at the level above the negative decision, since in his experience of an assistant professor appealing a tenure denial, the department is most likely to be able to understand the nuances of the situation and to gather appropriate information. Rice replied that most grievants do not believe decision-makers will overturn their own decisions, and therefore starting at a level above makes sense. In cases where new data is introduced or where there has been a change in the decision-maker, it might be appropriate to remand it to the lower level, she noted. Rice also stressed that all of the information concerning the case is made available to those reviewing at higher levels, and that the criteria for appeal are largely on procedural not substantive grounds. Veinott asked whether the process mandates that the decision-maker at the higher level receive a report from the lower level. Gillam responded that the decision maker always writes both to the affected faculty member and separately to the levels above explaining the basis for a negative decision; and that in handling a grievance or appeal, those at the higher level may consult with individuals or bodies that have already considered the case. Veinott reiterated his fear that the wrong decision may be made at a higher level if the right information isn't available. The Provost said she has never seen a grievance in which the department's views were not fully represented.

President Casper and Provost Rice drew attention to the standards for review (Section V.A. of the Statement) stressing that Stanford's process allows a full review of all facts and criteria used to arrive at the decision, but that the grievance review is not a review de novo. The question is not what would the dean or Provost or President decide, but rather "was the decision one which a person in the position of the decision-maker might reasonably have made?" Casper stated. He also said that he believes "time is part of fairness" and grievants need a speedier resolution. Professor Berman (German Studies) expressed an institutional interest in moving the decision on beyond the department level, to avoid prolonged departmental disruption and to ensure a more expeditious decision.

Professor Efron (Statistics) called the question; Professor Watt (Biological Sciences) seconded; and the motion passed with one negative vote. Senate then voted on the main motion, to approve the revised Statement on Faculty Grievance Procedures, as set forth in SenD#4760. This motion passed on a nearly unanimous voice vote (one opposed).

Chair Conley reminded everyone that at the next meeting on January 8th the Senate would have its final chance to veto the Standing Rules of Procedure Governing the Filing and Appeal of Grievances (SenD#4759).

There was no new business. The Chair encouraged elected and ex-officio members to proceed upstairs to the Informal Executive Session. Following a motion and a second, the Senate meeting was adjourned at 4:44 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan W. Schofield

Academic Secretary to the University