The Approval Threshold Committee will deliver recommendations for the new course overload petition process to President David Leebron and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda on Feb. 1, according to committee members Santiago Avila and Alex Metcalf.
In April, a majority of the Faculty Senate voted amid students protests to reduce the maximum allowed courseload from 20 to 18 credit hours starting with this year’s freshman class. The day before the vote, the credit limit proposal was modified to allow major advisors to approve course overload petitions and to convene the committee to review petition guidelines.
The committee will make three recommendations, according to a summary they have circulated around campus for feedback: to train advisors on the new petition process, to create an appeals process for those whose petitions have been rejected and to conduct periodic reviews of the petition process’s efficiency and consistency between departments.
Metcalf and Avila said the intent of the petition process is not to prevent students from taking overloads, but the committee is also not trying to circumvent the new credit limits.
“I would say the intent is rather making sure that if students are going to take over 18 hours, they are well-advised and they have a healthy advising relationship,” Avila, a junior who also serves as Brown College president, said.
Avila said the core philosophy behind the recommendations is to base petition decisions on case-by-case discussions with advisors, rather than inflexible criteria that determine eligibility.
“We are trying to shift the rigor away from an extensive workload in order to get approved, and more to [asking], ‘Have you thought about your process?’” Avila said. “‘Have you documented your thoughts in a sane way, in a logical way, in a reasoned way?’”
The committee did not want to make recommendations that were overly specific at this point, according to Metcalf, since there were a number of ways training, appeals and periodic review could be implemented.
“The recommendations, you will notice, are all oriented outward,” Metcalf, a Will Rice College senior, said. “We are hesitant to say, ‘This is how the faculty must be trained,’ without the Faculty Senate coming in and saying, ‘That seems appropriate, that seems in line with what we are doing already.’”
The current overload petition system, in which students must fill out a long application to the Office of Academic Advising for review before attaining dean approval for overload, has been criticized by students for being too rigid, according to Metcalf. Metcalf also said the current system creates a large workload for the OAA.
Metcalf said the committee has been working to create a system that could accommodate the student population’s current course-load distribution, rather than anticipating a shift down in the distribution of credit hours. Avila said the focus on conversation and advising rather than written applications and the distribution of petition consideration to major advisors will reduce the process’ workload on any one office or group.
In addition to Avila and Metcalf, the committee include student, faculty and administrative representatives and is chaired by Associate Vice Provost and Associate Dean of Undergraduates Matthew Taylor. Miranda gave the committee its charge at the beginning of last semester, after which the committee has continued to meet on its own.
Metcalf emphasized that the committee is not dealing with questions about whether the credit hour cap change is a good idea.
“It’s tempting to use casual ways to describe what the committee does, when in fact our job doesn’t revolve around working with the proposal passed by the Faculty Senate,” Metcalf said.”What we are going to do is to use this as an opportunity to give students better opportunities for advising, to make sure that students have a good chance to look at schedules ahead of time, things like that.”
Avila said the committee began its work by discussing Rice students’ values.
“We discussed [whether] it is appropriate to give students a checklist to go through and say, ‘If you’ve achieved this checklist, you’re good, if you don’t achieve this checklist, you’re not good,” Avila said. “We decided that’s kind of overly prescriptive.”
Avila said factors such as GPA, academic probation or suspension status, and any previous failed overloads would likely be part of an overload conversation with an advisor. However, he said the committee did not want to lay down any specific requirements.
“As part of this philosophy, we don’t want to give too many ultimatums,” Avila said.
Metcalf said it was important to the committee to preserve choice for students.
“We realized that pretty much everybody on the committee was of the opinion that Rice students are adults, and that it’s appropriate to give them opportunities and make sure that they are capable to choose,” Metcalf said.
Metcalf said response to the committee’s work had so far been positive from all parties. He said the committee was still seeking feedback and answering questions, though they cannot respond to questions regarding specific overload scenarios. However, he did say the committee did not foresee major advisors being highly restrictive in allowing motivated students to overload.
“As much as departments at Rice, especially engineering departments, usually get a bad rap about being excessively restrictive, professors are usually pretty responsive,” Metcalf said. “‘Ok, you think you can do it? Alright, try it.’”
Managing Editor Anita Alem and News Editor Amber Tong contributed to this report.