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UD Faculty Senate holds March meeting

Discussions included undergraduate applications, selection of department chairpersons and Disability Support Services

For the fifth year in a row, the University of Delaware has received a record number of undergraduate applications, President Dennis Assanis said at the regularly scheduled Faculty Senate meeting on Monday, March 6, which was held via Zoom.

“I think that speaks a lot to the attractiveness of our great University to the students and their families,” Assanis said. “We have more than 37,000 applications this year, which is up 6.5% from last year. That's remarkable.”

There was an 8.8% increase in military-connected applications, a 12% increase in Honors College applications and a 26% increase in international applications over the past year, Assanis said.

“These are applications,” Assanis said, adding that the University is aiming for an incoming class of about 4,200 to 4,300. “We will continue to work very hard to have great yields, and I want to count on all of you. We all need to work together yield is a team sport.”

Exciting progress is being made on capital projects, Assanis said. The 25,000-square-foot addition to Drake Hall, which features teaching and research labs, is now complete, and construction of Building X, a yet-to-be-named research and teaching facility to replace McKinly Lab, began last fall.

Provost Laura Carlson also gave updates on several initiatives, including examining changes to the excused absence policy. The Faculty Senate discussed a recommendation to revise that policy last May, and those revisions were ultimately sent back for further discussion. Carlson said she is establishing a task force to examine the current policy, identify challenges or gaps created by that policy, make recommendations and explore what resources are needed to implement changes that would be effective.

Carlson also shared that the registrar’s office has been working with IT to establish a digital system that makes it easier and more dynamic for departments to advertise courses.

Last fall, Carlson shared a plan to reorganize and repurpose resources in the provost’s office to increase faculty voice and reduce the time that faculty spend on administrative work. In that context, Kimberley Isett, vice provost for academic programs and University initiatives, has begun a review of the academic program review process and will be collaborating with academic priorities and the senate on improvements.

Following the remarks by Assanis and Carlson, the Faculty Senate approved 30 undergraduate and graduate proposals on the Consent Agenda.

Items approved on the Regular Agenda included permanently approving the M.S. in cybersecurity and expanding the number of student and administrator Faculty Senators by two each.

The only resolution that generated discussion was a proposal to revise the section of the Faculty Handbook related to the selection of department chairpersons. Among the proposed changes are a more detailed description of department chairs that includes equivalent positions. The amendment included requirement that appointments or reappointments can be recommended by a dean only if the person under consideration receives a positive vote by at least a two-thirds majority of those faculty in the unit who are eligible to vote as defined by the unit’s bylaws, and the two-thirds vote would also apply to interim chair appointments.

Several senators expressed concerns about the two-thirds vote requirement.

“This would mean that anyone not voting or abstaining would count as not approving,” said Senator Rakesh, professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. He proposed an amendment requiring two criteria: that at least 50% of the eligible faculty vote in favor, and that 60% of the faculty who vote approve of the appointment. “There are always some faculty in the department who don't have an opinion one way or the other, so I don't see why they should be counted as not approving.”

John Pelesko, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, raised issues with the proposal. He said the resolution lacked a clear explanation of what would happen if no candidate reached the two-thirds threshold. He also said he was skeptical that he would be able to secure interim chairs — difficult positions to fill — if a two-thirds vote was required.

Many senators were in support of the amendment overall, but would prefer a simple majority over two-thirds. Ultimately, the Faculty Senate voted to postpone the motion indefinitely, and it will be discussed again at a later date.

Following these votes, Keith Fournier, assistant vice president of human resources, and Jared Aupperle, assistant vice president for human resources support and services, gave a presentation about remote work policies and procedures.

“The job market has changed tremendously over the past three years, in large part due to COVID,” Aupperle said. “COVID normalized remote working, and that is something that we believe is here to stay in some fashion and something that we'll need to manage long term.”

Currently, 40% of UD staff are working remotely at least part of the time. Fournier said trends indicate that people are either transferring between departments at UD or leaving the University altogether in order to find more flexible work.

“People are migrating toward flexibility,” he said. “Our telework agreement form is our mechanism to approve and track our flexible work arrangements. It allows supervisors to work hand in hand with their staff members and approve a schedule that is in the best interest of the University, but also helps retain the talent as well as bring in new talent.”

Elizabeth Reed, director of Disability Support Services (DSS), and Lynda Dellmyer, associate director of DSS, gave a presentation about the DSS test accommodation center. Senators had previously brought up a concern that DSS services are not available during the evening, when some out-of-class exams are held.

The testing center hours (8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday) match or exceed 80% of benchmark schools’ testing hours, Dellmyer said. In a typical day, the testing center proctors over 100 exams, each requiring different accommodations and professor instructions.

“This requires a significant amount of preparation and follow through to ensure the integrity of exams that are taking place with us,” Dellmyer said. “Our testing center is a service that we're providing to students and we're providing to faculty. Constructive collaboration between departments and DSS is really key to ensuring that students’ needs are being met and that everyone is able to get what is best out of the testing center.”

For new business, John Morgan, associate professor of physics and astronomy,  proposed that Zoom should always be an option for Faculty Senate meetings. John Jebb, professor of English, brought up a concern that handicapped entrances to some buildings on campus are sometimes locked or non-functioning during the day.

Further information about the Faculty Senate, including meeting minutes and agendas, can be found on its website.


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