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Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Roundtable Initiative Meeting Report (for 10/28)

Background to this meeting: I am one of six A&S Council appointees to the “Arts and Sciences Roundtable Initiative” implementation committee. The other A&S Council appointees are Debra Davis, Rupali Chandar, Linda Rouillard, James B. Benjamin and David Tucker. The Roundtable implementation committee met for the first time on September 30, and for the second time on Wednesday, October 28. My report for the September meeting was earlier posted here, and on the Epsilen UT Roundtable blog site accessible at:

At the September 30 meeting the newly-appointed six A&S Council representatives met for the first time with other UT professors and administrators who had been selected during the Extended Roundtable Retreat held May 2, 2009 “to assure the input of the Roundtable Steering Committee.” These other members included two or more persons from each of five Facilitator Groups tasked to report on five priority issues (“challenges” /“action items”): Scholarship, Teaching Modalities, Graduate Studies, Curriculum, and Space. Each Facilitator Group at the Retreated created its own preliminary report. These reports were forwarded to the participants of the September 30 meeting, for the purposes of further discussion.

At the end of the September 30 meeting five new sub-groups of the Roundtable formed to write five revised draft reports on the same five priority issues. Each report was this time to include a list of “implementable things.” Everyone agreed to reconvene as a single large group again on October 28 to discuss the contents of these reports, and to arrive at an implementation timetable. Members volunteering for these sub-groups were:

Teaching Modalities: Pryor, Nemeth, Rizk, Poplin Gossetti, Habrecht
Space: Anderson Huang, Denham, Tucker
Curriculum: Heberle, Barlow, Stierman, Brady
Graduate Studies: Beatty, Medina, Benjamin, Chandar
Scholarship: Gilbert, Rouillard, Nemeth, Burnett

I will briefly describe and comment here on selected aspects the October 28 meeting.

The October 28 meeting: At the October 28 meeting the five reports were distributed and their issues discussed. Roundtable Initiative (RI) participants in attendance included (in order of seating, clockwise, around the boardroom table): Nina McClelland, Ben Pryor, Lawrence Anderson Huang, David Nemeth, Jamie Barlow, Penny Poplin Gosetti, Linda Rouillard, Rupali Chandar, James Benjamin, David Tucker, Peter Lindquist, Mark Denham, Christine Habrecht, and Renee Heberle. Also, Provost Haggett was present for part of the meeting.

Dean McClelland designated Pryor and Heberle to marshal and record the discussions. The Dean’s preliminary comments stressed the importance of developing at this meeting an implementation plan and its timetable. She mentioned in this regard the importance of producing “down-the-line” strong evidence of “value returned” on the university’s significant “investment” in the Roundtable process, which she estimated at “midway” toward its goal(s). She emphasized that one of these goals would be a “hiring plan” and incentives for retention of faculty. Another goal was for the A&S College to attain a “tier one” national ranking. She reminded the committee how the five priority issues are intertwined: the final RI proposed implementation plan would “drive the train” to our first-tier ranking.

Then commenced the discussions in turn of the five revised reports, moving through their issues in this order: scholarship, graduate studies, space, curriculum, teaching modalities. Pryor’s meeting notes will soon be posted on the Epsilen Roundtable blog, to provide our faculty with details from these discussions.

There appeared to be wide agreement among faculty Roundtable participants that many related teaching modalities/scholarship/curriculum issues involving increasing faculty incentives and rewards for their successful investments of time and energy in innovative teaching and service could be integrated into existing annual ARPA, Merit and Workload processes. There was general recognition and agreement that UT should become a 24/7/365 operation if it is ever to reach its potential as a highly ranked state public higher education institution. Everyone also seemed to agree with regard to campus facilities that “space is important!” The terms “motivation,” “morale,” and “incentives” came up frequently with reference to performance of students and faculty. Everyone seemed to agree on the need for increased stipends and support for graduate students. Also, sabbaticals in support of faculty teaching initiatives had wide support.

There were disagreements, of course. Participants debated the strengths and weaknesses of “active” and “passive” modes of learning; whether or not a “first tier” ranking for the A&S College is achievable in the context of a continued open admissions policy; the purpose of and need for a faculty club; the benefits of eliminating the position of department “chairs” in the A&S College administrative hierarchy (in favor of departmental “heads”). Also, the question of the impact of President Jacobs’ rethinking ‘Directions’ [the University’s strategic plan] on the A&S College Roundtable implementation recommendations remains unanswered.

Where To Now? These productive discussions continued till near noon. The Roundtable meeting quickly wound down with an agreed-upon extension of a timetable into the future. Participants agreed to allow a representative from each task group to further revise each report, and to combine the five reports, perhaps with the appointment of an editor, into one draft complete report. This single document will be distributed to A&S Council members for their comments in late November. These comments will be appended to the document when the full Roundtable Implementation group reconvenes end of November. Discussion at that meeting will result in a revised single report. This revised report will then be posted on the A&S College Roundtable Epsilen webpage for general public review. Thanks to all who Emailed me to comment on my first RI report. Please continue to contact me personally with your comments and concerns, or post them on this blog as "Comments" if you wish to engage in a broader conversation about my report. You may also want to contact any of the named participants above to discover their perspectives on the meeting.

David Nemeth, Professor of Geography and Planning, A&S Council Appointee to the A&S Roundtable Initiative implementation group.

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