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Mid-term grade action elusive
Faculty Senate hears about new college incremental funding
Friday, Mar. 30, 2012
By Hope Belli Tinney, WSU News
PULLMAN, Wash. - For the third time in three meetings, the WSU Faculty Senate failed to reach consensus on whether faculty should be required to give all undergraduates mid-term progress reports, or what those reports should look like.
Various proposals have come up as discussion items, but have not advanced to an action item on the Faculty Senate agenda. The latest proposal from the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC), created with input from student leaders of ASWSU, is that instructors could choose to give C or F grades, to represent satisfactory progress or unsatisfactory progress, as an alternative to A-F grades.
Several senators said they thought the new proposal would confuse students and render the whole exercise meaningless. Sen. Jeff Peterson said he was concerned that students would be confused if they got several C’s on a mid-term progress report, because one C might mean a C grade, but another C might mean satisfactory work (in which case the student might be earning a C, B or A).
"Would you be happy with that?” he asked ASWSU Vice President Amanda Spaulding.
"I would be happy with having a mid-term progress report,” Spaulding answered. Spaulding, who has attended previous meetings with other ASWSU representatives, attended Thursday’s meeting alone.
Spaulding said she would have preferred seeing S or U for satisfactory or unsatisfactory, but the computer system does not allow instructors to enter any letters except A-F. The dual reporting system might be somewhat confusing, she said, but it would be up to the student to figure it out.
Sen. Carol Allen, speaking from WSU Spokane, said the College of Nursing already requires instructors to notify students when they are in danger of failing a class.
"We have a system in place already,” she said, and the proposed rule would just be extra work.
In lieu of posting mid-term progress reports, Sen. Matt Carroll suggested that perhaps all instructors should be required to post grades on Angel so that students could easily track their own progress.
Several senators argued that the proposed solution was clumsy and confusing.
Spaulding urged the senators not to send the proposal back to the AAC for more discussion, but instead to put in up for a vote at the next meeting.
"We want this body to vote on it so that the students can see how you voted on their request for mid-term grades,” she said.
Sen. Greg Rose, speaking from WSU Vancouver, said he hoped Spaulding didn’t walk away from the meeting thinking the faculty didn’t care about students.
"I think most of us do care deeply about what the students are feeling,” he said. Rose said he strongly supported the proposal as a way to catch students who are reluctant to seek help, even when they know they are struggling.
WSU Registrar Julia Pomerenk urged the senators to try the proposal for a year.
"The students want information,” she said. "We can try this and see if it works.” It might be that the dual system works fine, she said, but if not, the Faculty Senate can make revisions.
Under current policy, mid-term grades are mandated for freshmen and new transfer students only. If freshmen or transfer students receive a grade lower than a C-, an academic advisor will contact the student to discuss what is going on and make him or her aware of various resources on campus, from counseling services to tutoring and the writing center.
In other matters, Provost and Executive Vice President Warwick Bayly gave a report on the university’s plan to implement an incremental funding model where a base level of support is established and then additional tuition money follows the students.
In fall 2011, when the university enrolled its largest freshman class ever, he said, staff and faculty worked long hours to create a freshman schedule that could accommodate all 4,200 students. "It was an extremely labor intensive process,” he said, and many of their decisions were ad hoc.
Now that the university is planning to enroll approximately 4,000 freshmen every year, he said, the administration realized a new model is needed. He convened a small working group including four deans and budget officers, he said, and they studied various funding models.
After running simulations to see how the various models would work in Pullman, he said, they recommended that WSU implement an incremental funding model. He and President Elson S. Floyd accepted the recommendation and the university is working toward implementation.
Bayly stressed that an incremental model is not the same as an enrollment model. In an enrollment model, there is no baseline of support so, theoretically, a college could see funding drop below its ability to sustain itself. In an incremental model, he said, every college is assured a baseline of support.
At WSU, he said, that baseline has been set at the 2010-2011 academic year. Each college will get at least the same funding it had in 2010-2011, but if its student numbers rise in subsequent years over those enrollment figures, its budget also will rise.
"The tuition they pay will be the source of this additional money,” he said. The goal is to ensure that where the students go, the resources follow, he said. Bayly said the plan also includes incentives tied to graduation rates.
If the plan had been in place this year, he said, every college would have received more money because every college has more students. Bayly said the money will be given to the deans to manage as they see fit, without micromanaging from the Provost’s Office.
In response to a question about whether the model might help colleges hire more tenure-track faculty, Bayly said he hoped so.
"I’ve told the deans they can manage the money,” he said, but it is his "strong desire” that they hire tenure-track faculty to teach, do research and mentor graduate students.
Bayly acknowledged that there might be a temptation for some colleges to attempt to "game the system” but said "that’s small thinking.”
"All the deans have unanimously approved the model and will be on the lookout for small thinking,” he said.