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Great expectations

At first 2022 meeting, Faculty Senate discusses academics, health, budget

There is no such thing as “easing in” for the University of Delaware Faculty Senate, which kicked off the spring semester with a wide-ranging meeting on Monday, Feb. 7.

Via Zoom, several speakers expressed optimism that the semester will be a safe and vibrant one, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The challenges continue, especially with the Omicron variant,” President Dennis Assanis said. “But I am guardedly optimistic, and we see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The University has continued to prioritize the health and safety of the community, Assanis said. More than 94% of students and employees are vaccinated, with all students, faculty and student-facing staff members required to get the booster when they are eligible. The University is continuing its robust testing program, has 75,000 rapid antigen tests as a supplemental resource and has 417,000 KN95 masks that are being distributed through the spring semester. Assanis said the University is well prepared for whatever the pandemic brings next.

Also, while UD’s budget picture is improving, there are still challenges ahead, he said. A surplus is projected for this fiscal year, but this is due to decreased spending rather than increased revenue, which is not sustainable long-term. One area of concern is lower-than-expected Winter Session enrollment this year. However, undergraduate applications for the 2022-23 academic year are up 4.5% from this time last year.

Overall, Assanis said, there are many clear indications that the University is moving in the right direction.

Provost Robin Morgan echoed the president’s enthusiasm for the new semester.

“It is good to see people back, including the 7,000 students in the residence halls,” she said. “We’re still focused on the health and safety of our community, but making academic continuity, academic progress a priority.”

Morgan yielded most of her time to Amanda Steele-Middleton, University registrar, who spoke on behalf of a committee working to resolve conflicting definitions related to the student credit hour.

Nearly 30 proposals on the Senate’s consent agenda concerned graduate programs, proposed by the academic colleges and endorsed by the Graduate Studies Committee, including recommendations to revise requirements for the MBA, the M.S. in art conservation and the Ph.D. in psychological and brain sciences. Before a vote, Senator Bill Repetto, president of Graduate Student Government, made a motion to remove these items pending consideration of a request to increase minimum stipends for master’s and doctoral students holding fellowships or assistantships on campus.

[Editor’s note: Lou Rossi, dean of the Graduate College, has clarified that the minimum graduate doctoral stipend is increasing by $500 in fall 2022, raising the minimum stipend to $21,500; the minimum master’s stipend will equal the doctoral stipend, increasing the minimum stipend for those students by $1,500 to $21,500, effectively a 7.5% increase. This is in addition to the tuition waiver and subsidized health benefits.]

The Senate agreed, by a vote of 32-25, to table these items until the March meeting. The rest of the consent agenda containing undergraduate proposals passed unanimously.

Among the resolutions on the regular agenda was a motion recommending that the Board of Trustees Finance Committee introduce a resolution in its body to have the Investment Office work with the Sustainability Council to establish a fossil fuel divestment strategy, with the goal of executing full divestment by 2030. It is a move, according to the proposal, that makes sense for “reasons both moral and financial,” and one that comparator institutions have already made. The recommendation passed 40-6.

The Senate also voted to disestablish the minor in material culture studies and to add to the Senate’s ICRSS (Instructional, Computing and Research Support Services) Committee a designee of the director of the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning.

Senate President Chris Williams offered a reminder that the Challenge Period, a 10-day period in which faculty can submit electronic concerns related to any course, would be open until Feb. 18, 2022.  Also he reminded the faculty that the Senate Executive Committee needs candidates to run for president-elect and vice president of the Senate for the next academic year.  If anyone is interested, they can reach out to Williams at ckwillia@udel.edu.

For new business, Senator John Morgan, associate professor of physics and astronomy, proposed two resolutions for consideration in March. One would require that faculty members be informed of the results of advisory votes on the appointment (or reappointment) of departmental chairs or school directors. The other would extend the maximum employment duration for UD’s full-time, temporary faculty members from three years to five years, so that these people do not have to navigate the stress of job searching during a pandemic.

“This is not a permanent fix,” Morgan said. “But it would help probably 20 or so temporary faculty members who have been doing a good job of teaching at UD.”

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