Minutes of the Meeting of the Undergraduate Council, October 2, 2013
Present: Steven Adelson, Kathleen Bratby, Janet Clarke, Jennifer Dellaposta, Arlene Feldman, Sarah Fuller, Norman Goodman, Ellen Hopkins, Peter Khost, Roy Lacey, Michael Mooney, Anne Moyer, Peter Stephens, Scott Sutherland.

a) We accepted the proposed schedule of meetings for Fall 2013, with two meetings in a row on November 13 and 20 (because of the Thanksgiving holiday).
b) A sign-up sheet for volunteers to take Minutes for future Fall meetings was circulated.

2. We discussed the Minutes of our meeting of September 18, 2013.
a)  Item 3b, on TAP eligibility, was revised after the colon to read: “The current NYS audit and regulations are raising issues…”

b) Norman Goodman asked for more explicit instructions about the matters relating to TAP eligibility and curriculum requirements that he is to bring to the SUNY Senate. Scott Sutherland will send an email to Norm that details the problems that need to be addressed. The interpretation of the TAP regulations as presently implemented seems counterproductive in terms of student success. Norm will circulate these concerns in advance to the chair of the pertinent SUNY Senate committee.

c) Michael Mooney noted that an internal USB group is currently investigating State audit results that assess compliance with NYS regulations on TAP eligibility. Their findings will appear soon.

d) Kathy Bratby asked if a Leave of Absence will still ‘stop the clock’ and be taken into consideration for continued TAP eligibility. Apparently that will still be the case. 

e) In Item 3f, the last sentence was emended to read: How will these students meet the new SBC [Stony Brook Curriculum] requirements?

The Minutes were approved as emended.

3) We discussed the document on revised course evaluation questions that emerged from the Faculty Committee on Course Evaluations.  The Council has been asked to review and approve the proposed set of course evaluation questions. 

a) There were differences of opinion about whether to approve the revised questionnaire as sent to us or to propose changes based on perceived flaws in the document.

b) Those in favor of accepting the questionnaire as presented noted that the committee had worked on it for an extended period of time, that professionals familiar with course assessments had led the Committee, and that the questionnaire had already been reviewed by a number of different  constituencies.

c) Critiques of the document focused primarily on three areas: lack of specificity in the scales used for some questions; the wording of some questions; and the order of the questions.

Scale: Some of the evaluation scales use numbers from 5-1, others use letter ‘grades,’ others use Strongly Agree (SA) at one end and Strongly Disagree (SD) at the other end, with nothing in the middle. In this last case, the interpretation of the middle checkpoints is not necessarily clear (to those filling out the questionnaire, or those reading and interpreting it).  It was pointed out that some surveys specify “Strongly Agree/ Somewhat Agree/ Neutral (or, neither agree or disagree)/ Somewhat Disagree/ Strongly Disagree.”  Under Q2, about the basis of grading in relation to the syllabus, a 5th option was suggested: “I don’t know.”

Wording: Question 6 “Overall this course is…” seemed far too vague (especially given the A-F proposed scale). Possible revisions included: Overall, I would grade this course as…; Overall, the quality of this course rates as…; This course meets its objectives…
Question 3, “The textbook, readings and required resources were useful” would be better phrased as “valuable” or “meaningful.” The proposed words convey a deeper sense of value than does “useful.”

Order: The current Question 1 seems misplaced. Not only is it not the most important, but it is problematic for courses directed toward students taking a course for distribution requirements.  Often those students have no way of knowing what “reasonable expectations” would be, or they themselves mistakenly expect to have to do a minimal amount of study in a course they are taking to fulfill distribution requirements. It was suggested that the current Question 11 (“What is your reason for taking this course”) might be the most effective way of beginning the document from the point of view of those filling it out and those reading the results.

What are now the two “middle questions” (Numbers 6 and 7) might better be placed toward the end (just before the two ‘open’ questions), after the student has commented on a variety of other aspects of the course.  Alternatively, they might be placed near the beginning, just after the question about the reason for taking the course.  In any event, these questions should have a more prominent position, either toward the beginning or the end of the question set.

d) Michael Mooney, from the Registrar’s Office, pointed out problems with implementing the TE Committee’s Recommendation 6 that students who complete their evaluations of all their courses would receive their semester grades 2 days earlier than those who do not.  This proposal rests on delaying communication of all grades until after the examination period is over and the final deadline for faculty submission of grades has been reached. Presently, students who complete courses early in exam period may receive their grades in those courses a day or two after the Final. The proposed recommendation would penalize all students who complete courses during the first stages of the final examination period and whose professors submit the grades quickly. There may be regulations prohibiting the Registrar from holding up grades when those grades have been submitted.  A delay in communication of end-of-semester grades is likely also to impact the timely production of transcripts.  In addition, it may be difficult (or wasteful of staff time otherwise spent more productively) to track which students have filled out all their course evaluations, and which students have not done so, just in order to hold grades and to release them on different schedules.

The intent of Recommendation 6 is to motivate students to complete course evaluation forms.  But Roy Lacey pointed out that students would perceive more value in filling out the course evaluation forms if they thought it would make a difference for them personally. A ‘penalty’ approach such as that recommended is unlikely to work.

It was pointed out that faculty have an important role in communicating to their students that the course evaluation process is important. When we discussed this last Spring, one incentive proposed was that students who complete evaluations would be able to gain access to the previous semester’s course evaluations early in the next semester, when they would be signing up for courses.
In any event, there was considerable skepticism about the efficacy of Recommendation 6 even if it could be implemented.  This would seem to require broader discussion.
The discussion ended with no formal vote taken.  The consensus seemed to be that our chair, Anne Moyer, would communicate the concerns voiced in the Council to Patricia Aceves and her committee, for their further consideration.

4) Scott Sutherland put forward a revised document on “Stony Brook Curriculum Learning Outcomes and Standards.” This is a refinement of material we saw and approved last Spring.  It clarifies standards and criteria, adjusts some wording, and incorporates some improved formatting. The revisions were guided by understanding of the original intent of the standards and learning outcomes and introduce no major changes.

Since the time for our meeting had expired, we agreed to discuss this document early in our next meeting. Meanwhile, the Certification Committee should continue to review courses for SBC certification according to this revised document. If any substantive issues arise, they can be addressed retroactively. Anne Moyer will send an electronic version of the “Learning Outcomes and Standards” that we can review prior to our meeting on October 16.

The meeting adjourned at 1:00PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Sarah Fuller