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President Leebron, Dean Miranda address credit hour cap protests in email to student body

4/28/16 7:24pm

In response to student concerns regarding the Faculty Senate's passage of a new credit hour limit, President David Leebron and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda sent an email addressed to Rice students describing the proposal, the process behind its development and further steps. The email, entitled "Addressing Concerns About the Recent Faculty Senate Bill," is copied below.

Dear Students,

As you may know, at the last meeting of the Faculty Senate, a proposal was adopted that has generally been described as a "cap" on the number of credits that our students can take each semester, namely 18. The objections from many students to this proposal have been forceful, both before and after the senate vote. The students have said they believe that they voted overwhelmingly (87%) against this proposal, although the student survey did not correspond to the version of the proposal that was passed by the Faculty Senate. Regardless, we are concerned that the trust between faculty and students has been undermined on both sides.

Rice has a long history of trusting our students, and of building a collaborative relationship between our faculty and students. Part of that deep trust manifests in the considerable degree of autonomy that students enjoy at Rice. We also have a long history of a faculty that cares deeply about our students. Both of these histories are part of our institutional values and heritage which we all share responsibility for sustaining. In most instances, our respective interests are closely aligned. When they are not, or when we disagree about the solutions to problems, we need to work especially hard to maintain the respect and esteem that we hold for each other.

In the case of the Faculty Senate bill, there seems to be a good deal of misinformation. First, as made clear at the Senate meeting, the specified number of 18 is actually not a limit, but an amount beyond which approval would be required. We are committed to an open and inclusive process in drafting and finalizing the guidelines for extending that approval.

Second, the reality is that, encouraged by our long drop/add period, a significant number of students are registering for a high number of credits. Many of those students drop courses well into the semester. This practice results in sometimes damaging workloads on those students with repercussions that persist even after courses are dropped. Stress is created during the overload, and stress continues after dropping courses as students may have already fallen behind in the courses that they do keep. We have received many observations of this from students, faculty, academic advisors, and college masters. In addition to issues related to student wellbeing and academic success, there are other concerns: lost opportunities for students who were not able to get off the wait list, additional work by faculty that would have otherwise been spent on students who stay registered for the class, and substantial disruption of group work and project-based learning in the many courses employing interactive and experiential teaching approaches.

Third, this process was not secretive, and students were involved in multiple phases in multiple ways. A student served on the committee that developed the original proposal. Students serve on the Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum (CUC). The CUC student representatives presented the proposal for discussion at the February Student Association (SA) meeting, and it was discussed again at the April SA meeting. The CUC also communicated with members of the SA. Prior to being presented to the Senate on April 20, many changes were made to the proposal in direct response to specific requests and suggestions made by SA representatives. The Thresher endorsed the proposal in a March 22 editorial, even before the additional student input was incorporated.

All that said, communication clearly broke down, and we need to address any distrust that has resulted. In light of the concerns that have been expressed by many parties, we write to clarify where things stand, what the process is going forward, what outcomes are possible, and in what circumstances a reconsideration might be appropriate. We are motivated by both the desire to arrive at the best possible solution and also by the recognition that we ought to take steps to reassure our students that their voices are heard. So to clarify:

  1. The proposal approved by the Faculty Senate does not apply to any students currently enrolled at Rice. The class of 2020 is the first class subject to the new rules. Because we have not heard anyone suggest that first semester freshmen should be able to take more than 18 credits/6 courses, we plan to apply the adopted rule to our entering freshmen for their first semester. No matter how impressive their preparation and accomplishment in high school, students should not exceed that high load until they have demonstrated their capacity in the demanding Rice environment.
  2. This fall, a committee of faculty, students, and staff will work together to develop the guidelines for approving workloads over 18 hours. Unlike the current credit limits, we do not expect exceptions to these lower limits to be as rare. The committee will identify reasons for exceeding the load that should generally be treated as strong arguments for granting approval, and which attributes of students (including prior performance) should strongly dispose the advisor to grant an overload permission.
  3. This same committee will consider whether certain types of courses would count differently, or not at all, in determining course load for these purposes. For example, we can imagine not counting LPAP credit hours toward the limit.
  4. It is entirely possible that, as the committee works through these issues, alternative solutions to some of the problems being addressed will be identified (for example, shortening the drop/add period).
  5. Depending on what the committee recommends, it may be desirable to bring a reworked proposal to the Faculty Senate for consideration.
  6. A final decision on implementation, to be determined by the two of us, will not be made until the guidelines have been proposed, and students and others have had a further chance to make their views known.

We believe that it is premature to judge the proposal at this time. The proposal evolved very substantially during the time it was being formulated, and it is not clear that those objecting to it understand the nature of that evolution. It is certainly not an 18 credit "cap" on student course enrollments, but instead a strong guidepost with associated guidelines that we will work together to develop.

This is an opportunity for faculty and students to work together, to restore trust, and to build an even better university. We are confident that we can move forward in that spirit and serve the needs of all members of our community.

With regards,

dwl & mlm

David W. Leebron, President

Marie Lynn Miranda, Provost

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