University News

Faculty debates final exam grading deadline

Meeting also addresses grad student support, postdoctoral hiring, concentration declarations

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2015

At Tuesday’s faculty meeting, faculty members voted to change University policies on postdoctoral hiring and concentration declarations to more accurately reflect current practices. The faculty also rejected proposed changes to the final exam grading timeline.

For several years, a contradiction has existed in the University’s rules regarding grading. The Faculty Rules and Regulations state that faculty members must submit grades within 72 hours of a final exam. They also state that the annual deadline for fall semester grades must be no later than Jan. 6, which is about two weeks after the end of final exams depending on the year. In an effort to make the rules consistent, Dean of the College Maud Mandel and the College Curriculum Council proposed amending the rules so that all grades must be submitted by Dec. 30. The rationale behind this amendment was that the Jan. 6 deadline did not provide enough time for the Committee on Academic Standing to review final grades when issuing  academic warnings and suspensions. This problem has been exacerbated each year by several professors who breach the Jan. 6 deadline, Mandel said.

Richard Stratt, professor of chemistry, said that expecting faculty members to complete grading in the last week of December is “not family-friendly,” as this time should be reserved for personal time and community service.

Over 500 students take chemistry exams in the last two days of the final examination period — a grading effort that “takes a village” and “simply would not work” to cram into that week, Stratt said.

Last semester,1,100 missing grades had not been filed by the Jan. 2 deadline. This could have contributed to the 600 academic warnings and suspensions issued last semester, another faculty member said.

The system is “all very carefully timed,” and missing grades are “an enormous administrative headache,” Mandel said.

Rachel Friedberg, senior lecturer in economics, suggested only immediately grading exams that would determine whether a certain student is to be placed on academic warning or suspension. Richard Bungiro, senior lecturer in molecular microbiology and immunology, concurred and proposed a system in which the professor must initially indicate only whether students have passed the course and later determine the final grade.

University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson suggested that exams taken by large numbers of students be moved earlier in the examination period.

The faculty did not vote on the motion, which will be reevaluated and further discussed at a subsequent meeting.

Faculty members also discussed how Brown can be more family-friendly. A committee headed by Associate Professor of History Seth Rockman noted that many faculty members are not free at 5:30 p.m. for meetings or events, some of which are crucial for young scholars but may interfere with their familial responsibilities.

Currently, comprehensive searches are the norm in hiring. But in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, it is not always rational or practical to conduct extensive searches, said Kevin McLaughlin P’12, dean of the faculty. The reality is that postdoctoral and visiting faculty members in STEM fields are often hired from within for a year or two, he said, adding that there will still be oversight of such appointments to address diversity concerns.

In an effort to increase diversity, the University will implement the President’s Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship, a program that will select six postdoctoral fellows for next year from a pool of 266 applicants, said President Christina Paxson P’19. This pool reflects high percentages of underrepresented minority and female candidates looking to study issues related to race, ethnicity and gender, she added.

The next motion passed by the faculty extended the deadline for students to declare a second or third concentration from the beginning of the seventh semester to the end of the seventh semester. While Dietrich Neumann, professor of history of art and architecture, urban studies and Italian studies, raised the concern that allowing students to do a third concentration is encouraging them to do the “opposite of concentrating,” Mandel said that very few students actually pursue this option, and the change does not reflect an endorsement for them to begin doing so.

Faculty members also approved the creation of a third tier of lecturers: distinguished senior lecturer. Luiz Valente PhD’83, professor of Portuguese and Brazilian studies and comparative literature, called the motion “really excellent” but pointed to several weaknesses in the language of the proposed addition to the handbook, which can be revised once any motion is passed.

In an address to attendees at the meeting, Provost Vicki Colvin said current support for graduate students is insufficient. Colvin said she will prioritize graduate students’ health and financial needs within her current five-year plan for graduate program support. The new plan is slated to provide health insurance, dental insurance and stronger financial support during the summer. These measures are a rational approach to bring Brown to the level of peer institutions, Colvin said.

Paxson also reported on the sexual misconduct policy. She called the Task Force on Sexual Assault’s final report “not the end of work, but the beginning of work,” adding that she encouraged faculty members to take the time to read the report.

Paxson highlighted several aspects of the 63-page document, including a single policy that governs students, faculty members and staff members in sexual misconduct cases, the use of outside investigators in those cases and mandatory annual training for all community members.

Faculty members appointed four new members to sit on the Standing Committee of Academic Code to address the recent increase in emergency meetings on code violations. The appointees are Bungiro, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature Stephen Foley ’74 P’04 P’07, Associate Professor of Engineering and Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty Janet Blume and Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Ruth Colwill.

The faculty meeting also included two memorial minutes for Stanley Aronson, founding dean of the Alpert Medical School, and Juergen Schulz, professor emeritus of history of art and architecture. A memorial service for Aronson will be held May 1.

Paxson asked the faculty to stand in silence a third time to honor Hyoun Ju Sohn GS, who died March 31.

  • Ras Trotsky

    Oh no…another debate! Brown University students have no opportunity to learn by examples, that sometimes one should just do one’s job. I mean…whom would they look to? Chris Paxson?

    • Ras Trostsky

      oh no! another mindless comment! Brown University students have no opportunity to learn by examples, that sometimes on should just actually make sense. I mean… whom would they look to? Me?